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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 are not alone. The RCN Careers Service speaks to many members who successfully redesign their career around ill health, disability or neurodiversity.

This page talks about different options, what to consider when rethinking your career, and some ideas of alternative roles.

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.

Practical Advice

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 need to rethink your career and look at moving to a different type of role, setting or industry.

It might help to ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Which roles and environments might be suitable for you and your health? 
  • What are your top priorities or values in a job?
  • What workplace adjustments might you need to consider, if any?
  • What roles, settings, and/or clinical areas interest you? 
  • Is there demand for that job near you / where you're willing to work? 
  • What skills / experience / qualifications do you already have to do that job?  
  • What transferable skills or transferable experience do you have?  
  • Are there any gaps you need to bridge?

Researching different healthcare roles

If you need to explore alternative roles, the RCN Career Crossroads page can be a good place to start, which talks about the four pillars of nursing.

In addition, the RCN Career Pathways Resource has lots of information about different nursing roles, including videos, case studies, resources, and more.

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 is suitable for you?

What might be suitable for you as an individual will depend on personal factors such as

  • the nature or severity of your condition or disability 
  • your limitations
  • your resources
  • your career objectives
  • your career values
  • your personal preferences
  • the current job market in your area
  • any work related adjustments you might need

Because everyone is unique and has different needs, it's impossible to give blanket advice on which roles might be suitable for those redesigning their career due to health, disability or neurodiversity. For this reason, the RCN Careers Service will not be able to advise you which jobs might be suitable for you, or which employers might be more likely to hire you.

To get you started however, here are some ideas around roles that can sometimes be more suitable for those affected by ill health or disability.

Please also see our page on roles with a work-life balance which lists some ideas about the type of roles that are more likely to offer core hours, part time hours, remote working, or office working.


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.

RCN Funding 

For information about scholarships, educational grants, and hardship grants, see Grants and Funding on the RCN Foundation website.

Career Crossroads

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

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