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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.

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. Our Peer Support service offers Disability coaching and a safe space to discuss disclosing a disability during the recruitment process along with guidance on Inclusive recruitment.

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 have been recommended to obtain adjustments to help you at work, or if you are line manager to someone who needs adjustments, a disability passport could benefit you. A disability passport is a document that details the reasonable adjustments a staff member with health or disability issues needs at work . Our guidance suggests a format and process for completing a disability passport, which hinges on open, supportive discussion between line manager and employee. Click here for more information.

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

Join Peer Support

Joining is quick and easy. Just complete this online form
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.              

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. 

Although this may seem daunting, try to think positively; this could be an opportunity to try something new that will better suit you, your lifestyle and your health. Remember that you are not the problem; the potential absence of suitable adjustments is. 

It might help to ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What jobs would be suitable for me and my health? 
  • What jobs 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?

Roles within healthcare are varied, consisting of so much more than just giving ward based / hands on care. Our Career Crossroads pages can be a good place to start if you're looking for ideas and further information about where you could go next.

Healthcare professionals seeking to change roles due to health reasons generally tend to want more flexibility, core working patterns, more support with adjustments, and/or less physically demanding roles (e.g. no long shifts or heavy lifting.) However which role(s) 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 and your personal life.

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


For further inspiration and information, join one of our professional forums or attend conferences, events or your next local RCN branch meeting. If you're out of work, this is especially important as it can help you feel more involved, help combat loss of confidence, and help you stay abreast of initiatives, issues or news within healthcare.

Social media (for example LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) can be a great way to network and branch out to employers and peers alike.

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.


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.

Other support available  

Peer support  

You can join the RCN's Peer Support group to speak to and get advice from other members affected by ill health and/or disability who can understand what you're going through.  Alternatively you may feel you want to offer support to those who have just been diagnosed or are finding it hard coming to terms with their circumstances. It's free and easy to join. 

Emotional support   

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

Financial support   

If you are concerned about the financial implications of being out of work / having to reduce your hours / moving to a lower paid job, then the RCN's Lamplight Support Service can help. Their team of advisers can check you are getting the financial support you're entitled to, and give you advice on how to budget.  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.


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