'She Has No Barriers:' Meet Bethany Baker, UNF's First Deaf Nursing Student

Bethany Baker with a stethoscope around her neck, sitting on hospital bed.
Bethany (Bebe) Baker is the first deaf nursing student at the University of North Florida. (Photo by Will Dickey/Florida Times-Union)

Bethany Baker would have laughed if someone told her years ago she would become a nurse.

Even with a family full of nurses, she still wouldn’t have believed it.

Every person on her mom’s side of the family is deaf in one ear, but she is the first fully deaf member of the family. She didn’t imagine that career path for herself.

Baker marked another first last summer.

At 27, she became the first deaf person admitted to the University of North Florida’s post-baccalaureate nursing program.

Baker’s parents discovered she couldn’t hear when she was 6 months old. After graduating from the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine in 2009, she went to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., to pursue a history degree.

It wasn’t until the 28-year-old moved to Tennessee that she considered entering the medical field. The idea started with a 96-year-old woman — Mama Ray.

Baker cooked for Mama Ray, helped her use the bathroom and provided care for her in the summer. The deaf community in Tennessee knew the woman well.

Baker quickly became an advocate for the deaf community there.

“I was able to communicate with her directly, and that really hit me,” Baker said.

She later took a certified nursing assistant’s 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.

She said she not only wants to work with more deaf patients in Florida but also be an advocate for deaf people who want to enter any profession.

Baker has one year left in the program and hopes to become a labor and delivery nurse or an operating room nurse when she graduates.

Currently, Baker shadows Flagler Hospital’s patient care technicians with two interpreters. One typically follows her while the other waits outside. She joked she always has two bodyguards.

“Right now, I watch ‘Dexter,’ but I have also been really into ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and so it’s cool to see it real life,” she said.