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Getting through Nursing School with a Disability

Disabilities   (281 Views 3 Comments)
by kaitlynann kaitlynann (New Member) New Member Student

42 Profile Views; 2 Posts

Hi everyone, I'm totally new to this website but it was recommended to me by my mother who is an RN. Here is my situation. 


I have Narcolepsy w/o cateplexy, Bipolar 1, and an autoimmune disease that I get infusions for every two months. I'm a pre-nursing student and starting to get really worried about my first two years of nursing clinicals for my future BSN program because the narcolepsy, specifically, is getting worse for me. I can't take long classes at my state college because I just drift off, and it is never that I'm disinterested in the subject, I LOVE class and learning all I can, but more that it's literally impossible to keep myself awake during the day. I'm trying to get my medication management for the disorder under control right now but it's a long work in process and isn't going anywhere fast. My ultimate goal is to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and I know that obviously comes as a masters program after the two years of a Bachelors program, but has anyone else gone through the first 2 years of nursing school for a RN degree and had narcolepsy while doing it? I'm worried as well about the accommodations, if there would even BE any, because my other issues can really strain most of my daily activities, even though I definitely have a strong drive and passion for the subject I'm studying. Thank you all. Xx 

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VivaLasViejas has 20 years experience as a ASN, RN and specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

8 Followers; 142 Articles; 9,665 Posts; 248,541 Profile Views

I'm sorry you've waited so long for an answer; I was offline for a few days and didn't see this post. Welcome to Allnurses!

You have several challenges that may make it difficult for you to become a nurse. You didn't state how the autoimmune disorder affects you, only that you have periodic infusions, so I don't know how that figures into your overall health picture. The narcolepsy and the bipolar I (the latter of which I also have, if that makes you feel better) are unfortunately illnesses that aren't compatible with a nursing career unless they are strictly managed. The trouble is, most meds for narcolepsy make bipolar worse, and many meds for bipolar make narcolepsy worse! Your doctors must work very closely together to find a combination of drugs that relieve symptoms without upsetting the delicate balance between your conditions.

To be honest, I'm not sure that going to nursing school and clinicals while your narcolepsy is so unstable is a good idea right now. I don't know how well your other conditions are doing, but they probably don't help. So I would say, think long and hard about this decision, get all your illnesses under control, and then go for it once you're in remission from all of them.

Best of luck in whatever you decide to do.


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    Please be aware, that your personal medical issues may result in several challenges in gaining admission to and completing a nursing program, beyond the difficulties in class that you acknowledge already. As the first reply noted, objectively reconsidering your desire to become a nurse, in light of all the challenges to be overcome, is a necessity. That said, if you are prepared to address those challenges, you may find a way to achieve your goal.

   Some greater obstacles beyond the problem of staying awake in class will require you to manage your symptoms in your clinical/ lab/ simulation experiences and testing or evaluations. Disability laws provide some protection by requiring reasonable accommodations of disability in academic settings. To ensure that you have the benefit of any accommodations possible, you’ll need to apply to your institution’s Disability Support Services office. The institution will need documentation of your medical conditions well in advance of the start of your nursing classes. The DSS office may be able to provide a number of classroom related accommodations, such as a scribe to take notes for you so you won’t miss content, up to extra time on exams. Unfortunately, accommodations for clinical experiences may not involve the DSS office.

    You must also make sure that when your medical documentation of fitness to participate in clinical studies I s submitted to the program with your application, as required by the institution and the nursing program’s policy, that the doctor understands the physical requirements of the program and by certifying your fitness, is willing to detail your limitations in a positive way. Based on that documentation, you may need to explore ways to meet the program’s outcomes with your nursing faculty and clinical instructors. Patient safety is a primary concern for faculty and instructors, so please be certain that your condition is stable and well-managed before any accommodations are explored.

   I hope these realistic insights into issues you must be prepared to address if you hope to gain admission to a nursing program and to complete it successfully do not discourage you. Although disabled nurses do find ways to practice nursing within personal limitations, a nursing program must be completed first. You may want to approach your goal by taking small manageable steps: e.g. attend a practical nurse program, become a LPN/ LVN, work a year or two, then enter a LPN-to-ADN program (possibly online), to reduce the number of semesters to a level of licensure and entry to a healthcare career.

   You’ll find lots of encouragement and examples of disabled individuals who became nurses, as well as helpful organization(s) and information online  through a basic search for “disabled nursing students”. Educating yourself about the challenges and potential solutions will prepare you to address the inevitable concerns you’ll encounter in institutional and nursing program admissions and policies. If you have the heart for a career helping others, you will find a path, if not in nursing, in another of the many associated healthcare occupations. Keep your goal in mind and avoid focusing on a title if your objective is to share your gifts by helping others!


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