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The Uncertain Outlook For Nurses After Injury Or Illness

Approximately 9,000 American health care workers suffer a disabling injury each day. A serious injury may profoundly affect your career and finances. What can you do about it?

Nursing injuries have reached epidemic proportions. Making matters worse, health care workers often feel ignored or mistreated after suffering a serious injury or illness at work. Many lose their jobs and are wrongfully denied disability insurance benefits under their individual or employer-sponsored policies.

This can be especially devastating to nurses, who are uncommonly passionate about their jobs and take great pride in the level of superior care they provide. When nurses are the ones who need help, it is especially unjust when the deed is not returned.

This article explores the tough situation nurses often find themselves in after a debilitating injury or chronic sickness and what options may be available to them.

Need help with your disability insurance claim? DarrasLaw can assist you at any stage. Call 800-898-7299 for a free insurance policy analysis or claim review. We earned the title America’s Top Disability Law Firm through tireless dedication to the claims of each of our clients.

One Nurse’s Heartbreaking Story

Terry Cawthorn was a nurse at Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C., for more than 20 years, but her life took a dramatic turn on her 45th birthday. She was transferring a patient from a gurney to her bed by allowing the patient to grab her for support, as she had been trained to do. Suddenly, a burning sensation ran down her spine. By the end of her shift, she could barely walk. Her husband had to carry her into their home.

Terry reported the injury to her supervisor, but returned to work the next day. In the next several weeks, she reaggravated her back injury several times at work. Doctors told her she needed a lumbar interbody fusion, in which a metal cage is built around the spine. Rather than support its longtime employee, Mission Hospital turned its back on Terry.

She was lying in her hospital bed after surgery when a hospital official visited her. Rather than checking on her well-being, the official visited to tell her that her employment with Mission was terminated because of her injury.

Seven years after the accident, Terry still struggles with mobility, balance and strength, but her psychological wounds are probably the most damaging.

“I really thought I was someone to Mission [Hospital],” she said in an interview with NPR. “I had poured my life into nursing. And when I got hurt, I meant nothing. I was absolutely nothing to the hospital.”

What Options Do Injured Nurses Have?

For a nurse like Terry, returning to her previous position is unrealistic. Her back injury has left her disabled and she can no longer lift or transfer patients. Every injury and situation is unique, but many nurses do not have the option of quickly returning to the same physically demanding job.

Even when returning to a prior position is possible, an injury or chronic illness can cause a nurse to miss weeks, months or years of work. A nurse may decide to try a different career path within nursing that allows him or her to get back to work more quickly without direct patient responsibilities.

If you find yourself in this position, this chart will give you some ideas on nursing career options after a disabling injury or chronic illness.

Nontraditional Job Opportunities For Nurses
  • Triage nursing or telehealth nursing
  • In-home patient care
  • Travel nursing
  • Education: instructing students or running training programs
  • Medical transcription
  • Patient advocate
  • Health IT or health care IT (HIT)
  • School nurse
Other Career Options That May Leverage Your Nursing Skills
  • Electronic health records (EHR) coordinator/consultant
  • Health finance
  • Hospital/clinic operations
  • Health care consulting: legal and business sectors
  • Community health advocate
  • Compliance jobs with the government


The aforementioned jobs are just some of the possibilities. The emerging technology aspect of health care is creating jobs that have never before existed.

Advocacy groups like the National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities (NOND) are working to make inroads in awareness and accommodation for nurses with chronic health conditions and disabilities.

Surviving The Financial Hardship

If you are an injured or chronically ill nurse, you may have a long recovery before you can return to work. Aside from medical expenses, your other bills may be piling up, too, while you are out of work. The following resources may be able to lessen your financial hardship.

State workers’ compensation programs can help nurses offset the cost of medical care and other expenses resulting from an on-the-job injury. But there are caveats:

  • Workers’ compensation will not cover disabling injuries or illnesses that are not related to your employment.
  • Your employer may challenge your workers’ compensation claim.
  • The benefits vary among states, but workers’ comp is generally not enough to financially protect you after an injury.

Social Security Disability benefits may be available if you suffered a long-term disability. SSD is one tool that can help nurses financially survive a disabling injury, but do not expect to receive benefits quickly. Successful SSD claims often take a year or longer to gain approval and start paying out benefits. Expect longer if your claim is denied, which is a common occurrence.

Disability Insurance

A disability insurance policy is an excellent way for health care workers to protect themselves against injury or illness. Disability insurance is designed to pay money to a policyholder if he or she becomes injured or ill and cannot work. The injury or illness need not be work-related. Short- and long-term disability policies are available with a variety of features, advantages and benefits.


Many nurses have employer-sponsored disability insurance through their employers, but may also supplement group coverage with an individual disability insurance policy, too.The biggest drawback of disability insurance?

It only helps you if you have it. If you didn’t have the foresight to purchase a policy before your injury, it’s not an option. If you aren’t sure whether you have it, it’s time to call your human resources (HR) department or insurance agent.

Another potential downside is the process, which can be drawn out and extremely contentious. Many people who are legitimately disabled have claims wrongfully delayed or denied. Insurance carriers don’t like to pay out claims, so they often fight hard to deny them or push claimants to give up through a variety of slow-paying tactics.

The Process

If you had an active disability insurance policy at the time of your injury or illness, you must file a claim with your insurance carrier. You will need to submit convincing occupational, financial and medical evidence with your claim to have any chance of success. A medical diagnosis may not be enough; you likely will need convincing medical evidence explaining why your condition objectively and subjectively prevents you from working.

Denied And Delayed Claims

If your claim has been wrongfully delayed, denied or devalued, it is crucial to work with a skilled disability insurance attorney as soon as possible. A denied claim is not the end of the road, but it does raise the stakes and adds undue financial pressure. An experienced disability lawyer will help you build a convincing appeal and get you the benefits you deserve.

Why DarrasLaw?

DarrasLaw has earned the title America’s Top Disability Law Firm by recovering nearly $1 billion in wrongfully denied insurance benefits – much on behalf of nurses and other health care workers. Although impressive, that number doesn’t really tell who we are.

Founded by Frank N. Darras, our firm was built on caring deeply about the well-being of each of our clients. We represent clients in all disability insurance disputes, ranging from $50 a month to ones exceeding $1 million. Check out what our former clients say about us.

Call DarrasLaw at 800-898-7299 or contact us online for your free case review. We will help you at any stage of your disability insurance claim.

DarrasLaw is Americas' most honored and decorated disability litigation firm in the country. Mr. Darras has seen more, evaluated more, litigated more, and resolved more individual and group long term disability and long-term care cases than any other lawyer in the United States.

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