If You Use a Wheelchair You CAN Be a Nurse, Like Me!
Ryann Kress BS, RN, has never let her wheelchair stop her from accomplishing her goals. Starting her healthcare career as an EMT, 13 years later, Ryann is a registered nurse, pageant queen, and influencer who describes herself as a sex-positive, queer, Southern belle disability advocate. We were thrilled to chat with her about her nursing career and advocacy work.
Listen to Ryann Kress on the Ask Nurse Alice Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all podcast platforms.
Watch the Video Interview!
Q&A with Ryann Kress
PW: What inspired/motivated you to become a nurse?
RK: I spent my adolescence in and out of emergency rooms and doctors' appointments managing my own disability, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I became comfortable in hospital settings very early on. My mom once made a joke that if I was going to be in the ER so much, I might as well be the one pushing the stretcher. So when I was 16, I signed up for an EMT class. 13 years later and I'm still working in healthcare.
PW: Tell us about your nursing background.
RK: I started my healthcare journey as a volunteer EMT for my local rescue squad. I volunteered throughout high school and college. During my time at James Madison University, I worked as an EMT for their rec center. After I graduated from JMU with a degree in Human Sexuality, I decided I missed hands-on patient care and enrolled in nursing school.
I worked full-time at night as a CNA that included roles as a:
- Cardiac monitor tech
- Unit secretary
- Patient transporter
During the day, I was a full-time nursing student. After graduation in 2015, I worked in the Emergency Room. I worked in the ER until I began using a wheelchair full-time in late 2018. Then, I took a step away from the bedside and worked as an acute care case manager. I stayed in that role for two years as I adjusted to my new normal.
Just recently, I returned to the bedside in my first bedside job as an RN on wheels on the Mother/Baby floor of Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, my local level one trauma center, and my dream hospital.
PW: Can you tell us more about your advocacy work for those with disabilities?
RK: I run a social media-based advocacy platform called Chronically Ry. You can find it on all social media platforms under the handle @chronically_ry. I use my platform to,
- Educate and advocate for the needs and lives of other disabled humans like myself
- Speak quite a bit about my own personal experiences as a woman with a progressive mobility-limiting disability
- My goal is always to make my followers realize that there is hope and progress in the community and that they are SO far from alone in their own journeys.
My advocacy methods and content tend to garner attention because I don't exactly fit the traditional "advocate" mold: I'm loud, sassy, covered in tattoos, curse a bit more than I should, and I am never afraid to tell it how it is.
My platform is all about living your life as your most authentic self because we never know how long we're promised on this earth. I'm on the Board of Directors for the National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities. I'm the current reigning Ms. Wheelchair Virginia —a title I have held since late 2019. Needless to say, my life is anything but boring.
PW: Tell us about your experience working as a nurse while using a wheelchair.
RK: My experience working as a nurse on wheels has been an adventure, to say the least. I went from working for an institution that did very little to support me as an employee to working for an institution that celebrates having me on the team and all of my advocacy work. My patients have always been incredibly receptive to having me as their nurse. It becomes evident that I have been in their shoes as soon as I roll into their rooms.
PW: Advice for others who use wheelchairs and are considering a career in nursing.
RK: DO NOT GIVE UP. Disabled bodies have SO much to offer the world healthcare. We have been there. We know what it's like to be that scared patient lying in bed while a bunch of people in white coats talks to you in what sounds like another language. Because we know what that feels like, we make excellent advocates for our patients. Getting your feet (or wheels) in the door won't be easy, but once you do, you will find a community unlike any you could've imagined. The world of healthcare is changing, and I hope to be at the forefront of that movement.
PW: What challenges have you overcome?
RK: I have overcome so much in my time as a nurse working with a disability.
- I have dealt with being unable to fit into my office
- Being unable to fit in med rooms or bathrooms
- Being doubted as a competent practitioner from my peers, all because I use a wheelchair to get around
- I have had to fight for everything from proper accommodation to showing hospital administrators just how inaccessible our facilities are for the employees.
- Oh, and do not get me started on the number of times I have fought for parking.
PW: Discuss the Ms. Wheelchair Virginia pageant and what that was like & your duties.
RK: The Ms. Wheelchair America program is not a pageant. It is "...a competition based on advocacy, achievement, communication, and presentation to select the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities."
During the Ms. Wheelchair Virginia program, we were judged on our interview abilities and public speaking abilities. During my reign, I have traveled all over my home state of Virginia, speaking to and advocating for the needs and lives of other disabled Virginians. My topics of advocacy include:
- Mental health
- Adaptive athletics
- Sexual education in disability
- Advocating for the rights of current and future disabled healthcare practitioners
This August, I will compete for the Ms. Wheelchair America crown and the opportunity to expand my advocacy work to the national stage.
PW: What are your future career and personal goals?
RK: My goals for the future include continuing to use my new job position, my title, and my platform to advocate for disabled healthcare practitioners at the bedside. I would love to travel the world, tell my story, and speak to others about what I have gone through. Hopefully, allow them to change the way they view people living with disabilities.
There is such a large divide between the able-bodied and disabled community. I think that needs to change, and the only way to do so is through education and camaraderie. I would like to help to change the face of healthcare as we know it.
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