SPEAKERS: Brooke Smith, Andrea Dalzell
Andrea Dalzell 00:00
I want those positions too. I am capable of doing them, give me the chance. I'm going to apply. And to have 76 rejections plus I've kind of extended past that a little bit now, and not have those opportunities really kind of stemmed into the fact that diversity didn't include nurses with physical disabilities. And why not? And why are we not bridging that gap?
Brooke Smith 00:34
Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke and today on behalf of MDF Instruments, I would love to introduce you to Andrea. Hi, how are you doing?
Andrea Dalzell 00:43
I'm doing well. How are you
Doing so well, thank you so much for joining our podcast. we're really, really excited to have you today.
Andrea Dalzell 00:50
I'm excited to be here.
Brooke Smith 00:52
So for the viewers who don't know who you are, can you kind of just tell us a little bit about your your journey and your story.
Andrea Dalzell 00:59
So my name, like you said is Andrea, Andrea Dalzell, I'm also known as the seated nurse. And why I'm considered the seated nurse is because I use a wheelchair for my mobility. I am the first person to use a wheelchair to get through nursing school here in New York City. And a little backstory, I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis at the age of five. And then at the age of 12, completely stopped walking and had to use a wheelchair full time. And I did not always say that, you know, like, I was going to go down this path to healthcare, but here I am today.
Brooke Smith 01:39
Wow. So a little bit about that, is that normal to be diagnosed at five and then kind of many years later then lose the ability completely, or is it kind of a gradual thing.
Andrea Dalzell 01:52
So it varies for everyone that has transverse myelitis. So what transverse myelitis is also known as tm, it is a spinal cord, or a neurological disorder that can affect the spinal cord and or the brain. In layman's terms, my body decided one day that something wasn't right and decided to attack my spinal cord and ate the myelin from around my spinal cord which exposed the nerves which caused me to lose my nerve function. For me, over time, it was gradual, some people it can happen instantly, and they can recover from it, and some people don't recover at all. And like I did not recover very well after the second time that I hit when I was 12. So I already had it, I already knew that there was gonna be a possibility that I would use a wheelchair for my life. But every year is different, especially just as a wheelchair user, things are different.
Brooke Smith 02:53
Yeah, I can imagine and I know that you are incredibly inspiring, because you have accomplished, I think more than people who aren't in a wheelchair, you have just done remarkable things I would love to get let everyone get to know a little bit about that. But I, I think the biggest takeaway too, is just that you prove and show that with resilience and being positive and believing in yourself, no matter if other people tell you, you can't do something, you show up every day and you prove them wrong. And I think that's incredibly inspiring. What a great message to send to everyone watching and out into the world. And I would love to talk about a little bit about how you came into your profession. And also because I do know, I think I read somewhere that you thought initially that you wanted to become a doctor. Yeah. Is that right? Okay. Yeah. So I read that you wanted to become a doctor. And then something about realizing that nursing was calling you more, can you talk a little bit about what that journey was like.
Andrea Dalzell 04:03
So there is a really funny story behind all of this. When I was younger, junior high school, I was really sick. I was 12 years old when I you know, full time wheelchair user. So that's just the context of it. I was really sick when my junior high school graduation was happening. And I was still in the hospital and my doctor at the time signed me out of the hospital so that I can go to my graduation. And he went to my graduation with me now. I used to tell him all the time that I was going to become a lawyer, and I was going to come back and Sue all the doctors that ever put me through any amount of pain, right? And that was just my conviction at that age. And I didn't know that that's not how suing works, but in my mind at that age, that's how it worked. And he came with me to my graduation and in my memory book you know we all get these memory books when you're graduating or you get your your books like in my memory book he wrote Please anything but a lawyer. And I was like, okay, fine, what else am I gonna do? So and I school, I said I was going to be a doctor and I'm going to, I'm going to find a cure to transverse myelitis, I'm going to find a cure to pain, I'm going to figure out how to be a better doctor because these doctors couldn't figure out what I needed them to figure out for me. And, you know, that's, again, being a very young person thinking that you can grow up and save the world, right. And in doing that, I took science in high school, I decided that I was going to major in biology and neuroscience when I went to college, and I had every intention of in college, being a doctor, like, I'm going to go to medical school. And when I was finishing up my bio degree, I said, You know what, let me start auditing classes, let me start shadowing doctors. And it was in auditing classes that I realized that the medical model just wasn't where I felt I wanted to be medical school was not going to be where I was going to come out and tell someone, they would never walk again, it's not going to be the place where I'm going to tell someone that they only have X amount of time to live like I couldn't do that. And that's where the conversation about nursing started to come up. Nursing is a very holistic approach to the whole person and family and community. And I was like, well, that might work for me, let me apply. And I it's not because I saw someone else in a wheelchair, or anyone else with a disability that went to nursing school, it was just, I think that fits and I'm gonna go for it.
Brooke Smith 06:32
It sounds like you knew you wanted to help people. And you want it to be a part of the journey in a positive way. And you want it, you wanted people to know that you cared and you wanted people to feel that you cared. Nurses are called healing hands for a reason. It's because they come in, and they offer a warmth and a safety and a comfort, that's very sterile environment that you don't normally get. And I think that you were drawn to nursing because of the care that it takes to be one, you're obviously a very empathetic person, a very caring person. And those that is that find nurses are so amazing because of that. Those are the qualities that draw, draw into nursing. And so I thank you for following your heart and, and pursuing a career in nursing because the world is better to have you in doing that.
Andrea Dalzell 07:24
Thank you. I appreciate even saying that, like, you know, I had said before, and I will attest to it until the day I died, that were there with me when I was first diagnosed. So the nurses that were there, when I had my 33rd surgery, they played a huge impact in my life when my parents couldn't be by my side, right? They're the ones that were always there. So if I get to give back maybe an ounce of what they've given me through my entire experience as a patient, then I've given back something that I can never pay. So
Brooke Smith 08:00
that's so beautifuI, thank you for sharing that. It wasn't always so easy for you to become a nurse.
Andrea Dalzell 08:06
Yeah. I applied to 76 acute care positions. So that it I did it in clinical, like clinical practices, private practice, ambulatory care centers, as well as in hospital settings. 76 of those applications were directly for those positions and got interviews, and they never resulted in getting gainful employment. So I was definitely able to get employment as a nurse but not doing stuff that I knew that I was capable of doing. So I was a camp direct health director when I had first got out of school, I was in front of campus clinical practice a clinical role. I also did case management, which is also not considered a clinical role when you're outside of the hospital setting or outside of a Ambulatory Care Center. And now I'm a school nurse again, not considered the same thing. And I really wanted just like every nurse when you come out of school, you think that you're going to go to the bedside, you're going to gain a year of experience and go into you know, whatever specialty you like, or if you don't like you know, direct patient care, you're okay with case management. I wasn't okay with case management, I wasn't okay, goals were a little bit bigger and my goals are a little bit bigger than what those positions are gonna yield for me down the line. So I knew what I really wanted. And we also know that we placed this huge value on nurses going to the bedside and getting some experience before moving on to anything else right we we value that so much that that's that was instinctual for me after coming out of nursing school to get to a bedside, get to hands on care, so that I can see there different manifestations of disease processes and know what I'm doing right know what I'm talking about and not just be textbook smart. I can read a textbook and repeat it back to you. That's Fine, but how do we know? At certain ways when you're not in front of these patients on a regular basis? So it kind of stuck with me in that sense in where I was like, Okay, well, I want those positions to I am capable of doing them, give me the chance I'm gonna apply. And to have 76 rejections plus, I've kind of extended past that a little bit now, and not have those opportunities really kind of stemmed into the fact that diversity didn't include nurses with physical disabilities. And why not? And we're Why are we not bridging that gap?
Brooke Smith 10:39
Yeah, I think it's a such an important topic to discuss. Because you're right, people don't talk about it. And if we don't talk about it, then we can change it. So I think it's really important that we open that conversation. And I think that's what you've done such a great job of doing, is kind of opening up that conversation to people to say, Hey, listen, I'm just as capable, if not more so capable. Just because I have a disability doesn't mean I can't do this job just as well as anyone else. And I think you have more than proved that. And I think, because the article that I read talked about how the silver lining, kind of through this whole COVID 19, in this pandemic, and how because there was such a shortage of nurses and healthcare professionals that they had to just say, we need everybody please come in help in is that kind of bound? Were you struggling to get those positions? And then were you able to start seeing that happen? Because of COVID? Or, or did that kind of happen before COVID.
Andrea Dalzell 11:44
Oh, for me into that COVID kind of shifted everything. For me. As I said, I'm a school nurse, that's my bread and butter right now. So schools closed, everything closed down like the end of February, beginning of March, or even to the end of March come in New York. And I wasn't seeing I was getting rejected up until February. You know, I had one on a couple interviews back in February, and I didn't hear anything back, I'd get to the second round of interviews, meet with a nurse manager for a unit and hear nothing back. And, you know, even though, you know, people would think like, Okay, well, did you address your disability? How are you going to be able to do it. Usually in an interview, no one's addressing whether or not someone can do CPR, because you're automatically assuming if they're walking into the room, that they're more than capable of doing the position at hand, right? You're just selling yourself to be able to get the job. So I was selling myself, but I'm selling myself as someone who looks different, and perceived as unable to do something because I'm sitting down, and not being able to get the same credibility as if someone walking into the room for the same position when COVID is happening. And like you said, where we're begging for nurses to come out in New York, I'm in New York. So we were like the ethics, the epi center here, have an epi center in general. And we were getting slammed that our hospitals were like, please, we need help like, Governor Cuomo put out a whole listserv for retired nurses to come out of retirement. So if you're asking for retired nurses to come out, schools are closed, I'm going to answer the call, right? Because here I am. I'm not retired, I'm actively working, what can I do to help? And I saw online, a hospital posted their HR number, that's how desperate they were for nurses that they were like, please just call our HR line. And I call the line I left a message. And within 15 minutes, I had gotten a call back saying can you show up tomorrow? And can you email me all of your credentials? And I was like, Yes. Send me in and I got a an ID badge and a request to work. And I needed to come in the following day to get my hands on training and then get to the floor. And that's how dire New York was. And you know, the process was different. It wasn't like I met with HR and then met with a nurse manager. No, I went straight to HR and HR sent me straight to the floor. It was like which nurses needed what this is where you're going to show up. Whereas before when I was interviewing, it was going through HR, or going through the nursing recruiter and then going straight to the nurse manager with the nurse manager having the final decision. So
Brooke Smith 14:30
Wow. Yeah, what was the experience once you were on the floor? Did you I feel like I was reading a little bit about some discrimination that was happening like at first when you first got there. Can you talk a little bit about what that experience was like once you were said, you know, I'm showing up for the fight here. I'm ready to fight COVID-19 help all all I can. I'm more than qualified. I'm here at the hospital to fight this. Where you were Did you have any any any struggles Once you're on the floor, and can you talk a little bit about that?
Andrea Dalzell 15:03
Yes. So I get this assignment, I show up and I meet with who I need to meet with when I get to the hospital, and I get sent to the unit. And I go to the unit, and I say, I'm a registered nurse, I'm here for you guys. And they're like, they're all looking at me like, Huh, like, You're here to do what? And I'm like, I'm here to take on your caseload. Like I'm here to help you do med pass, like whatever it is that you need. I'm your extra, like, I have an extra set of hands to help. And they're like, okay, the nurses that were working were fine. They went with it, they're like, Okay, if you need, like, they already knew that they needed help. So they were gonna take help, whichever way that they were going to get it. Now, at the same time, within an hour of being on the floor, I was pulled, the director of nursing or the assistant director of nursing came, and she's like, Can I talk to her? And I was like, sure. And she proceeded to question my ability. She she said to me, whether, you know, I don't know if you can be here, have you ever worked for before? And I just looked at her and I was like, I got through nursing school, like I got through clinicals. I, I my resume. And then I just as she's questioning me, I just said, Did you speak to HR about this? Because why are you questioning my ability when I'm already here? Right, HR wouldn't have sent me if they for any reason thought that I couldn't be helpful. So I just wanted to like, give that back. And just like, Well, I didn't mean to offend you. And I was like, there's no offense, I'm not taking offense to it. I'm just saying that if you have an issue that it should probably be brought up with HR, and not with me directly. And that's for anyone listening, right? I don't want to make it seem like, you know, this is an issue, you can definitely question me, but things that shouldn't be questioned is about someone's ability when they're already there. And they're already set to work. Right? So there was just a wrong place at the wrong time. I shouldn't have been sent to the unit if there were already questions that needed to be answered. Right, I should have already been getting report if things were uneasy or unsure of right? Or why don't you give me the opportunity. If something wasn't working, that you can pull me say, hey, this isn't working, let's try to redo something else. But these things weren't, weren't even done yet. And you're already asking and questioning my ability because of our perception of you sitting versus someone standing?
Brooke Smith 17:29
Yeah, I'm, I'm so sorry that that happened. And I think it's such an important thing to talk about, because you're absolutely right. Also, you know, it shouldn't have been done that way. And I think that you just even kind of talking about that, I hope will make people think twice before they do something similar. In another situation to someone else. It it upsets me because I am such an advocate for nurses and I I'm here for you. And I just think that it's just, it's it upsets me when I hear this kind of thing happening. I know a little bit ago, you kind of brought up CPR about oh, you know, can she do CPR? I read a little bit about how you prepared to for CPR? I think it was was it boxing or spa? So can you tell us a little bit about that? I think that's really cool and bad acid views? To kind of highlight a little bit, can you tell people about that?
Andrea Dalzell 18:33
Yeah, so I didn't take nursing school lightly, like I knew whether I was going to be a doctor or a nurse that I needed to have like my own physical ability to be on par with what was going to be required of a nurse or a doctor, right? Maybe a nurse a little bit more because of the fact that there are direct hands on care. And a doctor, not as much. But if I were going to be a surgeon, it was the same thought process, right? That I would need to have a physical ability to do certain tests. Now, nurses don't always have to have a physical ability. So I want to put that out there too, because I don't want someone listening. I think that, oh, I don't have physical ability. So therefore I can't be a nurse. There's so many different facets to nursing, that being able to do CPR is a very minute part for someone who's directly in front of patients, right. You can be an informatics nurse, you can do you know, case management, you could do anything else in nursing, it does not always come down to having a happy hands on. So for me knowing that I wanted to be that hands on nurse I wanted to be at the bedside, I knew these were things that I was going to have to be able to prove and do I took up strength training and boxing so that from the seated position, I'd be able to have the stamina to do CPR and to have the strength to be able to push down at the velocity that I was going to need to have to put down When you think about standing and doing CPR, you have your whole body weight over someone pushing down. And you have like, you're tired, and you're winded and you have your legs and everything else, me, I'm locking in place, and I'm pushing down just on arm strength. So the only way that I thought best to do that was to take up a sport like boxing, so that I can build up a power punch and build up that amount of stamina that would be needed for CPR.
Brooke Smith 20:31
Yeah, again, I think you're just showing that you know, you want you knew what you wanted, you knew what you wanted to do. Like you said, there are many facets to nursing. It doesn't always require physical strength for all departments of nursing. But you knew that that's what you wanted to do. And so you prepared yourself for that, to make sure that you were ready. And, and I think that's just really inspiring and incredible, because you, you show that you can literally do anything. So kind of to go on that a little bit. What What do you think the biggest misconception is about what you do?
Andrea Dalzell 21:11
I think that the biggest misconception is just having that preconceived bias that someone with a disability wouldn't be able to function or do the job just as well as anyone else without a disability can do it. Right. Like, unfortunately, I can't hide my disability, I am on four wheels, I'm rolling around on four wheel. There's already this, you know, can you put someone else in a wheelchair? Can I hang an IV? Can I do CPR? Can I lift the patient up? You know, these are all things that we think about in a physical sense. But look at nursing as a whole, you don't always have the most physically fit nurses to be able to do this either, right? Look at a nurse who's been in the profession for maybe over 30 years, who stands up for 12 hours, because that's how crazy his shift is, I kind of laugh at it, because I'm like, I sit down for 12 hours, where you guys are standing and running. Like, I'm used to rolling around 18 hours a day, like my arms are used to these moment movements, your legs are not like. So there's all of these preconceived biases that like my ability is less than when half the time I'm not even using the same muscles all the time, and I'm not as tired at the end of the shift that someone else may be, just because I'm not doing the same body mechanics as someone else. And, you know, this whole thought process is just means a little is a little shift out of life, you know, this outdated thought process that we don't live up to the standards of what we hold nursing to when nursing is forever evolving, and so is technology and so is everyday life. So having this notion that someone may not be able to do something because of a disability is very dated.
Brooke Smith 22:48
And if they need proof, they can just look at you know, but I know that that you weren't just getting this doesn't just happen at the job at once I have the job, I have to prove myself or I have to show that like, I'm just as capable as everyone else. Or I still have to deal with these biases, or these still, these preconceived ideas about who I am or what I'm capable of. That does, that doesn't just happen for you at the level of once I have the job, it sounds like from what I understand, it was happening to you pretty consistently, throughout your journey in healthcare. It sounds like it happened when you went to school, from people telling you to just to quit or you weren't cut out for it. I think that's another really an incredible thing about you. And something that's very inspiring. And for anyone watching, we can talk a little bit about that about other people telling you No, and how you can't ever take that in, you can't take that to heart because nobody is knows what you're capable of except for you. And if you believe that you can do something and you work hard enough, you can do it. And I think your journey has showed that but I know, I know that you this is something you have been facing the entire time.
Andrea Dalzell 24:04
Yeah, I definitely faced that the day that I rolled into my nursing school orientation. And I was pulled from the class and they were like, We don't know if you can be a part of the nursing program, we have to talk to our hospitals, we need to figure out if you're covered under our insurance. And I'm like, I'm a student, and I'm covered by the ADA. And and I'm gonna stay until the end and then we'll figure it out afterward because it was a mandatory orientation and something in you already knew that if I had left a mandatory orientation for nursing, like they could have easily said, well, you missed orientation. So therefore, we'll have to let you in next semester or we can't let you in at all right? So there's these little things that you kind of have to just be smart about knowing how to advocate for yourself. Speak up for yourself and or know that you want to fight for what you want to fight for. For me, I wasn't going to just roll over and say, Okay, I can't be a nurse because someone else told me that I couldn't be a nurse, like, I was going to talk to whoever I wanted to talk to you and whoever I needed to talk to, in order to ensure that I was going to be in the program already accepted me now you're going to tell me No. Like, again, nursing is so multifaceted that it doesn't make sense to just turn someone away at the door. And I know that that's not, you know, it's not only for me as someone who uses a wheelchair, but it happens to be people with disabilities all the time. So therefore, like, it just needs to have this bias a race, like it cannot happen.
Brooke Smith 25:40
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Other than your career in medicine, obviously, and obviously advocating for quality and fairness. in health care. What are what other passions do you have? Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Andrea Dalzell 25:59
Yeah, so I am a huge advocate in general, just disability advocacy, making sure that people with disabilities of any form can get the services and resources that they need in order to live the active lives that they wish to leave. You know, I talked about being able to have access to complex rehab technology, which is basic wheelchairs that are custom fitted for people with different disabilities, and not just like the hospital wheelchairs that we know. So Well, like I don't sit in a hospital wheelchair, because I don't want to end up with skin breakdowns and wounds, because it doesn't fit my body. Let me talk about having a lens like artificial limbs made for people who have limb differences or has an amputation, you know, and I'm also really big on accessible homes. Right? We know that right now, especially, there's been a huge talk about the fact that there's not even enough homes to for the people that need them. And the people that can't afford them. But there's not even enough accessible homes, period. Like there's like you're looking at a market that's not even made for us. And also, when you're looking at something that is accessible and ready to move in, you're looking at something that costs way above someone's means, especially in the disability community. So I've been a huge advocate on that. So I'm very passionate about being able to not only get a job, right, as someone with a disability and maybe be able to maintain that job, especially now past COVID. And what its gonna look like, after we've got a handle on COVID. But being an advocate for being able to have a stable home with a roof over your head, and you know, just want to live a life that everyone is entitled to have.
Brooke Smith 27:46
Absolutely. And I want to kind of go off of that a little bit. For people who, who want to get along in the fight with you and advocate for all of these things. Do you have any resources or advice on things people can get involved in if they want to say, Hey, you know, we want to we want to be a part of the change. I think a lot of people want to help, and they they want to be a part of the change. And they're just maybe not quite sure. How do you have any advice for how people can can get on board and help?
Andrea Dalzell 28:16
Well, for one, look at the diversity around you, right? diversity is not just black and white, if you're wondering where someone is that might have a visual impairment, or a limb difference, or may have maybe have a mobility issue of, Hey, why don't we have these people working here? Right? Or even just having education around it? How do you treat your patients that have all of these issues? Right? How do we better have resources available for them once they leave the hospital setting or clinic setting, right? Because then you're advocating on their behalf outside of the setting in which you work, you're making sure that they have what they need past being in front of you. And then on the flip side of that, too, you want to ensure that the conversations are being had everywhere, right? You want to make sure that you're reaching out because I'm not the only one. I'm not the only nurse in a wheelchair that's working. I'm not the only one that's bringing attention. gratefully, I've gotten platforms to be able to have a louder voice. But it's your voice too, right? So God forbid something happened to you on the job? Are you given the accommodations that you need? who handles those accommodations? HR? If the HR director leaves, then does your accommodations transfer over? Like these are all questions that you want to know and you want to touch on? Especially if you think that you know, okay, I don't have a disability, it's not gonna happen to me. You want to know what's on that disability list? diabetes, hypertension, pregnancy, right? Um, what if you you hurt your back while lifting a patient off the job? What are your accommodations are you just told to leave for three months and then you're out of work only collecting 60% of what your average paycheck would be? Is that enough to survive especially in an economy that keeps driving up the Cost of everything else and not bringing your your salary to go coincide with it. Like you want to know these things because accommodations are real, and they should be given to everyone as an opportunity and not just saying, Oh, no, you can stay home for a little bit. And then we'll really evaluate in a couple of weeks, right? We want to make sure that the longevity in our careers are being assessed, from the moment we start, it's going to cover whether you have a disability acquired disability or age, like you are going to be covered in the profession that you wish to be in. So that's where you advocate hardest, especially for people that don't know who else to reach out to, or how to speak on it. Speak up for yourself. We don't know what we don't know. But what if you do become pregnant? What if you do have a back injury? What if you get in a car accident? Is your job going to provide you with accommodations to ensure that you are okay to come back?
Brooke Smith 30:56
These are great, great points. I think it's really important for people to think about these and yeah, advocate for yourself. Speak up for yourself, stand up for yourself. Don't let people mistreat you because and there's power in Also, if you see something that's happening, That's not right. Even if it doesn't affect you, you you have to stand up and say, Hey, I support you on on this walk with you. Because that's how we create change. And we're more powerful in numbers. So, you know, I say like, everybody needs to come together to create the change. And that for that starts with people standing up against the injustices and the inequalities and the discrimination, and all the things that are happening that are unjust and unfair. We all have to stand together to create that change.
Andrea Dalzell 31:44
Brooke Smith 31:47
I absolutely love having you. Thank you so much for for joining our podcast today. And for everyone watching. We're gonna link all of her information, her Instagram, everything will be here. I know that she would love to talk to talk to you if you have questions. She's a huge advocate for all of you. So please don't don't be scared to reach out to talk.
Andrea Dalzell 32:08
Yeah, reach out