1. Mahon, Suzanne M. DNSc, RN, AOCN, APNG
  2. Varty, Maureen M. BSN, RN

Article Content

We would like to thank Neal-Boylan and Smith (January 2016) for their most insightful article on the importance of including nursing students and nurses with disabilities in the academic setting and workplace. In our family, we have been profoundly affected by a diagnosis of epilepsy. As a parent and nurse (S.M.M.), I was concerned how my daughter (M.M.V.), who has a diagnosis of epilepsy, would be able to achieve her personal goal of becoming a nurse. As a nurse, I recognized that there are a multitude of possible roles in which my daughter could be an excellent clinical nurse, not limited by her diagnosis, if she could successfully complete a nursing program and pass boards.


Despite previous negative experiences because of the stigma often associated with epilepsy, we felt that the disability should be disclosed during the application process because it could potentially affect clinical experiences as well as my daughter's safety. We personally met with the director of the undergraduate nursing program before she applied. The immediate response of the director was one of inclusion, acceptance, and willingness to work with my daughter if she would do her part to meet the obligations of the program. This meeting set a positive tone for the next 4 years and enabled my daughter to be confident in her choice. Most importantly, my daughter and I knew she had a supportive mentor.


As a student, I (M.M.V.) saw the director's open-minded response as invitation to develop and explore my abilities well beyond my initial expectations. I became even more energized and excited about the possibilities of being a member of the nursing profession. Working with the disabilities counselor at my university and the program director, we developed a proactive plan to ensure that I received a well-rounded education taking into account the limitations that my diagnosis could present. For example, we worked through how I would do home visits in the community health rotation because I do not drive and how to reduce my risk of a seizure due to sleep deprivation by not rotating to night shifts. Both the disability counselor and program director remained people with whom I could explore concerns throughout my program and provided insight on how to discuss these issues with other faculty members and clinical instructors.


I completed all of the nursing program requirements and learned the necessary content, I just did it differently with much support. Furthermore, I was challenged to engage in independent studies, which allowed me to publish as an undergraduate on the topic of disabilities and legislative advocacy. I was given the opportunity to openly discuss what it is like to have a diagnosis of epilepsy and disabilities to undergraduate and high school students. I had the opportunity to serve as an advocate for those with epilepsy by speaking to state and federal legislatures about generic drug switching and disabilities. I completed an externship in a top pediatric neurosurgery program and gained employment at a Magnet(R) hospital in a neurosurgery and neurology unit well before graduation arrived. The confidence instilled in me during that first meeting and support throughout my 4 years of undergraduate studies enabled me to take my dream, make it a reality, and set me on the course for a productive career in a truly amazing profession.


Our experience demonstrates that an attitude of inclusion and acceptance toward those with disabilities can promote success. This attitude needs to begin with the very first encounter a potential nursing student has when exploring a nursing program.


Suzanne M. Mahon, DNSc, RN, AOCN, APNG


Professor, Department of Internal Medicine


Division of Hematology/Oncology


Adjunct Professor


Adult Nursing, School of Nursing


Saint Louis University, Missouri




Maureen M. Varty, BSN, RN


Clinical Nurse


Neurosurgery and Neurology


MedStar Georgetown University Hospital


Washington, DC




Neal-Boylan L, Smith D. Nursing students with physical disabilities. Nurse Educ. 2016; 41(1): 13-18.