Why did I become a learning disability nurse? Well, I’m biased of course, but I could ask: why didn’t you?
What a privilege to be able to work with and advocate for such an under-represented group. What a pleasure to be tasked with challenging the deeply ingrained stereotypes that sadly still exist, not just within the community, but within our health services.
I get to meet the most incredible people and families, who welcome me into their lives, their homes and their minds.
Parents who were told their child would not live past a year, but who is now 18; adults who survived long-stay institutions; families who are targeted by behaviours that in any other circumstance would be classed as abuse; and people who have to tirelessly fight every single day day. Just to have a voice.
If you want the long answer about why I trained as a learning disability nurse, I would take you back to a time where 16-year-old me was on placement in a special needs school.
“The work we do indirectly saves lives, and I’m reminded of that all the time”
To give you the condensed version, I just love it, despite the frequent doubts and judgements from others – questions such as “so you’re not a proper nurse?” and “what is it you actually do?”
I really do just love it. Sometimes however, those doubts resonate within me also. It’s been a while since I’ve ‘nursed’ in the stereotypical sense, but the work we do indirectly saves lives and I’m reminded of that all the time.
Imagine being in severe pain and not having the means to communicate it; not having the means to seek help; or the ability to rationalise or understand your pain.
Imagine being hungry or frightened, doing your utmost to tell others, and being ignored or misunderstood.
Imagine fully understanding your circumstances but being talked over or about, not to.
Now imagine how all these things would affect your ability to maintain good health and access the same standard of healthcare as someone without your needs. What are the chances something would happen to you without your consent?
Or perhaps something doesn’t happen despite you really needing it to? What are the odds your pain would remain unmanaged? For how long would you be hungry? Learning disability nurses make sure that these things don’t happen. That people are treated as just that – people.
“People who have learning disabilities need access to the same health services as you and I”
People who have learning disabilities need access to the same health services as you and I. Their diagnosed disability does not mean that they have weird, wonderful and unheard-of health needs.
If you need to attend a routine breast screening at 40, so will someone with a learning disability. If you need six-monthly dental check-ups, so will someone with a learning disability.
They may just need adaptations or support, so as a learning disability nurse, the spectrum within which I could work is huge. I could work with any age group; in primary or acute care; with physical or mental health needs; specialise in areas such as epilepsy or autism – and more.
Not only do I get to put a stop to the health inequalities faced all too frequently by people who have learning disabilities, but I get to do so with such exciting career options.
So again, if you’re asking why I decided to join the challenging, rewarding, frustrating and fascinating world of learning disability nursing, perhaps I should ask, why didn’t you?
Jane Iorizzo is a learning disability nurse