Managing your career with ill health and disability
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.
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|
|Counselling or social work||Disability assessor|
|Expert witness||Family planning / Sexual health|
|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|
|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
Find out more about the RCN's free Career Coaching service, and how it could help you.
Other support available
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.
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.
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.
What to consider when changing direction, along with advice and resources to help you plan your next career move