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Interview with Donna Carol Maheady, Founder of Exceptional Nurse

Donna Carol Maheady, ARNP, EdD, the mother of an adult daughter with autism and other related disabilities, is a board certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and an Associate Graduate Faculty member in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University. Dr. Maheady has conducted research on the experiences of nursing students with disabilities, published numerous articles and is the author of Nursing Students with Disabilities Change the Course (winner of the American Journal of Nursing 2004 Book of the Year Award) and Leave No Nurse Behind: Nurses working with disAbilities. She is the founder of the nonprofit resource network Exceptional Nurse.

What event or series of events led you to pursue nursing as a professional choice?

No specific event led me to pursue a career in nursing. I recall wanting to be a nurse since I was a young child. It is all I ever wanted to do!

Nurse Exceptional

Name 1 or 2 specific challenges you have faced in your career in nursing and the steps you took to overcome them?

Over twenty years ago, my daughter Lauren was born. She embraces life challenged by autism and other related disabilities. Meeting Lauren’s needs for ongoing therapy and medical care became a challenge while working full-time. So, I developed flexibility. I worked per-diem doing home health visits and taught nursing part-time. I went back to school for a doctoral degree, became an advocate for the disabled and began writing about disability related issues within the nursing profession. I have written two books: “Nursing Students with Disabilities: Change the Course” and “Leave No Nurse Behind: Nurses Working with disAbilities” and numerous articles.

Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

My doctoral dissertation examined the experiences of nursing students with disabilities. From my work, I learned that few resources were available for nursing students with disabilities. By chance, a man was doing some work on our house and he developed web sites as a “side” job. I asked him to create a web site for me … and www.ExceptionalNurse.com was born! The web site is a resource network for nurses and nursing students with disabilities. In 2001, the organization became an official nonprofit. We provide a wide range of services including mentors, newsletters and scholarships. Additionally, we are active in social media including a blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you or the activities you spend the most time on at work?

There is no typical day. I teach nursing courses online, so I spend a great deal of time on the computer. I also teach clinical courses for nurse practitioner students. These courses involve travel into the community to conduct site visits with NP students working with preceptors. Evenings are spent catching up on the work of Exceptional Nurse such answering emails, writing blog posts, and writing for publication.

What aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?

Helping nursing students with disabilities become nurses and helping nurses with disabilities continue to practice.

What advice would you give to new graduates for getting hired after graduation?

Be flexible and cast a wide net (school health, health department, home health agency). Gain experience through volunteer work because volunteering can often lead to a position. Work with an agency giving flu shots in the community. Don’t limit your options to one particular area. Get out there! Consider moving, working in a rural or underserved area or with the Indian Health services.

What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise new graduates to mine their own strengths to further their careers?

I love being a nurse! If you love it … show it! Lead with your enthusiasm!

We’d like to thank Donna for being so generous with her time and sharing her insights and advice with our readers. You can learn more about Donna Carol Maheady at her site, Exceptional Nurse.