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Being a disabled doctor in the pandemic

14th April, 2020

When I went to medical school, I trained for many things. I expected to work in a wide range of settings, from the GP surgery to brain surgery, in the UK and abroad. To a large extent, we are trained to manage the ‘unexpected’, we’re taught to find patterns in the chaos, to make thorough, timely assessments, and formulate plans in challenging environments. But very little training, however thorough, could have prepared me for everything I would face working during coronavirus.

In many ways, I am very lucky. I’m currently based in a ‘recovery hub’ for older patients who have been discharged from hospital but need some rehabilitation or a care package starting before they are able to go home. But as we all know, COVID-19 is now everywhere, with many of those who have it appearing to have no symptoms at all. So even my lovely community facility is not immune, and I am spending much of my day wearing a facemask, visor over my glasses, apron and gloves. My patients aren’t able to have visitors, so if and when they become unwell, I have to make difficult phone calls to loved ones to explain the situation and the options we may or may not have.

I’m also lucky that my condition doesn’t leave me especially ‘vulnerable’ (gosh, I hate that word) to coronavirus. Whilst as a healthcare professional I know I am at higher risk of catching it than the average member of the population, if I do, then my outcomes should be no worse than that of any other ‘healthy’ 32-year-old woman. But the fear is still there, and I know it is shared by my friends and family, who check in with me daily, ask about whether I have enough protective equipment, distract me with Zoom parties, gifs, and cat videos.

I know there is a lot of very justified fear in the disabled community at the moment. As ever, it feels like the challenges faced by wider society are magnified for those who rely on care and have additional health needs. Please, if you are struggling, reach out. Sites like Twitter have an amazing community of disabled people sharing their experiences and are supporting each other.

In medical school, the most important thing I learnt was the importance of working as part of a team. My work team are getting each other through an incredibly demanding clinical situation. My team of friends, family, and disabled colleagues are getting me through outside of work. If you can, find your team; and look after yourselves and each other.



Hannah is a TGA WHILL ambassador and monthly TGA blogger.