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Teri Verner found her calling at age 16 when she took a job as a caregiver in a group home for adults with disabilities. "I loved the work, and I've never left the field," says Verner, now nursing director for Dakota Communities (www.dakotacommunities.org).
Many people served by Dakota Communities have developmental disabilities. As they grow older, their medical and mental health needs often become complex. Some adults with Down syndrome, for example, develop early Alzheimer's. People with other developmental disorders may develop challenging behaviors, need feeding tubes or require oxygen.
The developmental disabilities nurse coordinates their care, serving as a medical liaison to staff, county workers, families or legal guardians, clinics and healthcare professionals.
Focusing On The Patient
Nurses usually work at multiple sites, spending a day or more at each location over the course of a week, overseeing the day-to-day care that individual clients receive and making adjustments based on changes as they occur. "Our goal is always patient-centered care," Verner says.
They assess patients, talk to caregivers and review medical records. They also provide hands-on nursing services such as wound care.
When necessary, nurses also advocate for patients. They may suggest, for example, that doctors adjust medication or order certain tests. "You need good assessment and triage skills because many clients are nonverbal or have a limited ability to communicate," Verner says.
Developmental disabilities nurses also train caregivers to administer medication, operate equipment and perform care procedures like blood glucose monitoring or nebulizer treatments.
"Experience is the key to success in developmental disabilities nursing," Verner says. She recommends that new graduates and other nurses who want to enter the field seek internships or look for employers who provide on-the-job mentoring. Another good source of information is the Minnesota Metro Developmental Disabilities Nursing Association (tinyurl.com/cuvoml).