Nursing With Low Vision: Trailblazing a Path 

folded white cane and stethoscope

Ask any healthcare professional why they chose their career. It will usually boil down to: “I want to help people.” However, the distinguishing answer lies in each person’s unique story that moved them to action. Perhaps, however, we have grown so used to trying to cure or fix. So much so, we have become indifferent to what makes us different in the best ways.  

Trailblazing 

The first time I was ever called a “trailblazer” was during my sophomore year of college by my physiology professor. I was a young and impressionable undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles. I had easily adapted to college social life, indulging in my newfound freedom away from home. But my coursework was a steep learning curve. I found myself on the brink of failing a class weeks away from the final. For my GPA, I decided it was better to retake the course over the summer. 

As I sheepishly sat in my professor’s office with the form to drop her class, she made me promise I’d retake and continue my studies no matter how difficult classes got. She shared that I was the first blind or low vision student in their department. She said she hoped I would not be the last. And so, she sent me off with an oath to keep. And that I did. 

Nursing 

I graduated with a molecular, cell, and developmental biology degree, a name so long that it made people’s heads swivel. I was on top of the world, believing I could do anything. It was a belief spurred on by my supportive professors. I was intent on going to medical school after, so I took a year to work in cardiology at a hospital close to home.  

However, during my gap year, I became wary of becoming a physician for various personal and professional reasons. My mother, a nurse, pushed me toward the field of nursing instead. Drawn to the industry’s versatility and intimate patient connections, I applied for and was accepted to a local university for a 15-month program to earn my Bachelor of Nursing.  

Accessibility Is What You Make It  

Upon admission into the program, I anticipated a new set of academic obstacles. To what degree, I was uncertain of. Yet again, I was the first low vision student in the program. I stepped into new territory as I scrambled for accommodations that would help me serve my patients best. This involved a lot of self-advocacy and educating professors as they learned to adapt to my situation. My mentality was: “It’s not about making exceptions; it’s about being creative.”  

The accommodations granted to me are as follows:  

● Hand-held magnifier: used for quick access (ex: to read medication labels or view markings on a syringe).  

● Digital magnifier: used to read labels when the hand-held magnifier is inadequate for reading the computer screen.  

● SuperNova Dolphin: this screen reader is portable on a USB and allows easy access across multiple computers. I used it to view electronic medical records, as I frequently worked on different units within various hospitals.  

● Windows Magnifier: this is an internal tool within the computer itself. I access it via the settings under “Zoom increments.”  

● Telescope glasses: custom-made to suit my vision, these glasses allow me to perform procedures safely away from the patient. This includes IV and catheter insertions.  

The important lesson here is to be resourceful. I experimented with various tools and searched for practical solutions to determine which accommodations would work well. Likewise, I researched and reached out to other blind or low vision healthcare professionals, a process that made me keenly aware of our sparse, scattered presence across the country. I knew their situations would never mirror my own, but I gained great comfort and insight by sharing experiences and accessibility ideas. 

Creating Space  

As I adjusted to the nursing student role, attending clinical rotations and pushing through classes, I realized a hard truth: I worked twice as hard to prove I belonged here. From fighting for accommodations to faculty expressing concerns about my capability to perform “safe and effective” care due to my low vision, I battled implicit bias from those around me as my efforts to demonstrate clinical competency were placed under a microscope.  

I was viewed as a patient, not a colleague, and the shift to forward-thinking in nursing education seemed difficult to grasp for many. In reality, this field was never created with people like me in mind, and I was breaking down walls and rebuilding to make space as I challenged traditional beliefs in nursing. Some appreciated the novelty of my efforts, like the professor who met with me during a difficult time in my program or the nurses who taught me more in one day than I’d learned all week.  

My peers also served as integral friendships during challenging seasons.  

Remembering Your “Why”  

Situations like these can renew your fire or snuff you out. The peak of my fight to remain in nursing school occurred at the end of the second semester. By this point, I had faced academic discrepancies, student targeting, and allegations made based on my vision. I was deeply discouraged and contemplated quitting the profession when I was made to repeat a course and delay my graduation by a semester.  

However, I was always reminded of why I chose nursing in the first place when I was with patients. Curious, one patient inquired about my telescope glasses, and another told me I’d “make a great nurse.” Every time I stepped into the hospital, I did my best to make the person before me feel more human, learning about who they were beyond their medical record. From my own experiences and witnessing those of family members, I have grown up going to countless doctor visits and hospitals. This is all to say I have known the receiving end of healthcare all of my life. As a low vision individual, I have come to embrace the unique perspective I offer. 

Relatability 

There is a deeper sense of relatability when I care for my patients. There is a profound connection as I consider the seemingly small actions that make a significant difference for them because, at one point, they did for me, too.  

Moreover, I am a tangible example as I demonstrate perseverance in spite of physical limitations. Whether it was holding the hand of a delirious patient as she underwent a procedure, experiencing my first code blue, learning the story of a man living in homelessness, comforting a physician with cancer, or helping a low vision patient navigate his meal with tips I learned first-hand, every interaction strengthened my resolve to remain in nursing.  

A Trailblazer in Healthcare 

The healthcare industry desperately needs professionals with disabilities ready to pioneer further inclusion and diversity. Patients feel most comfortable seeing someone who looks like them on their medical team. With a spirit of innovation and resilience, I have made it weeks away from graduation. Every day in nursing school is humbling, and I have learned to extend grace unto myself and others. I couldn’t fully appreciate the title of “trailblazer” bestowed on me as a sophomore in college.  

Now, I understand the beauty in the struggle of paving your path amidst opposition. I don’t believe in bulldozing past barriers and leaving a wake of rubble and ruins with no real change. I believe those barriers must be torn down and set ablaze so that they may serve as beacons to guide those brave enough to follow.