The Challenges of Nursing School and Diabetes
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Initially, I was able to control it with exercise, diet and weight control. When I started a family, it became increasingly difficult to keep my blood sugar under control. My doctor put me on medication. Part of my daily regimen is to continue exercising at least three times a week and to eat snacks two hours after meals. Everything seems to be in place until I have decided to take up nursing. I never knew that managing diabetes and nursing can be very challenging.
When I applied to the nursing program, I didn’t disclose my diabetes. I attended classes and always brought a snack with me such as milk, juice or even coffee. I was afraid to say anything to anybody because I didn’t want to be singled out from the other students.
During my clinical experiences, I was very happy to learn that the hospital units kept plenty of milk, crackers and other snacks on hand for the patients. The selection was even better in pediatric units!
During one of my clinical experiences at the hospital, I was finally forced to tell people about my disability. It was about ten o’clock in the morning, and I had missed my snack because we were busy with patients. I was setting up an intravenous infusion (IV) and the professor was standing beside me. Because I was already stressed out, I became very confused and thought I might pass out.
As I was making rounds on my patients, I told my nursing professor that I needed a glass of milk because I felt I was about to have a low blood sugar attack. I forced myself to say, “I have diabetes.”
Fortunately, the professor said, “Sure, go get it.”
After that incident, I mentioned my situation to another clinical instructor. She didn’t have a problem with it either. She simply wanted to be assured I had a snack with me. Once I opened up about my situation, I noticed that other people understood.
When I told other nursing students about my disability, some did treat me differently. In certain situations some students tried to overprotect me, an act which made me uncomfortable. They would say, “Can I get you something?” or “Did you see what time it is? Have you had a snack?”
Sharing my disability with patients, however, has been a great help to me. When I discuss diabetes, I appear self-assured because I speak from experience. None of my patients have been negative or said, “I don’t want her to take care of me because she has a disability.”
Don't be afraid to disclose
The long and short of the story is that a student nurse with a disability feels different, and that feeling is hard to deal with. I have found that working with patients is not as scary as the nursing school experience per se. In the hospital, I felt I could relate to the patients and to their health problems better than a nursing student who hasn’t had an illness.
My advice to other nursing students with disabilities would be to tell people about their disability. They shouldn’t be afraid. It’s not worth keeping the secret and not getting needed help. Some students are afraid to reveal this because their peers may make them feel it’s an excuse for not doing a good job. Also, they fear they’ll be forced out of the program.
A student nurse with a disability has more difficulties than other students. Emotional and physical stamina are tested with great intensity. In the end, though, I believe the experience can be even more rewarding than it is for other students— especially when you graduate!