Only One Arm? No Problem for Carey Lewis, RN

  • Print Page

By Glenna Murdock, RN, contributor 

After an 11-year career in the accounting field, Carey Lewis is a freshly minted RN who is stepping into a new role as a nurse in an internal medicine unit at the renowned Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. 

At a time when nursing is the field of choice for many wanting a career change, Lewis’s story would be no more special than many others’ if it were not for one surprising detail. Lewis has only one arm, having lost most of her left forearm in a lawn mower accident when she was five years old.

Lewis is accustomed to not letting her physical difference hinder her aspirations. In junior high she was a cheerleader. In high school she was a distance runner on the track team. She was successful in college and the financial career that followed.

“I was so young when I lost my arm, it just comes naturally to me to adapt as I need to,” Lewis, now 34, said.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in business administration and embarking on a career in finance, Lewis’s supervisor encouraged her to get a master’s degree. So, to test the graduate school waters, she enrolled in a single course.

“I was sitting in class one evening,” Lewis explained, “and thought to myself, I really don’t want to do this work for the rest of my life.  I went through the course catalogue, made a list of the classes that appealed to me and it turned out that nursing would be a good fit.”

Anticipating doubt as to her ability to succeed in nursing, Lewis took along a newspaper clipping about an RN in Washington who had just one arm when she attended her pre-acceptance interview at Huron School of Nursing. She never got a chance to show it to anyone 

“I was kind of shocked that there was no opposition to my wanting to enter the program,” Lewis said.

It is true that she had to invest more time mastering skills, such as starting IVs and putting on a sterile glove, than many of her classmates. 

“I practiced starting IVs forever in the lab,” Lewis said. “I got really good at it and now it is one of the easiest things I do.”

Managing a sterile glove was a bit trickier. An instructor told her to take a pair of gloves home and keep practicing and that’s what she did.

“It took awhile to learn. I put one glove across my (shortened) arm to create a sterile field and use that area to help inch the remaining glove onto my hand,” she explained, “and, I have to use a larger size glove.”

According to Lewis, patients rarely comment on her missing arm but if they do it is to offer encouragement. She has an occasional minor problem with fellow nurses who want to jump in to try to help her with even simple things. In a friendly manner she lets them know that she’ll be sure to ask if she needs help.

Was there trepidation on the part of Cleveland Clinic about hiring Lewis?

“Carey has a strong desire to work at Cleveland Clinic and she came to us with excellent recommendations from instructors and the director of her nursing school,” said Luann Capone, RN, MSN, GNP-BC, nursing director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Medicine Institute. “She has very clear goals, a remarkably positive attitude and is very sure about her abilities and career aspirations. There was every reason that she should have the opportunity to show us that she can ably perform as a member of our nursing team. 

Lewis wants to pursue a master’s degree in nursing but says she needs a break before jumping into another academic whirlwind—understandable, given the rigorous schedule she maintained while in nursing school. She worked full-time in her financial analyst job from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day, on top of two nights of nursing classes each week plus clinicals all day on Saturdays and Sundays. She only recently resigned from her finance job.

Lewis stated several reasons she feels she has been successful in a career choice that many would view as unusual for an amputee.

“I’m cheerful, laugh easily and I like to have a good time, so I don’t view most things as problems” she said. “It helps that I’m always thinking a couple steps ahead, anticipating how I might need to do things differently. It’s your brain that really matters, along with drive and motivation.”

© 2009. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.