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Chloë Hammond on navigating nursing with her assistance dog

Chloë Hammond on navigating nursing with her assistance dog

BY Georgia Harris

29th Jan 2024 Life

5 min read

Chloë Hammond, the only wheelchair nurse in the UK with an assistance dog, discusses her passion for her career and how the sector can be made more accessible
Chloë Hammond is the only wheelchair nurse in the UK with an assistance dog. She and her dog Ocho have won multiple awards for their work within the field, and Chloë was featured as the "Extraordinary Woman of the Day" on the International Women's Day edition of This Morning
As only a tiny percentage (approximately three per cent) of nurses in the UK have a disability, Chloë wants to highlight how much people with disabilities can bring to the table in the health and social care sector with the right support and encouragement. She tells us about her passion for nursing, how her experiences impact her approach to her work, and what can be done to make careers in this sector more accessible to people with disabilities.

When and how did you realise you wanted to become a nurse?

I was a poorly child. I have had multiple disabilities and I’ve had chronic health conditions most of my life. I was always aware there were two types of nurses: the ones I really liked and hoped to have, and the ones I didn’t like as much.
"I wanted to make it happen and nothing was going to hold me back"
As I got older and started looking into what being a nurse meant, I started to understand the difference between the two types was their quality of care, compassion and love of their job. I wanted to be like them—I wanted to help people. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I wanted to make it happen and nothing was going to hold me back.

How do you stay motivated within your role?

I know how hard it is to be disabled in a world that still isn’t built for disabled people. I know how disheartening it can be to face access issues and to have to plan things way in advance just to make them possible. I love being able to use my professional nurse training alongside my lived experiences as a disabled person to improve the quality of the care I provide.
Chloë and Ocho (in his assistance dog vest) pose for a selfie
I love being able to inspire my clients and help them set achievable and meaningful goals for the future. I help my clients live again. In hospitals the staff see “a problem” that they need to fix; that isn’t their fault, it’s just how acute medicine is. My role is to help my clients see things differently.
I don’t want them to feel like a problem, burden, or an inconvenience, and I don't want them to feel disheartened if there isn't a cure for their illness or disability. I aim to help them access the support that is available, and I want to help them regain independence and learn how to adapt and thrive in their changing lives.

How do you feel your experiences impact how you approach your job?

I think it’s really helpful to be able to understand the feelings and frustrations my clients and their families may be having. I’ve been there: I've struggled at home, I’ve received care. I understand the loss of control and the feeling that everything has changed, and you don’t know where you fit in anymore.
"I can understand the feelings and frustrations my clients and their families may be having"
I used to be a dancer and gymnast, so when I became a wheelchair user and people asked me what my hobbies are I would choke up because I didn’t have any anymore. I’d tell them what I used to do…but then just trail off. What did I enjoy now? Nothing, I guess.
Then I rediscovered art and found my love of dogs, and my life started getting back on track. I know how lost I felt, and I hope I can use that to guide people to rediscover themselves.

How does Ocho, your mobility assistance dog, help you day-to-day and at work?

Ocho is owner-trained with the support of an amazing charity called Dog A.I.D. He helps me at home by doing things like helping me get undressed, bringing me the post, opening and closing doors, picking up things I drop and even loading and unloading the washing machine.
Out and about, Ocho helps me by carrying things for me like medication and shopping. If I do fall while standing up or walking short distances, he can fetch help. He can also get my purse from the back of my chair and pass it to a cashier.
Chloë in her work uniform takes a selfie with Ocho, a Labrador who is wearing an assistance dog vest
At work, Ocho is dual-trained. Sometimes he is working as my assistance dog, helping me with things that I find physically difficult, while other times he is a therapy dog, where he comforts and distracts my clients. This can be really helpful during difficult conversations like talking about end-of-life wishes.
Petting a dog can be such a calming and grounding sensory experience. This is my way of using the tools I have to better my patient care. There was never an expectation to train him for both roles, but it works for us and I'm so pleased he loves both his jobs.

How do your patients react to Ocho?

Most people love him. People’s homes are private; I completely understand that not everyone will want him in their home, and that's okay. He is a huge help to me and is a brilliant medical aid, but he isn't a cure. He makes my life less painful and reduces my fatigue, but I can do my job without him temporarily if needed—this is especially important if he is injured or sick.
Black and white photo of Ocho, who is mid-tail wag and holding a letter in an envelope
I write to all my clients before taking him to my first visit and I give them the choice to accept or refuse him without consequence. Having Ocho with me while I do my job has had a massive impact on one of my clients though. He is now on the waiting list for a seizure alert-and-response dog which will change his life, all because he met my life-changing Ocho.

How could careers in health and social care be made more accessible to disabled people?

Acute healthcare views patients as having problems that need fixing. For more disabled people to work in health and social care, this attitude needs to change. Reasonable adjustment should be encouraged, and the process should be simplified. I would love to see more disabled doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, dietitians, etc, working in this field. Like me, they would bring their own experiences to improve patient care.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers at the moment is the working environment: I am yet to work in a hospital, GP surgery or care home setting that has a disabled toilet and accessible changing room for staff, or a lowered work surface in the staff kitchen. Even getting staff disabled parking can be a battle.
I want people’s abilities to be celebrated and to take the focus off their disability. A disabled qualified nurse has the same qualifications as all the other nurses—why is their mobility even relevant?
"Accessibility shouldn't be an afterthought: it should be built into everyday life"
As an example, I’ve won multiple awards this year as a disabled nurse. This was an amazing experience and I'm incredibly proud; it was great to be able to talk to the other finalists about how able I am (like them) and explain that, as a nurse with limited mobility, it is often the environment that holds me back. This was made incredibly obvious when, unlike all the other winners, I was unable to go on the stage to collect my award and make my speech as my mobility needs had not been considered.
Accessibility shouldn't be an afterthought or an additional expense. It should be built into everyday life. Disabled people shouldn't have less opportunities in their health and social careers, or indeed in any career.
Ocho is looking for a new sponsor: would you like to sponsor or donate money towards Ocho and his training? Learn more about Chloë and Ocho and get in touch here
Banner photo: Chloë Hammond discusses her passion for her nursing career and how her mobility assistance dog Ocho helps her (credit: Chloë Hammond)
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