Purpose: The authors sought to generate insights and hypotheses about the professional experiences of registered nurses and physicians with self-identified disabilities to inform local and national policy conversations on supporting a diverse health care workforce.
Method: In 2009–2010, the authors conducted in-depth interviews in person and over the telephone with a sample of licensed registered nurses and physicians across the country who self-identified as having a permanent disability. They coded the interview transcripts to identify key themes across the participants' responses.
Results: The authors interviewed 10 registered nurses and 10 physicians. Five novel and consistent themes emerged from the data analysis: (1) Living and working with a physical/sensory disability narrows the career choices and trajectories of nurses and physicians, (2) nurses and physicians struggle with decisions regarding whether to disclose and discuss their disabilities at work, (3) nurses and physicians rarely seek legally guaranteed workplace accommodations, instead viewing patient safety as a personal responsibility, (4) interpersonal interactions often reflect the institutional climate and set the tone for how welcome nurses and physicians feel at work, and (5) reactions to workplace disability-related challenges run an emotional spectrum from anger and grief to resilience and optimism.
Conclusions: The responses revealed several missed opportunities for supporting health care professionals with disabilities in the workplace. These findings should inform the continuing debate regarding what defines “reasonable accommodation” and how to create a workplace that is welcoming for nurses and physicians with disabilities.