Can I become a nurse with vision impairment?


I've recently begun trying to go back to school for a second degree in nursing. I'm really excited about it, but I have a major concern- I don't have the greatest eyesight.

I've worn glasses since I was 11 months old, and have to have them to get around, as I'm effectively blind without them. With correction I see 20/40 in my good eye, and 20/200ish in my bad eye (and I don't have peripheral vision in that eye either or perfect depth perception). I was born three months early with ROP which caused partial retinal detachment in my bad eye, so my whole life I've been worried about retinal detachment. Recently I've been having signs of further retinal detachment in my bad eye, and my doctor told me this means I'm at a higher risk for detachment and vision loss, and will have to deal with it for the rest of my life.

I really want to be a nurse, and I don't want my disability to override my dreams, but I worry that if I become a nurse 1) I'll be less effective and good at my job than nurses with no vision problems or 2) I'll end up losing my remaining vision in my bad eye (since all the signs are pointing in that direction) and then how am I going to continue in a field which requires good vision? Because I can understand just having to wear glasses and still being able to work, but bad depth perception and whatnot just seems like a disaster waiting to happen somehow.

I don't know what to do. I want to do this, but I don't want to go to school and get loans and be in debt only to find out that, much as I want it, I just can't do this job.

Anybody have any advice? Similar problems? Am I worrying too much? Should I just go back to my original degree (English) and continue onwards with that?


1,348 Posts

I think you should go for another field. If you can't get close to perfect vision, lack peripheral vision, and have poor depth perception you will have difficulty performing tasks. In a world where needles abound, this is a disaster for both you and your patient. There are too many tasks that require good eyesight and eye hand coordination. I don't even think you would be able to get into nursing school.


80 Posts

Specializes in Emergency Department.

I'm not so sure, I might would disagree with the previous poster. I actually work with a physician who is legally blind without her contacts or glasses. It is possible that you would be able to make it through nursing school. It will most definately be harder for you, but if you have the desire to make it you can with some extra work. There are other jobs in nursing besides working at the bedside that you could do if you really wanted to work in nursing. I think it is unfair to say that you should find another field.


351 Posts

Specializes in Pediatrics. Has 7 years experience.

Go for it!

By the way, I have 20/20 in one eye and 20/200 in the other (WITH correcting lenses)- lazy eye. I too have TERRIBLE depth perception, if anyone were to toss me a ball to the side where my lazy eye is, I can't catch it. I also sometimes walk into door frames on that side because I don't see it, since I hardly ever use my lazy eye, but thankfully it is hardly noticeable. And obviously the peripheral vision on the lazy eye side is less than perfect.

I'm also a nurse practitioner and a nursing professor in a 4 year BSN program. I have been in nursing for 8 years now, and have NEVER had this affect my ability to care for patients (or teach nursing students).

Didn't cause me one bit of problems during my undergrad or grad programs.


351 Posts

Specializes in Pediatrics. Has 7 years experience.

Also, forgot to mention that without my glasses I am legally blind.

Specializes in Med-Surg.

I am a little torn. Personally, I don't want to see anyone hold back from doing what they desire because of a physical handicap. But, one the other ugly hand, we nurses are constantly assessing our patients, and a good deal of that time is visual. I'm not sure if your vision loss is to the extend that it would cause you problems with that. I also agree that poor depth perception and needles probably isn't a good mix. Be interesting to see what they other poster, 'more wiser' than I have to say.


85 Posts

Specializes in Staff Dev--Critical Care & Trauma.

I would say yes, with some cautions.

I used to work with a woman--a nurse--who was a patient educator and she was blind. Not partially, or "almost", but blind. She had a guide dog who was well known around the hospital, had one of those cool braille computer keyboards, and everything. She was a great patient educator.

She went blind from macular degeneration, so she wan't blind through nursing school. That's where it might be hard. You have to see for nursing school, I would think. I'm trying to think of how they could adapt for you and I don't know if it's wholly possible. Parts can be adapted, certainly, but I don't know about all.

Edited to add: The best folks to answer your question would be the schools. If you can get through school, there are lots of fields of nursing that you could work in... patient ed, phone nursing, research, maybe school nursing. Probably not IV team, though.


351 Posts

Specializes in Pediatrics. Has 7 years experience.

I have had hard-of hearing and low vision students before. It is teveryschool/ university's responsibility to provide a positive learning environment. This meant that those student's were offered note takers and often one or two nursing students who had proved to be excellent note takers offered the student their notes (in case the hard of hearing couldn't catch it all, or the low vision couldn't see the board).

Thye hard of hearing student was even provided with a special stethoscope which would magnify sounds so she could hear heart and lung sounds.

20/40 vision in one eye is pretty good, I think, so if you are close to the front of the class you should be able to see the board. I mean, most 5 year olds have 20/40 vision, and we don't treat them like they are handicapped. Your biggest (which I don't see as a very big hurdle, is the poor peripheral vision you have on the bad side).

As far as pts, I give injections and start IV's, st cath pts on a daily basis, and I have never had a needle stick or more or less trouble than my fellow work mates. It isn't like I have to be 20 feet away to give a shot or start an IV. You are usually at most 5 feet from the area you are working on, so I imagine at that range, you can see just as good as everyone else.. Just put your materials on the side of your "good" eye, so they can be in your peripheral vision.

Maybe shadowing an RN would give you a better idea of how your vision may or may not impair your ability to work?

I don't have complete blindness in my one eye, but I never once thought my very poor vision would keep me fom being a nurse, but definately try to talk to a local school and see what they have to say. It may be they could set you up to shadow someone too.

Good luck, if you are smart and capable, you will be fine. You will learn to work around your differences from the norm!


16 Posts

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who replied to my original post. I think I'm gonna go to school and talk to them to see what I can do. Hopefully I can stuck with us and be able to be a nurse.

Thanks for all the encouragement and advice!

Specializes in Gerontology. Has 37 years experience.

I have poor peripheral vision in one eye. I have problems with depth perception and cannot judge distances to save my soul! (which is why I dont drive!). Anyway - if this is your "normal" vision, then you will learn to compenstate for your problems without even realizing it.

For example - because of my depth perception problems, I hold my syringes higher than most people to see it correctly - an instructor pointed out that I did this and said that I knew instictively how to adjust for my vision.

I also worked with a nurse who had a glass eye and she managed fine too!

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