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Managing your career with ill health and disability

If you find yourself at a career crossroads due to a change in your health, you're not alone. RCN Careers speaks to many members who successfully redesign their career around ill health or disability.

This page talks about the different options you have and includes a list of jobs that may be more suitable for members with impairments.

Passport to Potential webinars

As part of National Inclusion Week, join our series of one-hour webinars taking place on 25-29 September, which will explore how reasonable adjustments can be agreed and implemented using a health ability passport.

Three nurses talking in the corridor

Your insight into life as a patient or being disabled can add a new dimension to your understanding as a care giver, including increased resilience, resourcefulness and empathy. It's important to allow time to think positively about the valuable skills and experience you can offer.

Make sure you're aware of any legal rights you may have under UK Equality law or legislation. See the RCN's online advice on Disability Discrimination and the Equality Act

Prospective employers are generally prohibited from asking questions about someone’s health or disability prior to offering them a job. This includes questions about previous sickness absence. There are a small number of exceptions and the government provides detailed information on this area.

If you require reasonable adjustments at interview, you will need to request these in advance. The RCN Peer Support Service offers disability coaching and a safe space to discuss disclosing a disability during the recruitment process as well as lots of other resources.

For practical advice on reasonable adjustments, and how to the RCN can offer support with this, please see the RCN’s advice page on Sickness absence and being fit for work

If you need reasonable adjustments to help you at work, the RCN Peer Support Service has guidance on creating a Health Ability Passport. A Health Ability Passport is a document that details adjustments that  individuals with health or disability issues need at work, and includes advice on how to have open, honest discussions about disability related needs with your employer.

Always make sure you have taken advice from your local RCN representative or RCN officer. They will check your employer is acting fairly, and try and ensure the best possible outcome for you. If you need an RCN rep or a referral to your local RCN office, please contact the Advice Team.

Changing direction

You might find yourself in a position where you have to rethink your career and look at moving to a different type of role or sector altogether.  

It might help to ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What roles would be suitable for me and my health? 
  • What roles, settings, and/or clinical areas interest me? 
  • Is there demand for that job near me / where I'm willing to work? 
  • What skills / experience / qualifications do I already have to do that job?  
  • What skills or experience could I adapt / transfer to do that job (see transferable skills)  
  • Are there any gaps I need to bridge?

Exploring roles within healthcare

If you need to explore alternative roles, our Career Crossroads page can be a good place to start, as well as the RCN Career Pathways Resource

You may want to see our page on roles with a work-life balance which has some ideas on roles that generally tend to have greater flexibility, part-time hours, or core working patterns, as well as office based roles, remote working roles, admin type roles, and roles that are less physically demanding.

What might be suitable for you as an individual will depend on personal factors such as the nature or severity of any condition(s), your limitations, your resources, your career objectives, your values, your personal preferences, and the current job market in your area.

Here are some roles that can sometimes be more suitable for those affected by ill health:

Activities coordinator Administrative or clerical roles
Agency, bank or locum worker Call handler / Emergency dispatch assistant
Chiropody Clinic based nurse / HCA
Clinical informatics Clinical Nurse Specialist
Commissioning Complimentary therapies
Counselling or social work Disability assessor
Expert witness Family planning / Sexual health
Governance Health promotion
Health advisory services (face to face or telephone) Journalism / Writing
Management / leadership Medical / Pharmaceutical sales
Nutrition / Dietitian Occupational health
Phlebotomy Practice nurse / Practice HCA/AP
Practice educator / Practice facilitator Project management
Research Quality assurance or risk management
Teaching / Education School nursing
Travel nursing Training
Triage (face to face or via telephone) Self-employed work

RCN forums and Facebook groups

For further inspiration and information, you can join RCN professional forums which represent different clinical areas or specialisms within nursing.

Each forum has its own private Facebook group where you can connect with your fellow RCN members for valuable insight, advice or tips on working within different roles or settings.

Getting involved with the RCN

Attend conferences, events, and/or your next local RCN branch meeting. If you're not working, this can help you feel more involved, help combat loss of confidence or isolation, and help you stay up to date with the latest of initiatives, discussions, or news within healthcare.

It could also be the right time to research volunteering opportunities or do some activism work within the RCN. Both allow you to acquire new skills and access free training in most cases, which could potentially open up even more doors for you. It could be an ideal transition if you’re nervous about getting back into work, looking to boost your confidence, gain new skills or trying to combat feelings of isolation. At the very least, it will look great on your CV.

Important note: If you have been signed off sick from work, always check with your employer and GP before attending events, volunteering or doing any activism work.

Blocks-and-Bridges

Try this exercise to help you reflect on how you might be able to overcome obstacles in your career 

Want to talk to a Careers Coach about this?

Find out more about the RCN's free Career Coaching service, and how it could help you.

illustration of a nurse in plain clothes and a nurse in scrubs both are carrying files

Health Ability Passports

Read our guidance to documenting reasonable adjustments at work.              

Other RCN support available  


Peer support 

The RCN Peer Support Service has lots of information and resources for anybody affected by disability, health ill, or neurodiversity. You can also join support groups to chat, share, and connect with other RCN members who understand what you're going through. 

Emotional support   

Most healthcare professionals are far better at looking after other people than they are themselves, and freely admit that going from care giver to patient is difficult. It's important that you have sufficient emotional support to come to terms with any changes, just as you would want for your patients. The RCN counselling service offers RCN members up to 6 counselling sessions.

Financial support   

If you are concerned about the financial implications of being out of work, reducing your hours or moving to a lower paid job, have a look at our Financial Wellbeing resources for advice on budgeting, managing a low income, and claiming benefits or extra financial support. Not all benefits are means tested, so even if you have savings or are comfortably meeting your outgoings, there might still be benefits that you can claim.

Peer support

Join this group to give and receive support on health and disability issues.

Counselling

Get support with personal or work related issues such as stress, depression or relationship breakdown.

Financial Wellbeing

Advice, support, and resources to help you feel more in control of your finances

Career Crossroads

What to consider when changing direction, along with advice and resources to help you plan your next career move

Career crossroads sign