Can sickle cell disease affect our goals and career choices?

Weighing our dreams for our profession with what's best for our chronic illness

Oluwatosin Adesoye avatar

by Oluwatosin Adesoye |

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An illustrated banner showing a woman dressed in red with a stethoscope hanging on her neck. She is surrounded by floating blood cells.

I often hear a fascinating question among those living with sickle cell disease, sickle cell advocates, parents, caregivers, etc. — “Can sickle cell disease affect our goals and career choices?” — and I usually find some of the answers as interesting as the question.

I’ve heard answers like, “Sickle cell disease cannot affect your dreams and aspirations. Allow warriors to do whatever they wish, regardless of what others think.”

What do I think? It’d sound inspirational if I agreed, adding that if we can dream it, we can do it.

Realistically, though, as a physician who’s lived with the disease for nearly 40 years, sickle cell can affect one’s career, dreams, or aspirations, depending on the severity of the condition and the dream in question. As I often say, sickle cell is a spectrum, and it affects everyone differently. Some have mild cases while others are moderate or severe.

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Those with mild sickle cell disease usually get to live like those who are healthy. Over the years, I’ve seen some people with the disease take on stressful or difficult careers and excel in them. Some even have successful careers in sports.

But more commonly, I see sickle cell patients leave jobs because they can’t cope with the workload. After all, stress is a significant trigger of sickle cell crises. Disease complications can also make it difficult to work some jobs.

I chose arguably the most demanding course to study — medicine and surgery. I thought it would be easy, but sickle cell made it so tough. I strutted into medical school, but could barely walk at graduation. Many people facing similar complications would never have graduated. They would’ve dropped out along the way, especially in a country like mine, Nigeria, that’s not as inclusive of people with disabilities. However, I was obstinate and determined. I wouldn’t take no for an answer.

I told myself, “You either do this, or you die trying.” I gave myself no other option. To graduate, I had to overcome complications like chronic pain syndrome, bone deformities, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, avascular necrosis, infections, depression, multiple episodes of acute pain, exacerbations of anemia, and much more. I only survived because of my unwavering determination, relentlessness, and belief in God.

Even as a practicing physician, my health has been a major determinant in my career choices. I had to let go of some dreams, but I never stopped dreaming. I came up with even greater goals and aspirations. Looking back now, my accomplishments over the years have been fulfilling, and they make me proud of the woman I am.

From my perspective, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a less stressful career to accommodate health issues. In fact, it’s wise to do so. On the other hand, if you’re passionate about a dream and think it’s achievable and reasonable, go for it!

Remote or hybrid jobs are a great option for adults with moderate to severe sickle cell disease. Thank God many of these jobs are now available, allowing people to earn a living and manage their health at the same time. I advocate for remote or hybrid jobs for people with chronic illness because I believe they can actually increase efficiency.

Another excellent career option for individuals living with chronic illness is self-employment, which can offer people flexibility and control over their schedule.

Many people with mild sickle cell disease may be able to handle any job. Sickle cell doesn’t affect intelligence. When patients have understanding colleagues and a positive work environment, they can be highly efficient and productive employees, just like any other person.

As I always say, sickle cell is a disease that should be individualized rather than generalized. What applies to one person does not automatically apply to another. The patients who’ll benefit more from considering their health when making career choices are those with moderate to severe disease.

Has sickle cell disease affected your career choices? Please share in the comments below.

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


Harry Williams avatar

Harry Williams

Oluwatosin, thank you for this amazing article. It truly helps Warriors understand that we can achieve great things. We have to incorporate God and a strong desire to make it despite what we endure. I give you great kudos for your great achievements and being a strong advocate and medical source of knowledge. Keep speaking truth to power and know that we are grateful for all your insight. God bless you!


Benedict Olusola Amusan avatar

Benedict Olusola Amusan

Thank you so much for this great piece Dr. Adesoye Oluwatosin.


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