• 02 July 2021
  • 18 min read

How I Trained To Become A Nurse With A Disability

  • Ruth Clewett
    Staff Nurse
    • Mat Martin
    • Matt Farrah
    • Laura Bosworth
    • Richard Gill
    • Aubrey Hollebon
  • 1
  • 730
"As a result of overcoming challenges, I am better able to encourage others to persevere."

Using her own experience, Staff Nurse, Ruth, explains how she became a nurse with a disability, and gives advice on the wealth of support available.

Topics covered in this article

I Decided To Become A Nurse After Treatment For A Brain Tumour

A Nurse Educator Reassured Me I Would Be Supported During Nursing School

The Support I Received From City University In London Was Outstanding

Coping With My Disability During Nursing School

My Tutors And Colleagues Supported Me Finding My First Newly Qualified Nursing Job

What My First Job As A Nurse With A Disability Was Like

Why I Signed Off Work For 5 Months

Another Start - Working For Bupa Care Homes

Sound Advice - It Was Suggested I Try Different Roles

Covid 19 Meant I Needed To Stop Work

Surgery And Chemo Forced Another Break In My Career Path

Looking Ahead - I Am Revalidated And Looking Forward To My Nursing Future

I Decided to Become A Nurse After Treatment For A Brain Tumour

Nursing had never particularly appealed to me as a profession because I did not feel very well suited to a hands-on caring role.

My outlook changed after spending time in hospital receiving treatment for a brain tumour.

I had moved to Australia to pursue a career in sports and leisure but after 2 years was diagnosed with a benign oligoastrocytoma and proceeded with surgery followed by radiation therapy.

I spent time under the care of multiple healthcare practitioners including neurologists, physios and OTs which gave me great insight into the world of multi-disciplinary teams and what patients go through.

From my position as patient, I came to understand the effect different doctors and other practitioners could have through the way they conversed with patients and loved ones.

I came to appreciate the power nurses have to encourage people, support them in their journey and guide them through.

Often, I found it was a nurse who would unfold the details of discharge planning or explain outcomes of meetings. I had a brilliant doctor who was there for me as much as possible, but I could turn to the nurses 24/7 for tenderness when everything seemed out of control, and they helped me not to feel alone.

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A Nurse Educator Reassured Me I Would Be Supported During Nursing School

Upon returning to England with no idea how to start my journey into nursing, I met a nurse practice educator while visiting a relative in hospital who told me about the post graduate diploma in nursing.

I had concerns about whether having a brain tumour and being epileptic would get in the way of studying and practicing as a nurse.

The educator told me that it would be a safe place to do further training and that I would be well looked after during the course.

She also explained that my previous education in health science would be an asset alongside the work experience I had with the public and working in management.

The Support I Received from City University in London Was Outstanding

I had not studied for several years however with support from friends I wrote my entrance essay, had an interview at City University and got started with training in Sept 2015.

Once again, I was re-assured by staff that having epilepsy would not stop me from becoming a nurse.

I was told I would be supported by mentors and colleagues whilst training and this was a promise fulfilled.

I found nurse training hard work but throughout the time I knew my tutors were there to call on if I needed anything.

I particularly relied on my personal tutor Julienne who visited my placement ward when needed to plan for reasonable adjustments.

When I failed my exam twice due to stress from having seizures over one particularly hot summer, two of my tutors sat with me privately to go over theory work I had missed and allow me to practice mock tests prior to the final exam.

I got there in the end after three attempts!

No one at any point suggested I give up or seemed weary of helping me reach my goal.

Coping With My Disability During Nursing School

During my studies and training I found it hard to manage at times, particularly with the disruption of seizures both to my time in lectures, on placement and the effect this had on my coursework.

Despite this I was always given consideration for extra time if I had been unwell and when seizure events occurred on placement or in university staff were considerate and gave help wherever and whenever it was needed.

I should add at this point that I made some lovely, dependable friends in my nursing colleagues at City University who were kind, practically helpful and encouraged me along the way.

We met in the RCN library to study together and if I ever had an incident at during lectures one of my friends would come home with me to check I was ok.

Although there were difficult situations that I sometimes found myself in at university or on placement, I was still able to get fully involved with the course and attend social events as well so my time training to become a nurse was not overshadowed by being epileptic and managing a long-term health condition.

The more honest I was about what I was facing and what I needed, the more easily people could help me get on with achieving the goal of becoming a nurse and being able to effectively use my skills and knowledge to care for others.

I experienced anxiety about whether I would be able to complete the course and be successful in working as a nurse because I doubted myself feeling worried about having tumour related epilepsy and the implications this might have for my career.

Despite this I believed that my personal experience as a patient combined with really caring about what people go through were important reasons to persevere.

I felt I could make a difference as a nurse and my academic lecturers and tutors always found ways to help and champion me on this course.

My Tutors And Colleagues Supported Me Finding My First Newly Qualified Nursing Job

In April 2018 I qualified as a nurse.

The training took me six months longer than fellow post graduate nursing students because I requested an extra placement at the end of the course to make up lost hours and have a suitable placement to complete my training in.

I had found the environment of the hospital too fast paced for me to fully grasp all the ins and outs of a management placement, so I fulfilled some aspects of ward nursing in hospital and others in a nursing home for people with neurological disabilities in North London.

Although the work was by no means easier, I felt that with this provision of a placement where I could get to know people and have consistency in practice, I was enabled an opportunity to get a firm grasp of the basics.

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My personal tutor and placement mentors agreed that this sort of environment for example a nursing home or hospice might be best for me to work in as I enjoyed working with the elderly and those coming toward the end of life, and it was calmer than the hospital wards I had been training on.

My mentors Mary, Lauren and Frieda were very patient with me and always tried to build me up.

Around the time I completed my course I decided to move out of London and interviewed for a job working for a hospice in my hometown.

The feedback I received was to try and get some experiencing nursing on a hospital ward, so I decided to move to Brighton and applied to the NHS for a nursing role.

There had recently been a general advertisement for nurses to work across all departments, so I attended an open day and spoke with the practice educator about the variety of options available.

I asked for a slow-paced environment to work in and took a job on the complex discharge ward.

What My First Job As A Nurse With A Disability Was Like

Working as a Staff Nurse on the ward was enjoyable to begin with as I learned lots of new skills and had the opportunity to practise things.

I had been taught during my training however the shifts and travel to/from the hospital were very difficult to manage and I found I was having seizures quite regularly after a couple of months due to personal medication changes and stress.

Long shifts are hard to manage for most people, but I found that lack of rest and long travel times due to not being able to drive there really took its toll.

Thankfully, my manager was willing to listen and put in place some adjustments to try and make the shifts more workable.

I did part time hours and we tried lots of shift combinations to work out the best fit for me within the team.

I was quite slow to pick things up on an acute ward and this combined with the anxiety of being newly qualified this made working difficult.

I mistakenly presumed that new nurses step onto the ward ‘ready to go’ after training but there is still a lot to learn after qualifying and I put myself under too much pressure.

During this time, my manager was incredibly supportive in trying to work out flexible working hours and helped me consider the vast variety of possible roles in nursing.

The human resources team tried to find an alternative nursing job for me in the trust and I was able to do work experience trial shifts to see what different departments were like to work in.

This helped me to think of nursing as a much broader career path which has proven helpful as I move forward.

Why I Signed Off Work For 5 Months

In early 2019 it was clear that I was burning out from stress caused by a combination of managing my health condition, working in a remarkably busy role with long hours and struggling with a difficult commute.

My manager encouraged me to take some time off to relax and recuperate.

Following this period of about 5 months during which I received counselling and some career advice, I was informed by some work rehabilitation therapists that there would be a careers fair for nursing coming up at the RCN in London.

I decided that I did not want to give up nursing and thought I might get some ideas of how to continue through showing up at the RCN event.

Whilst off work I had been feeling down about the situation I was in.

I did not want to give up and felt I still had a lot to give as a nurse but had been disheartened by the lack of progress since qualifying.

It would have been easy to blame the situation on my health condition however the truth is that being newly qualified as a nurse is a difficult position to be in.

There is still a career time of learning ahead.

With hindsight I see that I could have been more confident if I had reached out to other nurses from my course instead of assuming everyone was having an easy time.

Another Start - Working For Bupa Care Homes

At the RCN careers event I met several healthcare recruiters and organisations advertising for nurses.

This event gave me the chance to attend some talks which were interesting and contributed toward my CPD for revalidation.

I had some discussions with other nurses about working in different places such as hospitals, clinics, and homes as well as learning about how to prepare for a nursing interview and prepare a nursing CV.

These activities gave me confidence to approach the Bupa stand and enquire about a job in a nursing home.

The nurses from Bupa were offering interviews then and there to my surprise and although I had turned up to the event clutching 20 out of date CVs and feeling very apprehensive, I realised that one way out of my anxiety might be to give something new a chance.

I felt really welcomed by the Bupa staff and they put me at ease about the interview as it was simply an opportunity to get to know more about the organisation and tell them about myself and what I had to offer.

The interview I had went well and I came away feeling really encouraged.

I approached the Bupa care home that was within easy travel distance from me and who were at that time advertising for a nurse.

Following a meeting with the manager and his team I had an interview and discussed openly with them the adjustments that would be needed for me to work there successfully.

After my experience working previously, I felt much more confident in discussing what my needs were as well as what I could offer as a nurse.

It felt good to be able to have an open conversation about my disabilities along with my strengths so that everyone was on the same page, and I no longer felt I would be letting them down because I had epilepsy.

Instead, it felt like something we could work around, and I was really encouraged by the positivity in our conversations.

After getting through the induction sessions with Bupa I came to my first shifts on the ward and unfortunately became very anxious again about starting work with patients and meeting expectations.

Sound Advice - It Was Suggested I Try Different Roles

Having come so far in moving past my anxiety about nursing with a health condition, I was very reluctant to allow the pressure of a new job to build up and potentially cause a breakdown.

So I spoke with my manager about leaving nursing altogether and perhaps trying something different.

He was very willing to discuss different options for getting started there but also allowed me to express my concerns.

At this point where I felt so defeated by my own lack of confidence, likely a result of having a long-term condition, I was in two minds about giving up on my career and dream of nursing.

On the one hand it seemed I had barely gotten started but on the other hand I had completed my training and put a lot of time and effort in.

Thankfully at this point my manager was willing to have an open conversation and encouraged me to keep pursuing my career.

He explained that although I might end up ‘kicking a few stones’ on the way he believed in me because I had the skills and heart needed for nursing.

Once again, I was being nudged to look further than the traditional nursing role on the ward and consider, even trial the numerous other avenues in the nursing profession.

I could not continue working at this point as I was too anxious about making it as a nurse.

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My manager at Bupa encouraged me to keep considering different options which was excellent advice.

After taking a few months to rest and build confidence again I was asked by a friend from church to help look after his mother who was due to have major heart surgery.

Private nursing was not something I had tried before but I was now willing to give other nursing roles a try and really enjoyed the work.

I received great feedback from my patient and her family which was a massive boost and encouraged me to keep going with nursing.

Since I had been through the experience of major surgery and rehab, I was able to use that personal knowledge to help them.

Following my patient’s recovery, I looked for work in my local area.

Although many organisations are looking for nurses, I felt it would be good to look for a place where I could be supported to work toward revalidation while building back my confidence and increasing my skills and experience.

After seeing an ad in the local paper for maternity cover at a nursing home nearby I called the manager and asked for a meeting to discuss a possible opportunity for me to help either as a carer or in a nursing capacity while one of their nurses was on leave.

The manager and his team agreed to take me on part time and bring me back up to speed so that I could have the training and hours to complete my revalidation the following year.

I am so glad I put myself out there and asked.

The pandemic began impacting not long after I started working at the nursing home and I ended up working more than I had anticipated.

I covered for a colleague who was unwell with COVID and was given the chance to build up my experience while getting to know the residents there.

COVID-19 Meant I Needed to Stop Work

The pandemic impacted many care homes and although I was working when it first hit, I stopped when the nurse who had been on leave returned.

During this time, I had been told I was eligible for brain surgery that could potentially bring an end to my epileptic fits caused by the tumour which had been growing over several years.

Due to COVID delays, the surgery (considered elective at this point) was arranged and cancelled numerous times.

Finally at the end of 2020 I had surgery to remove as much of the brain tumour as possible.

I was so excited because surgery would offer the possibility of potentially stopping seizures but also improving my peripheral vision which had been marginally impacted for several years.

I used my time off work to chat with a work coach about getting back into nursing again and she encouraged me to think about what this might involve.

I used the process to explore the aspects of my life and career up to that point and consider how well suited I was to the job.

I also thought about other possibilities for work.

It was so useful to have an opportunity to re-evaluate whether I was still geared up for working as a nurse and to look at the possible avenues I could take.

Part of the conversation with Claire involved looking at what it would take to re-connect with the healthcare world as a professional.

I reached out to the nurse who had employed me in the NHS originally, informed her of my up-coming surgery but explained my eagerness to come back to the NHS.

I was grateful to hear back, and she and a colleague considered possible areas that might work for me whereby I could continue in a patient facing role but not work too many long hours.

Being unable to work as much as I would like to have done during the pandemic certainly inspire me further to return to work for the NHS.

Surgery And Chemo Forced Another Break In My Career Path

Surgery and recovery were a necessary but planned spanner in the works to my coming back to nursing however I did not expect to hear after the op that the brain tumour had become malignant, and I would need chemotherapy during 2021.

This was a big blow to my plans, and I felt so disappointed.

One of my big questions in terms of career was ‘how would I be able to revalidate?!’

Chemo needed to begin as soon as possible so I began at the end of January this year.

Thankfully during the pandemic, I had been participating in ‘Learn with Nurses’ webinars so this combined with other training modules from the nursing home enabled me to complete the proviso for CPD.

My friend Kate who became a nurse in London following our course at City University helped me to understand what I would need to do to complete my portfolio.

I had learned about revalidation during my course however I was not sure I had everything I needed.

Another nursing friend, Fay, was taking me for walks as part of my recovery.

As she has lots of experience nursing and has revalidated herself as well as assisting others, she came alongside me and helped me to get all the pieces of information together.

We also discussed areas of work for the future (such as school nursing) which helped me keep positive.

My previous post had given me opportunities to reflect, and my private patients and managers had given me feedback.

A colleague from my previous working place helped me to complete all the necessary aspects of revalidation.

Looking Ahead - I Am Revalidated And Looking Forward To My Nursing Future

My revalidation is now complete and although I still take my regular AEDs I am seizure free, praise God, and looking forward to continuing my nursing path when I have recovered from treatment.

I know that I will be supported to return when the time is right and that there are many options for work in the nursing role.

My experiences have shown me the importance of leaning on others and speaking up when I need help.

Instead of underlining my weaknesses it has helped me to see that by communicating my needs I can keep going with adjustments.

People are happy to help but if they do not know what is necessary then they cannot give the appropriate support.

Working together is a big part of nursing and everyone needs support in one way or another.

If I had continued to presume that my contribution was insufficient because of my disability then there would be many patients, family members and colleagues who would not have gained from my nursing strengths and personal experience.

As a result of overcoming challenges, I am better able to encourage others to persevere.

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Do you have any questions about nursing?

Post questions & comments below

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About the author

  • Ruth Clewett
    Staff Nurse

I am a registered adult nurse usually working either privately or as a staff nurse. I live in Hove with a lovely family from my church including 7 cats and 2 dogs. We live close to the sea and can often be found in the water swimming (despite the cold!) I highly recommend it for mental and physical health. For the past five months I have been undergoing chemo and look forward to completing this so I can go back to working as a nurse.

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  • Ruth Clewett
    Staff Nurse

About the author

  • Ruth Clewett
    Staff Nurse

I am a registered adult nurse usually working either privately or as a staff nurse. I live in Hove with a lovely family from my church including 7 cats and 2 dogs. We live close to the sea and can often be found in the water swimming (despite the cold!) I highly recommend it for mental and physical health. For the past five months I have been undergoing chemo and look forward to completing this so I can go back to working as a nurse.

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    • Matt Farrah one month ago
      Matt Farrah
    • Matt Farrah
      one month ago

      What an inspirational story. Thanks Ruth. I know all of our articles are helpful and / or inspirational but this ... read more