UK Disability History Month: an interview with Naomi

Nurses in a corridorThe 18th November – 18th December is UK Disability History Month (UKDHM), and a key theme is Hidden Disabilities. Naomi is a deaf student nurse currently in her third year of Adult Nursing at King’s College London and she has just finished her placement at the King’s Clinical Research Facility. As a deaf nurse, Naomi is very much in the minority: she is one of just two student nurses to ever study at King’s College London and the first student Adult nurse (the other specialises in Paediatrics). For UKDHM, Senior Research Nurse Chifundo Stubbs and Research Communications Officer Eleanor Sherwood spoke to Naomi about her experiences.


Hi Naomi, thank you so much for meeting with us today. Firstly, why did you decide to train as a nurse?
There are so many reasons. Firstly, I have always been drawn to caring for others – I see nursing as a very sensitive job as you are caring for someone at their most vulnerable. However, I also wanted to be a role model for young deaf people as it’s important that they see deaf people in different professions, such as medicine or teaching, and currently this is quite rare. Helen Cherry was the first ever deaf nurse in the NHS and is an inspiration to me. I want to show other deaf people that they can achieve their dreams - but it’s important to have the right support behind you.


What barriers did you experience on your journey to training to become a nurse?
I first applied to be a nurse in 2016 – at a different university to King’s College London. I got through the application and interview process, and on the day I turned up [to start my course], they withdrew their offer because I was deaf. I went through two-year-long process to fight for a new place at a new university and was finally offered a place at King’s.

As a deaf student, I find myself having to work a lot harder than other students to achieve the same things. If there isn't a British Sign Language interpreter available, I can spend many extra hours reading the notes from the note-taker as I can't lip-read from far away! There’s also a lack of deaf awareness in society in general – as it’s a hidden disability I find myself constantly reminding people, which can be exhausting.


What is it like when you are on a practical placement, such as when you are on the wards?
I’ve had positive and negative experiences. In general, patients are really understanding towards me - they’re patient with me and really encouraging, and a lot of the time they’re surprised to find out I’m deaf but overall are really accepting of me being there. However, over the years I’ve had some comments from staff and some aren’t as supportive as I’d like. However, I’ve also come across some amazing staff that have made my time in practice the most wonderful learning experience and I’ve come away thinking ‘I can do this!’.


It does boil down to having open-minded people who are willing to work with me and help me and are not scared to ask me questions. Many nurses I have worked with are helpful, adaptive and willing to learn how best to work with me. I often think that if medics had a deaf patient, they would do everything they could to help make sure they are communicating well with that patient so that they understand what is happening, but this should also apply to a deaf colleague.


What has been your highlight of your time at the King’s CRF?
One key highlight has been working alongside you, Chifundo, with a patient with Rett Syndrome. It was the first time I’ve worked with a patient with complex disability and there are lots of things to think about, such as how best to communicate with them, how to reassure them and keep their anxiety at bay. It was all the things I love about nursing combined into caring for that one patient. It challenged me to adapt and improve my skills for that person.


Are there any tips you would give people to help you at your next placement?
I would write a little background on myself and how I like to be communicated with. I personally like to communicate by lip-reading but not every deaf person is the same. At the King’s CRF, people use see-through face masks so I can read their lips, but the way people stand is also important – people’s faces need to be well-lit and well-positioned so that I can lip-read properly. People should also just speak normally and clearly – this makes it a lot easier for me. While I can lip-read well, it can be quite tiring after a long shift and also I can’t lip-read everyone – it’s quite dependent on people’s accents and the way their mouths move!


Have you got any idea of what area of nursing you’d like to go into?
I’d love to be an organ donation nurse – in particular kidney donation. I’m really passionate about it as it is people giving the gift of life and want to be part of the process of seeing the person through the journey from being diagnosed, dialysis and transplantation.


Finally Naomi, we know you’re busy with the academic and practical sides of studying nursing, but what do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to cook and read and I also like to knit – although I’ve only just started learning so there will be no Christmas scarves just yet! I find knitting relaxing and it improves my hand strength and dexterity. I’m also into meditation, mindfulness and being calm, which I think will be good techniques for the future.


Tags: NIHR Wellcome King's Clinical Research Facility - UK Disability HIstory Month -

By NIHR Wellcome King's Clinical Research Facility at 17 Dec 2021, 15:19 PM


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