How nurses support patients with disabilities and special needs to maintain high-quality care

Nursing can be a fulfilling career that will teach you skills that last a lifetime. However, the job’s challenging aspects must be approached with the right skills to maintain high-quality patient care. One such situation would be caring for patients with disabilities or special needs. Many nurses learn these skills early on, but if you’re new to the field, there are some guidelines to keep in mind.

Nurses must ensure that all of their patients receive the same care, even if they may find it more difficult to do so. Keeping in mind that all people are the same regardless of their special needs or disabilities will go a long way. No patient should be looked down on or regarded differently just because the approach to care may be different.

The American Nurses Association published a position statement in 2019 that covers how a nurse should treat and react to a patient: “Nursing care for people with IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) should focus on individual needs and strengths, rather than a diagnosis or a label.” This is an excellent rule to follow when approaching patient care for this population.

It is also important to remember that while patients may have the same diagnosis or limitations, they are individuals and may not react the same way. While it is great to take what you have learned with other patients to a new one, it may not always be the right fit, and the same goes for patients without special needs.

Nurses must also advocate for their patients with other medical staff. Their role is not just patient care in these cases. This applies to patients without disabilities or special needs as well but is more important in patients that may not be able to advocate for themselves.

The first thing any nurse can do is assess the patient and their medical history. This should give the nurse a huge insight into how to proceed. If the patient is not alone, ask the person with them for any advice on how to help. Oftentimes, those closest to the patient will be there and able to help you understand if there are triggers that need to be avoided.

Most importantly, make sure you are engaging with the patient in your care. Do not let the caregivers take the place of speaking to the patient. Respect the patient and the answers that they give you. In the case of nonverbal or very low-functioning disabilities, it is still equally important to assess your patient and determine their needs. Maintain the commitment and focus on the patient in your care while also listening for support from their advocates.

You can also get support and advice from your colleagues for caring for patients with disabilities and special needs. It’s important to lean on the support system in your network for help and guidance if you are ever not sure.

For prospective nurses, learning compassionate care should start in school. Ensure that the college or university you choose practices and educates in compassionate care as part of their nursing curriculum. These are practices that you will use throughout your career as a nurse, and it is important to learn them early on.

The University of Indianapolis is one school that focuses on compassionate care. Their website states: “UIndy—as it’s known to students, graduates, and the community—is recognized for its leading-edge programs at all degree levels and the development of skilled, caring, and compassionate servant leaders.” This is just an example of how to focus your career to get all of the skills to treat patients, not just medically but also with a good bedside manner.

With this program, you also have a flexibility not offered by all schools. The Indiana online nursing program is available no matter the state that you are in, and you are able to get assistance with clinical placement in your local area. Students also have a dedicated student support advisor to help them throughout their academic journey.

No matter the path you choose to reach your nursing career goals, nursing with compassion is important. While this skill will help you with all patients, it is especially important in assisting the disabled and special needs community. Putting the patient first in all things you do as a nurse will ensure that you are ready and able to help patients of all needs with their care.

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