BLC 12
7 Jul 2018 4 Respondents
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Alan Gurbutt
Lincoln University
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Too disabled to be a nurse?

Too disabled to be a nurse?

Peter (not his real name) is a mental health student nurse in his 50s. He has spinal stenosis. Over the years has had corrective surgeries to try to relieve pressure on his spinal cord, but due to the nature of the condition leading to arachnoiditis he must now use a walking stick to reduce pressure on his spine. Peter was diagnosed dyslexic in his 40s, which meant due to poor school experiences coming into nursing through Access to Higher Education. He has a Learning Support Plan and has been passed medically fit to practice by Occupational Health.

Peter’s main issue is that whenever he goes on placement he is often judged by his appearance rather than by his ability to link a wealth of lived personal experience and work experience with evidence-based practice to build relationships with people in care.  

What he finds most challenging is that he usually finds out second-hand that members of staff have raised concerns about his fitness to practice before they have spoken directly to him to assess his strengths.

While on placement Peter also experienced a Nursing Assistant mimicking his gait from a reflection in a safety mirror while stood behind him. He did not feel confident to challenge this behaviour because he had no identifiable allies. He is not usually afraid to advocate for himself, but it is a fine line between ‘student knowing their place’ and not upsetting those who have been quick to judge.

Peter is acutely aware that, despite protections of reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010, disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people (Scope, 2018), and that nurses with disabilities continue to face discrimination in the workplace (Nursing Times, 2018).

Peter is now coming to the end of his second year of training and is focused on getting qualified, but he feels that even though he has a good insight into people’s situations and a passion for caring, his opportunities have been limited by stigma. He hopes that by continuing to be professional that his management placement will be more inclusive to his learning but has doubts about it doing so.

Discussions have been held between placements and the university, and in general terms they have been supportive. However, Peter has a feeling that another issue raised would be an issue too many. The idea seems to be that Peter accesses Student Wellbeing services if he finds it difficult to cope. In Peter’s opinion, it is the services that need support to recover from their own stigma and intolerance. The easy option is to blame the student.

Nursing Times (2018) Exclusive: Nurses with disabilities face discrimination in workplace. London: Nursing Times. Available from https://www.nursingtimes.net/news/workforce/exclusive-nurses-with-disabilities-face-discrimination-in-workplace/7023548.article [accessed 8 July 2018].

Scope (2018) Disability facts and figures. London: Scope. Available from https://www.scope.org.uk/media/disability-facts-figures [accessed 8 July 2018].

It is proposed that Peter continues his training to become a mental health nurse and that more needs to be done in the United Kingdom to encourage more people with disabilities into all branches of nursing.

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