Going back to work after a disability can be tough for anyone, and especially for nurses whose jobs are incredibly demanding. Returning to work can seem like an insurmountable obstacle on bad days, but don’t think about hanging up your stethoscope quite yet. There are plenty of legal and social resources for you to fall back on if you’re a nurse with a disability. Read on to discover seven strategies for nurses with disabilities who wish to return to work.
1. Know the Americans with Disabilities Act well.
Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination in a variety of settings, including jobs, schools, and transportation. (Additional amendments went into effect in 2009.) Many different conditions may qualify as a disability if they significantly impair your ability to engage in one or more major life activities. Categories of disabilities include neurological, musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, immune, circulatory, lymphatic, skin, endocrine and more. In the U.S., the ADA is the single most important law for dictating how employers can treat employees during and after the hiring process, so study up on the ADA and get intimately familiar with what it means for you.
2. Learn your employer’s benefits package.
Beyond the ADA, your employer might also have certain benefits or protections that are relevant to employees with disabilities. For starters, see if your employer offers any short-term or long-term disability insurance. Your employer might also provide Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or stay-or-work or return-to-work policies in the context of employees with disabilities. If you have questions about what your employer does and does not provide, the HR department should be able to answer your questions. If you need accommodations in the workplace as a result of your disability, such as the use of a wheelchair, you’ll also need to discuss that with HR (they have a responsibility to work with you on accommodations under the ADA).
3. Seek out other nurses with disabilities.
No one will be able to understand your challenges quite like another nurse with disabilities. Even if they have a different disability from you, they’ll still be able to empathize about issues such as working with an employer to get necessary accommodations or understanding the ins and outs of the ADA. Ideally, you’ll be able to find an experienced nurse or two who can serve as a mentor and help guide you through the transition of returning to work with a disability. Even if the nurses aren’t experienced enough to serve as your mentors, you will still benefit greatly from building connections with others who know what you’re going through.
4. Build a support network for yourself.
Your connections shouldn’t stop with other nurses with disabilities. Other nurses, especially your immediate coworkers, can be a huge help as you transition back to your job. Of course, this depends on how supportive your company culture is, but your coworkers might be able to help you brainstorm small changes that you all can make together to make your return to work more seamless. (And if you need any accommodations or other changes, you’ll need to discuss them with your supervisor for sure.) If you have a spouse, partner or roommate, they can also help you with non-work tasks—like cooking and cleaning—to make your return to work less stressful as well.
5. Keep your license and certifications up to date.
State boards vary in terms of what certifications they require from disabled nurses, so look up your state’s guidelines and make sure that you’re in compliance with them. Wherever you leave and whatever the state requirements are, make sure that you renew your nursing license while you’re on active duty and that you keep up with any and all continuing education requirements. Keep in mind that sometimes additional training or refresher workshops may be necessary before you can renew your nursing license. Keeping your license current is important because you don’t want anything to jeopardize your standing with your employer and everything that goes with it (insurance, paycheck, etc.).
6. Get involved in professional organizations.
There are many professional organizations available for nurses, including the National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities (NOND), which works to promote equality for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions in nursing through education and advocacy. Beyond NOND, there are plenty of other associations for just about every nursing specialty and issue available, so there’s bound to be something that connects with your interests. Participating in these organizations will help you build your network and advocate for nurses with disabilities within the profession. This network will be critical if you decide that you need to make a career change because of your disability (see the next tip).
7. Explore new specialties to find your niche.
No matter how accommodating your employer is, after returning to work with a disability, you might decide that it’s in your best interest to make a career change. If that describes your situation, start exploring other options. Perhaps you can find a job where you don’t have to be on your feet as much, or you can transition to a lower-stress unit that won’t cause your symptoms to flare as often. Reach out to your fellow nurses, especially those who also have disabilities, and ask them about the pros and cons of their positions and how accommodating their employers are. If you don’t feel like you have the right experience to make the career change you want, you can also consider going back to school for additional certifications or even an advanced degree to help you make the leap.
Putting on your scrubs and returning to nursing work after a disability can be daunting, but thankfully there are resources available for nurses in this exact situation. Do as much research as you can about the ADA and your employer’s policies, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice if you need it. Plenty of nurses with disabilities do meaningful work and take care of their patients very successfully, and even if you need accommodations, we know you can do the same.
Workplace culture can be a hard-to-define concept, but it nevertheless affects every minute of your working life. Culture encompasses elements such as business values, management styles, physical environment, and even dress codes. Each hospital has its own unique culture that you’ll have to adapt to whenever you start a new job. Here are eight tips to help nurses acclimate to a new workplace culture:
1. Pay attention during orientation.
At the start of each new job, you’ll probably have to attend some kind of orientation or training for new hires before you can grab your nursing bag and start seeing patients. Even if there’s not a presentation that explicitly describes the culture and values of your new employer, you should have a good grasp of what is expected by the end of orientation. While culture has many layers that go far beneath the surface—each nursing unit has its own individual way of doing things, for example—wrapping your mind around the facility’s overall culture will give you a good framework for figuring out what does and doesn’t trickle down into your unit.
2. Observe how others behave.
Especially during your first days on the job, keep a sharp eye out for your coworkers’ behavior and watch how they interact with each other and supervisors. Do they engage in small talk as they walk together, or is everyone all business, all the time? Are they warm and friendly with the nursing unit manager, or do they hang back and treat them with deference? While some of this will depend on the personalities of your individual coworkers, observing this behavior will give you examples to fall back on as you start to build relationships at your new workplace.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
However, sometimes you won’t be able to glean everything you need to know from observation alone. Maybe your coworkers act totally different with two different supervisors, or one person in your unit hardly talks to anyone else unless necessary for unknown reasons. When it feels natural, you can ask your coworkers for more details in a non-nosy way. This also goes for procedures and other non-people related matters. If the unit does things differently than you’re used to, don’t hesitate to clarify what the preferred process is. Better that you ask for clarification ahead of time than try to puzzle your way through and mess things up.
4. Try to withhold judgment and assumptions.
Every workplace, including hospitals and other facilities, have their quirks. Especially if you’ve worked in several other facilities before, these idiosyncrasies might seem annoying and downright strange—but there’s often a reason for them. Instead of dismissing these quirks outright or grumbling about them, try to withhold judgment at the beginning and seek out underlying reasons. Maybe that unsociable coworker is dealing with a sick parent or child, or the “high strung” supervisor is under a lot of pressure from higher-ups. Even the most off-the-wall behavior often has an explanation if you look deeply enough.
5. Don’t constantly compare things to your old job.
Speaking of comparing your new job to your old one, don’t do it–at least not out loud. It’s super annoying to have a coworker who won’t shut up about how great their old employer was and how they did everything much better than their new facility. This behavior is not just bad for unit morale, it also won’t do you any favors as you try to build relationships with your new nursing coworkers. Just like your mom used to tell you when you were a kid: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all.
6. Be judicious with vertical relationships.
Whether you’re a supervisor or a director report, vertical relationships can make or break your work experience. If you’re a supervisor, the performance of your team depends on your nurses. On the flip side, your supervisor holds great influence over your career as a nurse. Whatever position you will be in, try to figure out supervisor-direct report expectations early on in your new job. In an ideal world, your new employer will encourage close, supportive relationships between supervisors and nurses, but this isn’t always the case. The earlier you figure out the lay of the land, the sooner you’ll be able to start mapping out a plan for your career and your team.
7. Acknowledge your mistakes.
No matter how careful you are, you’re bound to make some slip-ups at any new job. When you do make a mistake, own up to it rather than trying to hide it and ask for pointers on how to do things better next time. See each mistake as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow as both a nurse and an employee. Apologize if necessary, and try to find humor in the situation when appropriate. Your coworkers will appreciate that you don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s no use crying over spilled milk or stained scrubs, so if the mistake is small in the scheme of things, try not to dwell on it and focus on moving forward.
8. Educate rather than accuse.
Sometimes, you’ll be on the receiving end of a mistake rather than the instigator. Maybe a new coworker calls you by the wrong name, or makes assumptions about you based on your appearance. While this isn’t okay, try not to assume the worst and jump to conclusions about ulterior motives. If you can, gently but firmly correct the other person while offering them an out like so: “I know names can be tough to remember sometimes, but just so you know my name is actually _____.” You won’t earn any points for being combative from the start, so do your best to be gracious and understanding when you start a new job, even if you want to be anything but.
Starting a new job can feel like entering a black box, but if you keep your ears and eyes open, you’ll quickly pick up on expectations and values. Follow these eight tips to help you adjust to a new work culture as you ease into your new nursing position.
Storytelling is the oldest form of education; storytelling has been used to communicate critical information about safety, recipes, teach lessons, remove bad habits, and explain events. In our various cultures we hear stories from our family members, in school, and at work. It is part of our oral tradition and how history is shared. I remember hearing stories as a child that explained why we have certain practices and why humans have internal ethical struggles. The lessons from these stories stuck with me in a way that made me evaluate my choices carefully when making a critical decision. When these tools are used to teach nursing students they can have a wondrous effect.
Storytelling and mental modeling often go hand in hand; when people are told of a situation or told a story, they will work out the process of that situation within their brains to see how the situation resolved or could have resolved if other steps were taken. The individual may go through different algorithms to work out the most correct path for the situation. This is a clear demonstration of critical thinking and may help with improving clinical reasoning in nurses.
Research shows that storytelling is a method of learning that can be transferred; students remember the “war stories” that their nursing instructors have told them about their clinical experiences. I can remember being told a story by an instructor about a congestive heart failure patient that she had that was receiving fluid and developed wet lungs and frothy pink sputum. She was so vivid in the way that she was describing the sputum that I never forgot to correlate strict intake and output with congestive heart failure patients. As a nursing educator myself, I have told stories of patient care that aligned with what I was teaching to the students to the students didactically and have later gotten a phone call or email from a student saying that they saw a similar case in clinical or in their practice and remembered what I told them.
Storytelling is an excellent method of instruction and provides auditory and visual stimulation to learners in a manner that connects to the concepts being taught to the students. And they provide an opportunity for reflection and transference. Telling a story in the right context that links to the concepts being taught may help the individual visualize the situation in their mind and then practice the concept/skill.
How are you using storytelling in your instructional practices?
“Stories are a communal currency of humanity.” —Tahir Shah, in Arabian Nights
Are you about to start a job search and confused by all the changes within the world of nurse recruiting and not sure who to ask?:
“A recruiter sent me a DM on Snap—what do I do?”
“I got a recruiting text from a bot—what do I do?”
“I submitted a ton of online applications to hospitals but I’m not getting call backs—what do I do?”
Well, who better to advise you on your job search than a nationally-known recruiter? Nick Corcodilos, publisher of the popular website Ask The Headhunter has all the answers. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, USA Today, The New York Times, Fast Company, and PBS NewsHour.
In this Q&A interview, Nick delivers hints and tips specifically for minority nurses, who may have unique roadblocks along their job search journey.
For example, there is some evidence of name-based discrimination in recruiting. So, a resume with a “white-sounding” name will result in calls 50% more often than one without. The University of Chicago study is titled: “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” Though not a health care employer-focused study, the researchers do note: “The racial gap is uniform across occupation, industry, and employer size.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hospital unemployment is at an extreme low of .9%. And yet, discrimination may be so unconscious that it continues, even in a market where health care employers are scrambling to fill long-empty positions.
Ask the Headhunter Nick Corcodilos
Is there anything a minority nurse applicant can do to sidestep hazards of the current recruiting landscape?
Digital “recruiting” and job hunting create special problems for minority job seekers because—and I’ll be very blunt about this—it enables biased employers to waste your time. If you get selected from an online application and then invest your time for an interview, only to find that the employer suddenly realizes you’re of a certain race or the “wrong” sexual preference or other characteristic, you get suddenly rejected out of hand.
You’ve wasted your time because their bias never allowed you to really demonstrate your abilities and value so that you might be chosen for what you can do.
How should a minority nurse go about applying for a job, if not through a hospital career portal or a recruiter’s texts/emails/calls?
The smart alternative is to invest some time tracking down either the hiring manager, or at least someone who works for or with that manager.
(Studies, again and again, suggest that up to 70% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts, not random digital applications.)
Of course, bias can be introduced into the hiring process all kinds of ways, but I find that doing this person-to-person also helps you quickly identify people who are more interested in your abilities than your sex, race, or football team preference! They’re the people who will speak up and personally recommend you.
This is the only way I know to avoid the almost random, rote digital process of recruiting that often results in rejection due to discrimination and bias that surfaces too long after you’ve already invested your valuable time.
Employers don’t realize how this process hurts them, too, because it costs them potentially great hires.
For tips on how to make professional connections, Nick recommends his blog post: “Network, but don’t be a jerk!” Also, read his post on working with recruiters: “How to Judge A Headhunter”.
Any final food for thought for minority nurses embarking on a job search?
All those conversations you have with people who surround the manager will build a very personal picture of what you can do—and that’s how you get presented to a hiring manager as a great worker who’s worth hiring for their abilities.
I would rather have an early opportunity to recognize biased and discriminatory employers so I can avoid them, rather than let them waste my time.
Of course, the very powerful option you always have is to file an Equal Opportunity complaint. But my job is to help you identify and meet worthy employers. And the best way to do that is to get introduced to them by people they know and trust. Your challenge is to cultivate relationships with those “friends and associates” of the hiring managers—people who are not biased and who will recommend you for your skills and great work ethic.
Have you ever gone on a first date that went so well that you ended up spending three or four hours just speaking to this person over some coffee? When you walk away from that interaction, although it’s the first time you met the person, you feel like you know so much about them already. This is analogous to how I spend my days with my patients.
As an ICU nurse, I spend 12 to 13 hours a day with, on average, just two patients. This is so much time that I often know the depths of a patient and family’s social situation as well as the depths of their health and livelihood. Having only two patients per day, I spend about 6 to 7 hours on each patient. There is no other discipline of medicine or health care professional that spends this amount of time with a single patient. This gives me plenty of time to understand the depths of my patient’s needs emotionally, physiologically, socially, and economically.
With that knowledge comes a responsibility for me to play my role as an advocate to speak up for that patient. This might mean speaking out to the providers for a patient without health insurance to receive a prescription of the more affordable version of their blood thinner, or this might mean speaking out to the social workers for a patient who needs resources to assist them in purchasing their home medications. This might also mean recommending a diabetic education consult for a patient who is showing signs of knowledge deficit in managing their disease.
As bedside nurses, we have a lot of responsibility. A large piece of the weight to facilitate a good outcome for our patients lies on us simply because we spend the most time with our patients and are expected to know the most about our patients. Many members of the health care team depend on our assessment of the patient and recommendations to perform their duties. We must not neglect what might be our most essential role that we play: an advocate. This might be the most important role that we play in terms of the patient’s outcome and well-being. We must not forget this role and how vital it is. As bedside nurses, we are ideally positioned to be advocates for our patients. Speak up to the health care team, speak up to the doctors, and speak up to the social workers because often no one else does.
Critical Care Transport Nurses Day is celebrated annually on February 18 and recognizes the varied and fast-paced world of this branch of nursing.
Sponsored by the Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association (ASTNA), Critical Care Transport Nurses Day showcases the distinct field of transport nurses. While any nurse is always in motion, critical care transport nurses are actually doing their job while the patient is being transported.
Giving accurate, empathetic, and multilayered care while potentially in a moving vehicle like an ambulance or in flight on an airplane or helicopter offers an entirely new set of standards. Critical care transport nurses work in environments that are rarely the same and are constantly changing. Supplies might be different or arranged in a different order. Teams are likely varied and have to adapt to each other and to the motion of the transport they are in.
Some care is given in dire conditions. Transporting a seriously ill patient to receive initial care after an accident, bodily injury, or a health event like a heart attack or stroke is filled with pressure. Critical care transport nurses can work in the military moving gravely injured soldiers. They might be called to help deliver a baby who couldn’t wait for the arrival at a birth facility or hospital.
Still other critical care transport nurses attend to patients when they are stable, but being moved between facilities for additional testing or to receive therapies.
Critical care transport nurses are there to make sure every second of available time is used to help the patient. In the time it takes to move a patient from one area to a hospital or facility, life-or-death changes occur.
No matter the environment, critical care transport nurses have to work well on a team and be confident and experienced enough to make accurate split-second decisions about providing the best care. That means they need to assess physical and vital signs, equipment readings, and listen to the team all at the same time.
As a critical care transport nurse, critical thinking skills are essential. You’ll work in high-pressure emergency situations more than you will work with stable patients. Having emergency care experience before deciding on this career path is essential. Once you have decided and have earned any required hours, becoming certified will help you remain current with the latest protocol and evidence-based practices. In general, nurses in this field will become either a certified transport registered nurse or a certified flight registered nurse.
This career is exciting and requires a broad skill set and someone who works well under this type of pressure. If this sounds like a good career match for you, jobs in this area are growing.