That was one of the many conclusions Leslie Neal-Boylan, of Hamden, associate dean of the School of Nursing at Quinnipiac University, reached when she did the research for her latest book, “Nurses With Disabilities: Professional Issues and Job Retention,” the first research-based book to confront workplace issues facing nurses who have disabilities.
“Registered nurses with disabilities appear to be facing discrimination of one form or another in the workplace,” Neal-Boylan said. “This discrimination is occasionally blatant but more often masked by disapproval of how the nurse is performing even if the care he or she is providing does not differ significantly from the care the nurse has always provided. These nurses tend to leave the profession, find jobs that are not as physically demanding or they return to school to move further away from the bedside.”
In her 208-page book, Neal-Boylan examines the experiences of nurses with disabilities, the roadblocks they face in securing successful employment and the misperceptions that surround them.
“One of the most common misperceptions is that having a nurse with a disability can compromise patient safety,” she said. “To date, there is no evidence to suggest that a nurse with a physical or sensory disability jeopardizes patient safety in any way. In fact, patients perceive nurses with disabilities as having a greater understanding of what a disabled patient is experiencing.”
Neal-Boylan said many nurses who become disabled often are made to feel as if they are being pushed out of their jobs. “Even nurses who have acknowledged expertise and longevity within a particular area of nursing perceive that others no longer accept them as being fully capable to do their jobs because of their disability,” she said.
Disabled nurses told Neal-Boylan that their colleagues resented them because they didn’t have the stamina to take on extra shifts or strength to perform physical tasks like lifting and moving patients. Many of these nurses decided to resign their positions.
“They simply don’t want to work in a hostile environment where they feel uncomfortable and underappreciated for their knowledge and skills,” Neal-Boylan said.
Nurses with physical disabilities, chronic diseases or who have had injuries that affect their mobility or dexterity and nurses who have some or severe difficulty communicating, hearing or seeing are among those leaving the profession. Nurses who have changed their schedules because of eating restrictions or energy limitations or do things differently from the traditional, accepted ways are also leaving.
Many of these nurses said they were not made aware of provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act that would enable them to shift to other less demanding nursing positions within their organizations and remain valuable members of their health care teams.
“This problem in nursing really mirrors what goes on in other professions,” she said. “There are a lot of assumptions that once you’ve become disabled, you can no longer get the job done.”
Neal-Boylan said she believes there is plenty nursing leaders and educators can do to reverse the exodus from their profession.
“Nurse educators can integrate discussions about nurses and other health care professionals with disabilities into lessons regarding chronic illness and the care of the patient with a disability,” she said. “Nurse leaders should set the example by encouraging nurses both within and outside of the clinical setting to demonstrate esprit de corps to one another and to practice what they preach by modeling for patients and families how people with disabilities and chronic illnesses should be treated with respect and emphasis on abilities rather than disabilities.
“The profession should also consider admitting students with disabilities into schools of nursing and redesigning clinical practica to enable students with disabilities to gain valuable clinical experience,” she said. “There are so many options available in nursing that a nurse with a disability can find a place in the profession if nurse leaders and educators are open to having them.”
Neal-Boylan joined Quinnipiac in 2012. She holds a doctorate of nursing from George Mason University; a master’s degree in nursing from San Jose State University; and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Rutgers University. She also has a post master’s certificate as a family nurse practitioner from Marymount University. She also is certified in home health, rehabilitation and rheumatology. Her research areas include nursing workforce issues and registered nurses with disabilities.
She is a member of the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses, Connecticut Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Society, Eastern Nursing Research Society and Sigma Theta Tau International, the Honor Society of Nursing.
Before coming to Quinnipiac, Neal-Boylan was graduate program coordinator at Southern Connecticut State University. She also has taught at the Yale School of Nursing, where she was an associate professor.