“It’s not more than I could do, it’s just more than I ever thought I could.”
Although I do not know the origins of this quote, these encouraging words are what got me through four years of nursing school with osteogenesis imperfecta.
This is me, Kristal Nemeroff. I started nursing school in 2007, and to be honest, with all the discouragement I received from nurses, I never thought I would graduate. I will never forget during one of my clinical rotations when a nurse looked at me and asked, “How are they letting YOU be a nurse?” I was too shocked to know what to say.
On another occasion, in the neonatal intensive care unit, I experienced one of the most hurtful and discouraging moments of my life. Our class objectives were to hold babies, feed babies and participate in their care. When I asked the nurse I was with how I could help her, she turned to me and said, “Sorry, I don’t feel comfortable.” She didn’t want me there, didn’t want me to touch the newborns, didn’t trust my competence and judged me due to my wheelchair.
There were several instances when nurses asked my clinical aide, “What can she do?” My clinical aide, who believed in my abilities, always stuck up for me. She said, “She can do everything you can do, just a little differently.” I never knew about these remarks until my clinical day ended. I am open and honest about my osteogenesis imperfecta, but for some reason nurses were too afraid to ask me about it.
I had never experienced such ignorance before, but it made me want my nursing degree 10 times more. I started searching online for any information I could find about nurses with disabilities when I came across an article by Beth Marks entitled “Cultural Competence Revisited: Nursing Students with Disabilities.” This article affirmed my beliefs that disabled nurses are necessary for culturally competent care and for improving quality of care.
What I’ve learned about nurses with disabilities:
Patients who are facing sickness, disability and adversity identify with disabled nurses, as I learned throughout my clinical experience. Nurses who have been personally influenced by a disability often have a special kind of patient understanding that cannot be taught in a classroom. “In this way, increasing the number of healthcare providers with disabilities can only improve healthcare for people with disabilities”
Disabled nurses are needed to meet the needs of diverse patients. Patients who must face adversity are often inspired by disabled nurses who have had to overcome adversity themselves. Disabled nurses should not be denied their civil rights to be a nurse, for, “…while nature can impair, only society can disable, and it is society that must be fixed to ameliorate disability”
My disability is a gift. I didn’t want to just be a nurse, I wanted to be a great nurse. I wanted to be like the nurses who’ve impacted my own life. As I kept working through my clinical rotations, I learned that my personal experiences with osteogenesis imperfecta were actually a gift that I could use to help others. I have empathy for others because I’ve been on “the other side,” meaning being the patient.
Disabled nurses have a deep understanding of the patient experience. I know what it’s like to be terrified of surgery, in a great amount of pain and feeling like nobody is listening. Many nurses don’t often like to inquire about touchy subjects, and as someone who’s lived with a disability, I understand that it’s hard to be open with nurses about certain concerns even when they do ask. Usually the nurse is hesitant to inquire about feelings and emotions because they don’t know what to say, or they may be uncomfortable or may not care.
However, addressing psychosocial issues contributes greatly to patient outcomes. Disabled nurses have the ability to help people gain perspective about living with a disability, illness or life-altering situation. Helping patients gain a positive attitude contributes to better patient outcomes and assists them in achieving a higher quality of life and happiness.
When I first started nursing school, I was almost afraid that I wasn’t going to be a good nurse, mainly due to the negative comments of others. I had no confidence in myself and wondered if I belonged in my group of fellow nursing students. I felt that others didn’t believe in me, which led me to question believing in myself. But even though my confidence was low, I still worked hard throughout the program because I knew I had to try.
I had something to prove to myself, and I did: I graduated at the top and proved that people with disabilities can be great nurses, and that there is a place for disabled people in the healthcare field. I realize now that I’m a very therapeutic and holistic caregiver. I am dedicated to helping people, whether by cleaning out a physical wound or an emotional one.
To the disabled community, I would tell them never to say “I can’t.” Rules and bones are meant to be broken. Society sometimes underestimates people with disabilities. I challenge disabled individuals to prove that society’s perception is wrong by following their dreams and not letting those who don’t believe to stop them from trying.