How a Deaf Mother of Five Overcame the Odds to Pursue a Degree in Healthcare

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In America, one in four people—roughly 26 percent—are currently living with a disability. These people have an increased risk of ailments like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. However, many don’t let their disability define them, going on to achieve the seemingly impossible.

One of those people is Dionne Jaques of Salt Lake City, born deaf. Now a 57-year-old single mother of five children, Jaques is a graduate of Nightingale College’s Master of Science in Nursing program.

We sat with her to discuss her experience as a student, what motivated her academic drive, and where this path is leading her.

Pursuing a Passion

With a longtime enthusiasm for healthcare and a desire to learn, Jaques came across Nightingale, which has its main campus in her hometown. Encouraged to speak with the school’s admissions, she immediately found a supportive environment that made the idea of achieving a degree in higher learning despite her disability a real possibility.

“They were just so supportive, and I was told that there was no reason that I wouldn’t be successful in life,” says Jaques. “They believed in me, especially my counselor, who never gave up on me and provided me with the emotional support I needed every inch of the way.”

As Nightingale’s curriculum centers around remote instruction combined with hands-on learning with local healthcare partners, Jaques performed her clinicals for her RN program in St. George, Utah. With the ability to take in the full nursing experience and even have the opportunity to watch surgeries being performed, she found that her condition did not undermine her ability to work in such a setting. Similarly, when it was time for clinicals at the Jordan Valley Hospital for her MSN, her positive attitude and drive prompted the staff to attempt to recruit her following her graduation.

Disability Fuels a Drive

Jaques’ academic drive was plain for all to see. She was named valedictorian of her ASN and BSN programs and achieved a 4.0 GPA throughout the journey to her MSN. Additionally, she received the school’s prestigious Flame Forward Award, named for the flame Florence Nightingale carried in her lamp as she tirelessly cared for ailing soldiers during the Crimean War.

Deaf Nurse Overcame Disability

Dionne Jaques, a graduate of Nightingale College’s Master of Science in Nursing program, with her grandchildren

“Being able to reach my goals and knowing that the Nightingale faculty thought I deserved this award meant the world to me,” Jaques says. “I love being able to empower others and show people that they too can be successful.”

While the National Library of Medicine states that the number of nurses with disabilities is currently unknown, very few nurses with obvious physical disabilities work in clinical settings, making the population face discrimination. For instance, one might view a disability as a hindrance to being able to provide the proper medical care or to embody the skills needed to meet patient satisfaction, making the nation as a whole not accepting of nurses with disabilities.

Jaques had dreamed of becoming a nurse since she was five when, on a trip to a Red Cross vaccination clinic, a nurse connected with her, got down on her level, and demonstrated empathy. However, she was told by many people that she would never go on to achieve such a career path. Fortunately, the opposition only motivated her further, and she developed a compassion for others and their struggles. Today, Jaques inspired her two daughters to head into the field, with one working in the labor delivery unit at Utah Valley University Hospital and the other studying at Nightingale—just like her.

Looking Ahead to the Future

Today, Jaques is focused on continuing her education, with Nightingale inspiring her to see that she was capable of achieving more, despite being deaf. And she isn’t alone: While hearing loss affects 36 million people in the US—including 17 percent of the adult population—there are roughly 450,000 to more than half a million registered nurses working with hearing loss.

“When I was younger, I failed my classes and never got above a C grade,” Jaques says. “Today, I’m addicted to school and nursing solely because Nightingale believed in me and made me believe in myself, truly changing my life. Right now, I have no plans to retire until I’m 75 years old.”

Dr. Audrey Auer
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