Taking career steps: advice from young people with arthritis

22 April 2021
Four young people at graduation and at work.

The last year has been difficult for students at university and for young people starting their careers. But while it has presented new challenges in some areas, there have also been some positive opportunities, such as flexible working.

We’ve spoken to two young people about their experiences finishing university and finding jobs in the middle of a pandemic, and their advice on how to balance your health needs when making career decisions.

Suruthi’s experience

Suruthi, 22, was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) at the age of three. Last year she graduated with a Master's in Chemistry from the University of Bath, but her final year was challenging due to the pandemic. She has since secured her first job working as a research assistant at the university.

“This time last year, I would not have thought I'd be in my current job!”

I was hoping to do a PhD once I finished my degree and had some offers but due to Covid-19, these fell through.

Fortunately, I was alerted to a research assistant job, so I applied and was successful. Although it wasn't what I had planned, it’s a great opportunity to get some experience before starting my PhD.

“There were very few opportunities available when I finished my Master’s.”

I found it difficult to keep going with job applications as they can be quite exhausting, and the rejections got to me sometimes. Being stuck at home and job searching felt very long and stressful.

I started volunteering at my local charity shop and this really helped me because I was able to stay occupied and had a reason for getting out the house.

“Considering things like commute time in a job is important for me.”

When I’m looking at jobs, I’m very mindful of how long I’d need to spend travelling and how many changes I’d have to make via public transport, as I'm not always able to walk for long periods without being in pain.

I also try to look at how accommodating the employer is and whether they support disabled employees.

It is difficult because after sending off so many applications, you feel like you will be happy to take whatever job you get but in the long run, you need to know that you’ll be supported at work.

I'm lucky because my current manager is very understanding if I need to work from home or take days off for infusions, hospital appointments, etc and always tells me to put my health first.

“Starting a new job in the pandemic has been good in some ways and difficult in others.”

The good thing is the flexibility to work remotely. I only need to go in for my lab work and can do the rest from home. With arthritis being so unpredictable, this has helped me a lot and made life less stressful.

However, it does mean that you meet less people and there’s less of the social aspect. This is especially hard when you first start a new job, and you can’t build those relationships with your team.

I have made friends now and it feels less isolating, but I did struggle a bit at the start. I think it takes a while to find your feet and get used to a new way of working.

“My biggest advice is to ensure your employer is willing to accommodate your condition and help you manage work around it.”

Always prioritise your health and take that into consideration when applying to jobs or accepting a job offer. Don't hesitate to talk to your employer about your condition (if you're comfortable obviously) as I think it definitely helps them to understand your needs better.

Angharad’s experience

Angharad, 27, was diagnosed with SAPHO syndrome (a chronic condition that affects the skin, bones, and joints) three years ago whilst at university. After finishing her studies at Swansea, she was offered an internship at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and currently works as a consultant there.

“I have to really consider what’s possible alongside my condition.”

When I see a job description, I initially get excited reading about all the aspects of it, but then consider whether the role would allow me to stay healthy and happy with my condition.

Versus Arthritis’ work on reducing the stigma associated with arthritis has really helped me with this.
I try to remind myself that it’s not just a bit of tiredness for example, or it’s not I can’t be bothered – it’s arthritis.

“My condition has definitely impacted my career decisions.”

There are not many parts of your life that aren’t affected by an arthritis-related condition.

It can seem constraining, but just like other areas in life (money, children, a family), it can also have a positive impact on the decisions you make and improve your quality of life.

While sometimes I miss the freedom of not having to think about my health, my condition has taught me to take a step back and consider that there is more to life than work.

I want to do well in my career so that I can positively impact on others, but I also realise that I can only make the best impact when I am happy and well.

“I’m learning all the time about what works for me and what doesn’t.”

An internship was a great way for me to assess the practicalities of a job I’ve always wanted, and a fixed term contract gives me the flexibility to change my situation if the work proves challenging alongside my condition.

I have also decided to start a PhD this year to give me the opportunity to set my own days and undertake work placements sporadically. I can then reconsider full time work at a more advanced level following this, having more choice over my potential roles.

“Life brings different issues for everyone to deal with, and this is just yours.”

Remember you are not alone and probably not that different from your colleagues. Here’s my advice to other young people:

  • People may react reticently at first about your condition if you choose to tell them – try to remember that they may have no prior understanding, which can take time to process.
  • Take things day by day, and if you’re having a bad day, don’t beat if yourself up. Be kind to yourself.
  • Try not to panic if you don’t know what plan is best yet. It can take trying a few different things first.
  • Don’t ignore your condition when making career decisions. You may need to find a different route to achieving your goals, but they will be far more meaningful when you do.
  • Be honest with friends and family and consult them – often they can see what makes you happiest. Or speak to someone who understands your condition, like the Versus Arthritis helpline.
  • Don’t ever feel apologetic about your condition in work, feel empowered that you are continuing anyway in the best way you can. That demonstrates a huge strength of character and will help any organisation you work for.

Information on working with arthritis

Our information on working with arthritis are for anyone with arthritis or a related condition who is either starting work for the first time, trying to stay in employment or returning to work. This includes information on the Government’s Access to Work scheme.

My Plus Students' Club offers advice, support and information for young adults who are studying, or have just graduated as they pursue their chosen career path. Or visit National Careers Service for general careers advice.

Our services

If you or a family member under the age of 25 has arthritis, we run a Young People and Families service that provides information and support and puts on a range of events across the country.

Our service helps young people and children offers advice on how to live well with arthritis, medication and potential treatments, as well as creating a safe space to ask questions, receive information and develop support networks.

Find out more about our Young People and Families service.