Career Planning with RA
Last updated: April 2022
As a child growing up with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, I had the experience (good fortune?) of knowing that I would need to find a career that I could do with my disease. I say good fortune (although it wasn’t fun growing up with the illness) because I knew, in some ways, what my limits would be and that my career would need to accommodate my health, disabilities, and the likely progression of RA.
Most people with RA are diagnosed later in life, which presents all sorts of challenges like learning about a new condition, adapting one’s life to it, managing work, and living with a difficult disease. Having to figure out how to work and support oneself while coping with a new condition that brings pain, fatigue, and physical limitations is very hard, indeed. Plus, being diagnosed as an adult means one likely already has an established career path, which might be challenging to change.
Considering my job options
Growing up with RA I dealt with challenges of school (which were plenty) and life in general, but I also had time to consider my career options. I knew that a highly physical job was just not going to work for me. By high school, I was using a wheelchair and didn’t have the physical abilities or stamina for that type of work.
With this, it became clear that a desk job where I'd be spending a lot of my day on the computer was where I was heading. The question then became, "what kind of work?" Should I pursue something math-related, like banking or accounting? Or something complex and technical? Or by way of words, maybe I should try to communicate and help people understand a subject?
If you’re reading this, you know the direction I chose! However, each person has their own strengths to find, weaknesses to avoid (or improve upon), and career paths to navigate.
Career planning with RA
In my case, my parents stressed the point that working was important, not just for providing myself a livelihood to be able to do the things I wanted to do, but to contribute to my community. I had to explore how I could do this in a way that made sense for me and in a way that used my talents most appropriately.
Career planning is extra complex for people with RA because not only do we need to figure out what we enjoy doing, but we also must find a job that fits the needs of our illness. Yes, I say "needs" because my RA doesn’t negotiate with me. When I have a bad pain day, I need the ability to take time off for treatment and rest. I need flexibility for doctor’s appointments and physical therapy. I need to be able to rest when I am fatigued and not have to push through, which often results in worse flares. I wrote more about this in a previous article, "Changing Jobs For My RA."
With this in mind, we need employers who are understanding and flexible. Career planning isn’t just about finding a job or a career path (consider all the changes an individual may experience in work during their life), it’s about finding a workplace that will understand and support us even on our bad RA days.
I think people with RA can make great employees because we can be compassionate to others and understanding of challenges, as we have lived them! We also learn to think creatively to solve problems with our conditions, including new ways of doing things. Even though our bodies may be inflexible, we develop flexible minds and attitudes that help us get through the day.
Career planning with RA can be challenging as we find ourselves limited by our bodies despite possibly wanting something else. But we have the fortitude and resilience to navigate new and original paths for ourselves, which benefit our employers and the wider world.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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