Although it's impossible not to think about the implications that changes to your health will have, it's important to allow time to think positively about the valuable skills and experience you can offer. 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.
Many people are unaware that their health condition could fall within the legal definition of a disability as per the Equality Act 2010. It's a good idea to try and establish this as early on as possible. If you are deemed to have a disability, your employer has a legal obligation to make all reasonable efforts to implement adjustments or remove barriers that prevent you from working. This obligation also applies during recruitment. For more information about the Equality Act and disability rights during recruitment and employment, see the RCN's online advice on disability discrimination.
Reasonable adjustments are adaptations to environments, attitudes and routine that allow people with impairments to live life as independently as possible.
Our guide “Reasonable adjustments: a guide for members affected by disability in the workplace” aims to provide you with tips and techniques to empower you to get the resources and adjustments you need to perform at your best at work.
If you have having problems negotiating reasonable adjustments, contact your local RCN representative, who will check your employer is acting fairly / reasonably, and work with them to ensure the best possible outcome for you.
If after exhausting all avenues with your RCN representative it transpires adjustments cannot be made, consider if it would be possible or realistic to find a similar role with a different employer. Budgets, service demands, resources and staffing vary across different companies. Where one employer may not be able to justify a reduction in hours, another employer with a larger workforce might happily offer part-time hours or a job share. Or perhaps one employer couldn't justify less travelling during work whereas another employer has the resources to allow employees to work from home.
If you need to start applying for jobs, or planning your career around your health, you can book an appointment with one of the RCN's careers advisers who can support you to take the next step.
The peer support service guide for members affected by disability in the workplace
If reasonable adjustments are not possible or suitable in your current line of work, 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:
Roles within healthcare are varied, consisting of so much more than just giving ward based / hands on care. The Health Careers website and career crossroads resource can be a good place to start if you're looking for ideas and further information about where you could go next.
Possibilities are endless, but examples of jobs within healthcare that might be more suitable for nurses or support workers affected by ill health include:
|Activities coordinator||Administrative / clerical|
|Agency / Bank / Locum worker||Call handler / Emergency dispatch assistant|
|Chiropody||Clinic based nurse / HCA|
|Clinical informatics||Clinical nurse specialist|
|Counselling / 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 / AP / HCA|
|Practice educator / Practice facilitator||Project management|
|Research||Quality assurance / 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 means you'll feel involved and 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. Such opportunities are also likely to let you work flexibly at your own pace and time. It could be an ideal transition if you’re nervous about getting back into work, looking to boost your confidence, looking to gain new skills or even trying to combat feelings of isolation. At the very least, it will look great on your CV.
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
Call RCN Direct on 0345 772 6100 and press option 3 to book an appointment
If you want to talk to someone about your options, get advice on what steps to take next or how to improve your employability, you can book an appointment with the RCN's Careers Service. It's always helpful if you have done some research first about where you might want to go.
Peer to 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.
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. You can also visit the Healthy workplace, Healthy you resources.
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.
Get support with personal or work related issues such as stress, depression or relationship breakdown.