A disabled nursing student who recently won a scholarship for her dedication and achievement in school says that she’s succeeding in spite of negative attitudes and legislation regarding nurses with disabilities that could adversely affect her career.
Kristina Sawyckyj, a full-time nursing student who expects to receive her LPN in December and her RN degree next year from a Denver community college, won a $250 scholarship this summer from Exceptionalnurse.com. The award was based on her grades, financial need, community activities and an essay about how her disability will influence her work as a nurse.
Sawyckyj said she came across the Exceptionalnurse.com site – which is based in Florida – after a long search for support resources. She applied for the organization’s scholarship at the last minute. "It was good to find a site that supports nurses going to school," she said. "It was incredible that they had a scholarship for that – to support other students with challenges."
She was thrilled to find a support network and to win some money for school, but most of the value of the scholarship was emotional. "It was a morale boost," she said.
Nurses and nursing students with disabilities often say misperceptions are the biggest obstacles they have to overcome in their professional lives. Limitations are often placed on disabled nurses, even if they don’t actually exist. Sawyckyj has struggled to find positivity in her nursing school experience. One instructor in her program – who is no longer with the program now – actually advised her to drop out because there was supposedly no way Sawyckyj could succeed. "She was very discouraging, to say the least," Sawyckyj said.
Though she has prevailed in the program, Sawyckyj said a friend gave in to pressure to drop out of school after being injured in an auto accident. Sawyckyj hopes administrators’ ideas of who is and isn’t fit to be a nursing student won’t be left unquestioned. "I’d like to see more and more students challenge that idea with [school administrators]," she said.
There are troubling developments beyond the walls of nursing schools, too, according to Sawyckyj. She said a new state law put in effect this summer could be unfair to working nurses with disabilities. She said the law – designed to monitor nurses with drug or alcohol problems – requires nurses to reveal all their disabilities to regulators, and that the wording of the law essentially allows regulators to end a nurse’s career based on a disability. "That’s why I got concerned – that they’ll be going around saying who can and can’t be a nurse based on disabilities. I have a hard time with that," Sawyckyj said.
While she understands the need to monitor the nursing industry for drug and alcohol problems, Sawyckyj said she questions the need for regulators to be prying for information about psychiatric or neurological disorders. Though disabled nurses should be alarmed about the consequences of the regulatory changes, Sawyckyj said she’s unaware of any advocacy efforts to look into the issues raised by the new legislation.
Regardless, Sawyckyj hopes to continue defying nay-sayers and eventually specialize in public health nursing, specifically in a rural setting. She wants to be involved in community health education.
Born in Chicago, she spent her teenage years in Arizona. Career interest testing indicated she should look into the medical field. She was also inspired by her grandfather, a Navy masterchief, the highest type of enlisted man on a submarine. "He always made [the Navy] sound interesting and fun and exciting," she said.
She enlisted in 1987 and worked as a Navy Corpsman. Her duty was much like a military paramedic, with time spent in emergency rooms, at bases and on ships all over the world. She traveled to places like Italy and England, but was based mostly out of Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. It was a very active job, and days were usually very busy. "One minute you were in a hospital, the next you were sent to a ship for a situation or to a school. It was a lot of running around, just like a typical paramedic," she said.
The job provided a lot of training and lessons about preparation. "I learned that we have to adapt to situations that are constantly changing," Sawyckyj said. "Sometimes you have to make decisions when it’s just you, and there’s no one else around."
She left the Navy in 1992 to become a mother, and moved to Denver about four years ago. She enjoys the Colorado weather, as well as the challenges of nursing school and motherhood. "I love the outdoors. We camp a lot. I like to fish. I have my own garden here. I’ll do things like garage sales and flea markets and stuff."
by Mike Liguori