My Career Was Shaped by Sickle Cell

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson avatar

by Dunstan Nicol-Wilson |

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I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing people who have given me the space to grow and develop. These experiences have been invaluable, and as a manager, I’ve been sharing them with junior staff to help shape their own journeys. In doing so, I’ve reflected a lot on my own experiences and realized how sickle cell disease has affected my career choices.

I currently work as a research manager, a career path I’d once never considered or even knew existed. As a child, I wanted to do more orthodox things, like be a firefighter or a pilot. Dealing with a chronic condition, however, meant that subconsciously I never really felt like I could do those jobs. For example, I couldn’t be a professional wrestler because when I would play fight, I would feel a pain I didn’t quite understand.

I would eventually learn that the pain I was feeling, which resulted in hospital admission, was a sickle cell crisis. In learning about the condition, I became motivated to pursue certain careers because they would directly help patients like me.

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For example, before I started college, I really wanted to be a doctor so I could save the lives of sickle cell patients. Like others who spend a lot of time in the hospital, I had a great appreciation for the nurses and doctors who looked after me. They were the embodiment of my heroes, the people who would eventually take the pain away. Naturally, I wanted to be that for others, too. I’ve always had a caring nature, and it seemed like a good fit at the time.

When the time came to study and get into medical school, though, my grades just weren’t good enough. Admittedly, I hadn’t mastered the art of studying, so this hindered any chance I had to get in. I had the option to study more and reapply the following year, but I talked myself out of it because I had investigated the reality of being a doctor. The thought of becoming what I admired scared me.

As a doctor, I would have to work long hours and overnight shifts. My experiences in college working all night and stressing about exams triggered crises. Realizing this stressful lifestyle was considered normal for a doctor, I realized I couldn’t do it safely.

During this time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and found myself using similar reasons to leave the laboratory behind. My college degree was in biological sciences, and many of my friends decided to use it to go into lab work. I didn’t see myself doing that, even though I could’ve indirectly helped patients with sickle cell.

I have no regrets about not pursuing those careers because I eventually stumbled on a path that suits me. I support the clinical researchers in getting their projects approved by the regulatory health bodies here in the U.K. By working my way up in this field, I’ve learned to have difficult discussions about my health and found rewards in the work that I do.

I could have easily talked myself out of doing this job, too, because of the stress it sometimes brings. Instead, I stuck with it and now have a job where I can work flexibly to support my health.

I never compromised on my passion to help other patients like me. I support the sickle cell community through my advocacy in my free time. Sickle cell did play a part in my career choices, but I’m at a stage now where I can look back and be happy with the choices I’ve made.

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.


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