Nursing School with a Chronic Illness?

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Hello,

Nursing school has been my dream for so very long. Unfortunately though, I've been battling a chronic illness since I was a teenager. I've always done well in school, but physical obstacles/symptoms can get in the way of how much I can push myself at one time. I have mastocytosis, so I have the added factor of being environmentally sensitive and risking anaphylaxis. I also can't get many vaccines and things like that because of anaphylactic allergies to some ingredients (eggs, additives, etc.). I know this may be a problem when trying to get into school.

But my passion is healthcare. My current physician's office even said they would want to hire me if I went through nursing school because of my personal experience in their particular specialty, and I know the environment would be safe for me to work in. But my biggest concern is my health holding up in nursing school. In your opinion, do you think someone with environmental sensitivities and a chronic illness could do it? As a secondary option, I'm look at a surgical tech program at a community college near me (SF Bay Area in CA...nursing school would likely be at Gurnick). But that's not what I truly want- I really want to be a nurse.

I would love any advice or input. Thank you!

My observed experience is that it is in the student's best interest to keep all personal matters personal to the greatest extent possible. When one provides information to school personnel that can pose problems, chances are high that the information will be used against the student, rather than taken into consideration to make accommodations. You can not count on school administration or individual instructors to be understanding in their dealings with you. If I were you, I would only disclose on any pre-school medical exam paperwork, if necessary. I would not bring up anything in the day to day flow of things. Do your best to reach your goal. If it gets to be too much, then, you may have to quit the program. But I would give myself the chance before giving up. Good luck.

HouTx, BSN, MSN, EdD

Specializes in Critical Care, Education. Has 35 years experience.

Realistically, I don't know how a nursing program could accommodate a student who is: 1) unable to be fully vaccinated as required for clinical work in hospitals and 2) at risk for infection due to compromised immune system. Even if the school could figure out a way, I don't think that the clinical sites would agree because it would pose a legal and liability issue for them. The requirements for vaccination apply to ALL employees, even non-clinical staff who may have only 'incidental' patient contact.

Do you think I'm perhaps being unrealistic pursuing this dream, with a compromised immune system? Do you think it would be impossible for me to get through (or even qualify for) clinicals?

What's concerning to me is your inability to receive vaccines because of your condition. If the vaccines send you into a reaction that's bad enough to keep you from getting them, just imagine what coming in contact with the actual disease that the vaccine is designed to protect you from! You're going to be coming face to face with some very serious germs. If your system can't handle it, nursing may not be for you. I don't say that to be mean in any way, I just think that you need to seriously think long and hard about how this could impact your health. Aside from that, many programs don't take exceptions into consideration when it comes to mandatory vaccines, and it's for this very reason.

Thank you all for your thoughts. Erythropoesis- the concern for me is not the bacteria or virus in the vaccination, rather the concern is an anaphylactic/mast cell reaction to one of the additives, preservatives or fillers. Does that change your opinion? My hope is to in the long run work in the clinic my own previous doctor works in, or a holistic clinic, or it would be a dream to work in a NICU. Does this change your opinion at all? Am I perhaps still being unrealistic?

Thank you all for your thoughts. Erythropoesis- the concern for me is not the bacteria or virus in the vaccination, rather the concern is an anaphylactic/mast cell reaction to one of the additives, preservatives or fillers. Does that change your opinion? My hope is to in the long run work in the clinic my own previous doctor works in, or a holistic clinic, or it would be a dream to work in a NICU. Does this change your opinion at all? Am I perhaps still being unrealistic?

It doesn't change my opinion. I know that there's no way NICU will allow you within 10 feet of their babies without you being up to date on your vaccinations. We're talking about tiny, very sick little people here. A simple cold could kill them, let alone something major that could have been prevented by a vaccinated caregiver. Vaccine requirements are to protect the public from YOU just as much as they protect you from the public. No matter the reason behind why you can't be vaccinated, what it comes down to is that you're putting everyone at risk by not being up to date on your vaccines. It's not your fault, of course, that you can't tolerate the vaccines--but in the eyes of a hospital, this is a huge liability.

I understand. I was vaccinated all throughout childhood and my teenage years, before I developed this health condition in my twenties. Therefore I'm up to date on things like MMR, all the hep vaccines, etc. but I just can't get any additional vaccinations now like the flu vaccine. I thought that not having the flu vaccine wouldn't put my patients at risk considering that it isn't effective against all strains of flu viruses anyway...but I understand where you're coming from. It's just hard for me to let go of this dream because I'm so passionate about it. I thought perhaps I had gone through this in my twenties because it was directing me toward my purpose (nursing) but perhaps I'm wrong.

Then I misunderstood your original post when you said you "can't get many vaccines". If you have immunity to everything else, and the flu shot is all you can't get, then many hospitals will allow it. You just have to wear a mask for the entire duration of flu season as a precaution. Other hospitals mandate them. It just depends. If this is your only drawback (the flu shot), then no I wouldn't let this hinder you from pursuing nursing.

Thank you for clarifying that, I should have been more clear too in my description of my vaccine obstacle! I may also be unable to get the Tdap, which I hear may be an issue because the last Tdap I got was 12 years ago. Basically I've been vaccinated for everything (throughout childhood, even the chicken pox vaccination), but can't repeat vaccines or get new vaccines as an adult. Do you think there are hospitals that would allow me to work there without a recent Tdap or a flu shot?

Thank you for clarifying that, I should have been more clear too in my description of my vaccine obstacle! I may also be unable to get the Tdap, which I hear may be an issue because the last Tdap I got was 12 years ago. Basically I've been vaccinated for everything (throughout childhood, even the chicken pox vaccination), but can't repeat vaccines or get new vaccines as an adult. Do you think there are hospitals that would allow me to work there without a recent Tdap or a flu shot?

It's the schools themselves that you'll have to deal with first before you can start thinking about workplaces. The very first thing we had to do upon acceptance into our program was have a health physical completed, CBC, titers run to prove immunity to, or get the vaccines for MMR, hepatitis B, TDaP, Varicella. We also have to get the flu shot every year in October. I don't believe they give you any wiggle room on those rules either or, if they do, it was never mentioned.

Thank you all for your thoughts. Erythropoesis- the concern for me is not the bacteria or virus in the vaccination, rather the concern is an anaphylactic/mast cell reaction to one of the additives, preservatives or fillers. Does that change your opinion? My hope is to in the long run work in the clinic my own previous doctor works in, or a holistic clinic, or it would be a dream to work in a NICU. Does this change your opinion at all? Am I perhaps still being unrealistic?

In my personal opinion and based on nursing applications and paperwork you have to submit they will see if you have all your vaccines & if you aren't up to date with them they won't let you do clinicals and if you can't do clinicals they won't let you into a nursing program, it may be unrealistic for you to continue on this path.. Have you looked into other careers that may interest you in the medical field? Not being able to be vaccinated or having a poor immune system can cause you to catch anything or others to catch something from you as you could be carrying dormant strands of viruses.