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Our Nurse of the Week is Bethany Baker, the first deaf nursing student to be admitted to the University of North Florida’s (UNF) School of Nursing. Baker comes from a family of nurses, and although every person on her mom’s side of the family is deaf in one ear, she was the first in her family to be born fully deaf. Her deafness kept her from imagining a career in nursing for herself, but at 27 years old, she is working toward a post-baccalaureate degree in nursing and she hopes to pave the way for others to follow in her footsteps.
Baker’s parents discovered she couldn’t hear when she was 6 months old. She graduated from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in 2009 and attended Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, to pursue a degree in history. After graduating, she moved to Tennessee where she started caring for a 96-year-old deaf woman, called Mama Ray, which inspired her to pursue a career in the medical field.
While working for Mama Ray, Baker took a certified nursing assistant class and worked in an emergency room for six months. After Mama Ray died in 2016 at almost 100 years old, Baker moved back to Florida to enroll in a nursing program. Baker has one year left in the program and then she hopes to become a labor and delivery nurses or operating room nurse. She also wants to work with more deaf patients in Florida and advocate for deaf people who want to pursue any profession.
Baker is currently completing her clinical rounds at Flagler Hospital where she has two interpreters with her at all times, provided by the UNF Disability Resource Center. Her time as a nursing assistant in Tennessee and as a student doing clinical rounds has led her to become an advocate for deaf patients. One man in particular affected her deeply. At the hospital in Tennessee, Baker met with a patient who was going to have open heart surgery but had no interpreter. He had no information on the surgery he was going to have or the pre- and post-operation processes. She doesn’t want to see other patients with disabilities going through the healthcare system completely in the dark.
Baker’s nursing experience has also taught her how to communicate with patients in different ways. She carries a pager for nurses to contact her and uses a tablet to access a remote sign language interpreter to talk to patients when an interpreter isn’t available in-person. She also convinced the hospital she worked at in Tennessee to hire her interpreter who now remains on staff working with deaf, blind, deaf and blind, and other handicapped patients.
Baker tells houstonchronicle.com, “For deaf people, I’m hoping to start this process and experiences and do great, and then I can really open some doors permanently for some other deaf people to get their foot in the medical door. I’m really happy that the program took a risk on me. I feel more empowered to do a good job. I know that I can do it, and I want to show them that I can do it as well.”
To learn more about Bethany Baker, the first deaf nursing student to be admitted to the University of North Florida’s (UNF) School of Nursing, visit here.