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An Interview With A Developmental Disabilities Nurse

For my first interview, I thought I’d interview someone who would tolerate my novice interviewing abilities — my mother. Ginny, RN, BS, DDRN has been a nurse for over 30 years, most of that time in the Intensive Care Unit. (The apple did not fall far, did it?) She currently works as Developmental Disabilities Nurse and has done so for nine years.

A developmental disability is defined by Wikipedia as a term used in the United States and Canada to describe life-long disability attributable to mental and/or physical impairments, manifested prior to age 18.” Ginny says that her clients have a range of mental and physical disabilities including cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, mental retardation, and autism, with autism being the most prevalent. Her clients live in normal houses along with nurse’s aides and “direct support professionals” (DSPs).

How did you get started as a Developmental Disability Nurse?

A friend encouraged me to come work with her after I lost my job when they closed the children’s home where I had been working.

Do you like it?

I have had other nursing jobs including med-surg, peds, ICU, factory nurse, WIC nurse, children’s home nurse, and finally this job. I have liked all of my jobs but this has been the most rewarding. The people I care for just love it when the nurse comes around. There is always a “thank you” in their eyes.

What frustrates you about your job?

It is, of course, a job which requires state controls. Their idea of “nursing” is an awful lot of useless paperwork that makes no sense to me. The pay is not commensurate with other nursing jobs considering the reponsibilites of delegating nursing tasks to laypersons. There are so many things these people need and it’s hard to get. There are so many state mandates that are designed to move people toward being as independent as possible but the mandates also make us take many steps backward in that process.

What about your job makes you proud to be a nurse?

When I can allay someone’s fears about their problems. Doing this with individuals who cannot speak and many times cannot move around can be a challenge.

Do you feel you receive adequate support for your responsibilities?

Support in the form of “words.” I don’t know what would happen if something serious were to occur. Last year we had a run-in with the health department and even though the personnel manager was there at the time they did not think about supporting us — they were more interested in schmoozing over the people at the health dept because we don’t want to “upset” the community people.

What is something a nurse who does not work in your particular field might find surprising about your job?

That we actually teach medication administration to CNA’s and DSP’s who are not licensed to give medications. That persons with disabilities are very fun, caring, and lovable persons.

What do you do all day?

When I arrive, I pick up messages from staff  on my email and telephone. After getting those squared away, I go and see the consumers who are sick, injured or have some thing for me to “look at.”

I go to service plan meetings for individual clients where we discuss their programming and medical needs for the next 6 months; their guardians, case managers, and nurses all come together as a team.

I process all new medication orders from doctors and make sure the staff understands everything about the medication, including how to administer it. We have to give meds during day programming; staff aren’t allowed while we are available. We are the go-between for all the different docs clients have. Some have 4 and 5 specialists including ortho, psych, EENT, family doc, neuro, podiatrist, urologist just to name a few. We check in all medications at the end of each month (about 500 bubbles), and follow up on med errors and missing meds. We teach med administration and health every month to new employees and do annual med review classes. Of course we have several committees that we must participate in: safety committee, QA, behavior management and human rights.

Are you salaried or paid by the hour? What are your hours?

I am salaried. I work days and have flexible hours as needed for me personally as well as what the agency needs — such as going to watch staff do meds at 6 in the morning or at 8 pm at night. I like the flex hours.  Just not the “extra” hours.

Do you find that you can accomplish everything you need to do within the hours set for your position?

NO!!  Some days are fine, but most days are not.

Does what you do involve a lot of teamwork, or is it more of an individual job?

Quite alot of teamwork which includes another nurse and case managers, access persons from the state and of course all of the caregivers that work in day program in the home, and the physicians they see.

Was there any extra training besides on-the-job learning that you were required to complete for this job?  (ie, a degree or certificate other than what was required for you to become an RN?)

No required “training” except a one-day course “Nurse Trainer” for the state, plus have to have worked in nursing for at least 2 years. Certifications can be obtained but are not required. I have my certification in Developmental Disability Nursing through a national organization. It was difficult and my agency did not help pay for any other training, or for taking tests, etc., which was kind of expensive.

One of the biggest complaints given by hospital-based nurses is that they rarely have time to eat or go to the bathroom? Do you find that to be the case with your job as well?

On some days this happens! One day this week I did not get a chance to go to lunch and didn’t realize it until my head started pounding.  As an ICU nurse (30 years), we had a bathroom very closeby. I never [had an accident,] but almost!


So there you have it, my first interview with a nurse who does not work a traditional bedside job. Thanks, Mom! 🙂

If you are or know of a nurse that works in a nontraditional setting who’s interested in being interviewed, email me at

*This blog post was originally published at code blog - tales of a nurse*

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