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Healthcare Professionals With Disabilities

Healthcare Professionals With Disabilities

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Who better to take care of a person than someone who has been through the same experience? This is not only true for emotional relationships, but it is true for medical and nursing relationships as well. How better to help someone through a tough medical procedure than to see someone who has overcome adversity in their own lives? This is what countless medical personnel are able to tell patients to help them through their medical struggles, because they too are disabled.

Skills

Woman At Computer With PapersHard of hearing and deaf medical professionals have the ability to lip-read ventilator and tracheotomy patients. Patients who are hard of hearing or has a hearing impairment may feel more comfortable with someone who can sign language and have a hearing impairment themselves.

Nurses, Medical Assistants and Pharmacy Technicians professionals with hearing loss, vision loss, paralysis, learning disabilities, chronic illness, limb differences and other disabilities are indeed contributing to their profession and enjoying successful careers. Although a nurse may have hearing loss, she would have the ability to use sign language to communicate with deaf patients and share with them what is happening. Health care workers who have vision problems or those who are blind can help encourage others who are going blind and teach them how to live with the disability. Health care professionals can work in a large diversity of settings:

  • Telephone triage
  • Nursing education
  • Home health care
  • Legal nurse consulting
  • Case management
  • Hospital nursing
  • Travel healthcare industries
  • Camp nursing
  • Parish nursing
  • Health research
  • Counseling

Demands

Many people without a disability find medical careers a physically and emotionally demanding profession considering all of the stresses and emotionally draining aspects of the career, however those with disabilities generally have a higher tolerance for such stresses because of what they have been through in the past. Often times passion outweighs comfort when the demands of a medical career are at their greatest, and those who have disabilities know what it is to go through hard times, but they also know the rewards of being able to make it through a though situation, which helps them excel in their medical careers.

Challenges

Beyond the physical challenges, healthcare professionals with disabilities face legal, social and mental hurdles in the workplace. With persistence and drive they can and do succeed. Due to the myth that health care providers must be 'physically perfect,' the unrelenting question, whether verbalized or not, is: "Is it safe to have you caring for patients?"

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" for employees with disabilities. Employees must prove that their disabilities limit major life activities to qualify as disabled and employers must evaluate what is reasonable. Each case is different and much too often, it's cheaper to settle a potential legal case than it is to accommodate an employee. While disabled healthcare workers do have limitations in certain areas, their limitations often times do not outweigh their ability to care for those who are injured.

Overcoming the Challenges

When coming to the decision to enter a medical career as a disabled person, there are real and practical hurtles that you need to consider before taking that step.

First decide which specific career you want to go into. In addition to attending college and taking classes on the career, it is important that you spend ample time researching the field to understand the day-to-day operations of a person in that career. For instance if you are an amputee and you want to be an medical assistant, it is important that you know what kinds of things you will be doing on a daily basis. Are the doorways large enough for a wheelchair? Will there be space in the examination room for you to be able to assist properly? What ways can you overcome these issues?

Once you have the proper training and you are ready for the interview, mentally rehearse responses to questions you may be asked regarding your disability during the application process. One thing to remember is to be honest in your responses. Here are several questions you may be asked as an applicant, student or certified professional looking for your first job.

  • A physically handicapped student/professional may be asked:
    • How will you perform CPR?
    • According to the American Heart Association when working with adults, they say to answer this question with: First, I will call for help.
  • A blind or vision impaired student/professional may be asked:
    • How will you read a medical chart?
    • Example Answer: I will use an optical reading aid.
  • A student/professional with a back injury and lifting restrictions might be asked:
    • How will you make a bed or turn a patient in bed?
    • Example answer: I will ask a colleague/peer for help.
  • A student/professional with hearing loss may also be asked:
    • Will you be able to hear the sound of a needle penetrating a patient's skin?
    • Example answer: No

Sometimes potential employers will test your honesty by asking you hard or trick questions. The best answer is always the most honest one.

Today's medical workforce needs professionals from an assorted of backgrounds and life experiences to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse patient population, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Through the strength of a disabled health care professional, others will have enhanced experiences as patients as they receive a greater empathy and see perseverance modeled in a real way.

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