This topic has been something that I have struggled with internally for many years, but have not been able to put into words until recently. I always knew I wanted a career in healthcare since a young child. Having to deal with doctors, therapists and medical professionals my entire life, I felt comfortable in that setting and wanted to help others in a similar way. For a variety of reasons my education and experience led me to choose occupational therapy as a career. I wanted to be able help the entire person, family or child, both physically and emotionally, to help them enjoy their lives.
Which is why it is ironic that I find it stressful and am unsure of how to discuss my Arthritis with my employers. I have had a handful of jobs since earning my degree and I currently work for 3 different companies. One employer knows a small amount about my JRA, enough to be flexible with my schedule and caseload when needed. Another employer knows nothing about my JRA, because it has never conflicted with my employment or work performance in that setting. And the third is a new position and I have not discussed it yet. Legally I know that I can not be discriminated against as a result of my JRA but does that really stop prospective employers initial reactions and thoughts? Even working in the healthcare field, I worry that employers will anticipate extra time off, see physical limitations or have reservations about hiring someone with potential health problems. As a result of these concerns, I almost never mention my JRA to employers in my interview and I wait until I demonstrate my therapeutic skills or build a rapport with my supervisor before I discuss it. Which is a shame! Because I do think that having JRA helps make me more empathetic towards my patients and hopefully a better therapist.
I am not sure if my feelings on this matter will change as my career and work experience grows, or if this is just one of society’s unfortunate stigmas that may never change. I have been fortunate to choose a career that I enjoy and can be flexible, as well as have employers who are understanding. However, I know for some people with RA, this isn’t the case and they battle with the balance of working and managing their illness every day. I know I am fortunate to be where I am now and I am hopeful that I will continue to be able to find that balance of work and life in the future.