Moving through training with a long term health condition

This anonymised account reflects the views of an individual, and not the General Medical Council.

A trainee doctor who is taking a year out to work as a Clinical Research Fellow writes about the advice they’ve received as they’ve moved through medical education and training.

Taking a proactive approach to sharing health information

I was diagnosed with a long-term health condition as I was preparing for my final exams prior to admission to medical school, and so was coming to terms with the diagnosis, medications and lifestyle changes during my first year at medical school.

Throughout medical school and postgraduate training, it didn’t seem like the administration/human resources departments communicated with tutors/supervisors about health conditions. While part of me understands the need for confidentiality, at no point have I been asked if I am happy for the information to be shared with those who are supervising me. This has meant having difficult conversations after things have gone wrong.

I’ve been asked by tutors at medical school why I didn’t tell them of my condition and medication issues after poor exam results and have had conversations that clearly made supervisors uncomfortable. I’ve also informed supervisors of my condition at the start of a rotation just so someone in my working environment was aware.

Ignoring generic and limiting career advice

From a career perspective, advice at medical school felt generic, such as those with condition X will ‘obviously’ not be able to do specialty Y. However, through discussions with supervisors and seniors, I eventually understood that a wide range of clinicians with health conditions work across many specialties, and that I should not let generic careers advice hold me back from making fully informed choices.

I searched the internet for national guidelines outlining if any medical conditions excluded people from certain specialties. Finding none, I decided to go for it and apply to a specialty I had been told I could not do. I fully disclosed my medical condition on all forms and applications, writing it in the comments sections if I could not find a medical section. I was surprised I got through each stage, which was a reflection of how ingrained the advice I had initially been given became.

I know I am lucky that my medical condition is now better controlled than it was when I was initially diagnosed. I am at the less extreme end of the scale, so I am able to pursue my chosen career with minimal adjustments. But I think the wide brush-stroke approach I encountered at the initial stages of my career would have put many others off applying or considering certain specialties.

What I would change…

  • I am keen to talk at careers events, not necessarily aimed at those with medical conditions, but to all medical students or doctors in training who think they won’t be able to do something because it’s what they’ve heard or been told.
  • Have a clear accessible resource for medical students and doctors with health conditions on what is expected of them and where other resources can be accessed.