Asthma UK community forum

medical personnel, careers

Hi just asking all you medical personnel!! A question in regards to medical training and if having brittle asthma and a large sick record will allow me to pursue a career within the medical field I have two careers in mind to train to become a GP or Paediatric doc. Also I have great interest in becoming a medical genetics scientist and research genetic disorders caused by chromosomal abnormalities: I am worried that I will be dis valued or even disallowed due to my medical history and should not even contemplate these careers at all. If I get the grades and go on to sixth form this is my ideal future. And also how do you cope in uni? Any help with this would be great.thank you.

Spider x

9 Replies

Spider its so nice to hear a young person have have good goals.

I was lucky in that my asthma didnt get severe or brittle until after uni and a good few years nursing. If you are a lucky brittle that has well periods in between it shouldnt stop you pursuing one of your chosen options. remain possitive and you can acheieve anything within your limits.

Good luck

Love Andrea xxxx


Hey Spider,

Firstly, I think it's great that you have so much motivation and courage to take on the world when you have so much else to contend with. You go, girl - aim for the stars, the worst you can do is bang your head on the ceiling :-)

I'll make no bones, though, life as a medical student and as a junior doc can be bloomin' hard going when you're fit and well. However, having said that, you have the disability discrimination act on your side which means that reasonable adjustments should be made. You may well find that you need to take a lot longer over you studies due to lost time, if you run into a bad patch with your health. Having said that, for the first couple of years (bear in mind I started my training nearly ten years ago (EEEEK I'm getting old!) so things might well have changed) it will mainly be book work and lectures, so you may find that easier to keep up with if you need time off (a cohort of good friends helps in keeping you stocked with lecture notes when you can't get to lectures). The University should be able to help with accommodation that close to campus - all Uni's should have a disability officer to help with this kind of thing.

The clinical years may prove to be a little more tricky in terms of getting in your required experience and exposure to patients, as this is something you just can't learn from books. As I say, you may need to repeat placements/years if you lose a lot of time. I do know of people who have successfully navigated med school with a variety of disabilities, though, so don't be too discouraged.

Once you've got through med school you'll have your degree, with which you can then do pretty much what you like. Bear in mind most branches of medicine will require you to do at least 12 months in a junior doctor-type post, which means spending time on the wards. There may well be scope for doing part-time work, but these posts tend to be harder to come by. Whatever career in medicine you wish to follow, you'll probably need to follow the same path initially - however, there are Jobs and there are Jobs, if you catch my meaning ;-)

I don't think there would be problems with being disallowed, per se, like the restrictions in place for the ambulance service. It's more a question of doing what you want to do - and wanting it enough - but also being realistic about what you can manage.

Why not have a chat with some of the doctors you come across? We're quite a friendly breed, really, and they may help you consider the various issues involved. Also perhaps, a little further down the line, ring up one of the med schools (admissions officer would probably be best) and discuss with them. The admissions ""criteria"" and the things they look for in an individual tend to change slightly all the time, so I expect things will have changed from when I were a lass...eeeeeehhhh.....

Hope this is useful. Sorry for blathering! Any more qu's just ask.



Hi Spiderlungs,

I'm a fifth yr med student (finals in june eek) with moderate asthma. Great to hear you are considering a medical career and asking questions.

CathBear gave some excellent advice- like she said life as a med student is often tough enough when you're fit and healthy! saying that i know of a couple of medical student whose circumstances including having Cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, cancer or having babies during med school and they have managed.

The first two years at many med schools are based around learning the basic sciences so lots of lab stuff and lectures- you prob wouldn't find this that hard. Attendance isn't usually compulsory either. Years 3-5 are clinical and you are expected to be in usually 9-5pm mon-fri, the holidays are shorter than other courses too- i have 1 week at xmas, no easter holiday and 1 month in the summer. As you can imagine - its easy to get run down, tired and then pick up a bug!

If the worse comes to the worse and come your clinical years you feel unable to cope with the demands of the course there is an option (at my med school at least) to leave at the end of the third year. Providing you pass the 3rd yr exams you will be adwarded a degree in Biomedical Scienes.

have you considered doing some work experience? I don't think you should immediately rule these careers out. Feel free to pm me if you have any questions at all- i will do my best to answer then but there are a few things I'd rather not discuss on public threads.

All the best!



CathBear wrote:

""so I expect things will have changed from when I were a lass...eeeeeehhhh.....""

I really ought to stop buying Hovis ;)


Hi Spiderlungs,

just a couple of points, some med schools, I think it is the newer ones like UEA and Hull/York, introduce students to clinical placements from the start, and use 'problem based learning' which is more hands on (and perhaps less easy to catch up on), so its worth looking in detail at how the course operates.

I used to work in a molecular biology lab (plants not humans) and there can be a good deal of flexibility in work hours - and of course all work hours are within the 8-6 ish range. i know people who shifted work hours around children with no problem, so this might be an advantage over medicine. However, if you are not there the work doesnt get done, which can lead to stress among bosses! the other thing to bear in mind with lab work is that there are lots of chemicals etc. If you are an allergic sort of asthmatic the lab takes the number of potential allergens to a whole new level!

Other sorts of jobs are biomedical science (like someone suggested), doing the diagnostic work in a hospital lab - there are specialist genetic diagnostic labs around the country. If you're interested in genetics there is also genetic counselling.

good luck with it!


Hey Spider

I think it's awesome that you want to go into medicine, and I encourage you to do everything you possibly can to do it if that's what you really want. Next year I'll be going for a degree in Biomedical Science, and then HOPEFULLY on to med school. (Do you go directly into medicine after secondary school in the UK?).

I'm not brittle, but I'm bracing for it to be pretty tough. I'm wishing you the best of luck. You should most definitely aim for it.

XX Brynne


Hi there spider, sorry to take so long to reply - I have had a fairly hectic wee while lately.

I am currently a clinical teaching fellow- so a doctor working as a tutor in a medical school - I do some clinical work still, and spend some of my time teaching and some doing research. i am also involved in the admissions process!

Basically, if you want to get into medical school, as well as getting the grades, you need to prove that you can cope with doing extracurricular things (so you have extra capacity to work beyond what you do at school) and that you are a caring person who can communicate with other folk, and that you have understanding of what being a doctor is about. So we (and most other med schools are similar) look for you to do something either sporty or teamworky - music, guides etc, to have done quite a bit of work experience (and to prove that you have learned from it what the up and downsides of medicine are and have reflected on the experience), and that you make some kind of regular caring committment eg volunteer in an old folks home or paeds unit. Going on the courses about medical careers is also useful, especially if getting work experience is hard, but more important is that you reflect on what experience you have had.

As for being a medic with brittle asthma - well it can be quite challenging. I developed brittle asthma probably around fourth year, but had had problems before then too. It is worth thinking about the medical school you go to carefully - where do they send students on attachment and how would you get there?, when is the first clinical work done (most have introduced earlier clinicla experience, and this tends to be compulsory), what leaway is there for missing things - each will have slightly different policies. I had trouble at times getting back to clinic appointments from far-flung placements, and being admitted to a variety of hospitals round the region because I was there on attachment. If you were somewhere that didn;t send their students so far that might be less of an issue. Also worth thinking about social support - you will probably need a wee bit more help than most at uni (although I didn't want it i could have used more help) - who will keep an eye on you? Staying at home at least provides someone to look after you when you aren't so well - especially at first friends won't know how to help. Also where is the best place for your asthma care? Which consultant would look after you?

You also say you are thinking about doing paeds - I used to think that, but soon learned that it was pretty much a no go area - the kids come in with all kinds of nasty bugs and I got pretty sick. GPs see loadsof folk with upper resp tract viruses - if they set you off I would think twice about it too. Now is the time to think about whether you would be happy in a less acute specialty - I wanted ot do paeds or chest medicine but realistically I wasnt' well enough to manage - I can't run to an arrest if I have to without ending up really puffy. I am doing palliative medicine - so less running involved but still something I love and feel is very important. You talked about genetics, and that may be a sensible choice - some contact with kids and lots of continuity of care, which in many ways is the most rewarding thing about medicine.

Colleagues are not always as supportive as you might expect of a sick doctor - I found taking time off very hard, despite being in hospital I felt I was dumping on colleagues, as I knew that locum cover wasn't being provided. I also had to get them to help me even when I was at work, on days I wasn't up to running one of my mates would take the arrest bleep - that was fine but if he hadn't been keen to do it I don't know what I would have done. There were other times when I couldn't do that and had to do my best knowing that I couldn't run as fast as other folk. Work as a medic can be tough, and as a medic with a chronic illness it can be really tough.

Also you will have to work alongside the people who see you as a patient - who see you at your most vulnerable. Confidentiality is non-existant for medics, I'm afraid - we pay lip service to it but it is not a reality.

I hope I haven't put you off - I dont' mean to, just to give you a realistic idea of how hard it can be. Despite that it is a very rewarding career, and i wouldn't do anything else. If you have any other questions, please pm me, and I will do my best to answer them. I'm sure Em H will have some comments when she is well enough too.

Best wishes,

Sarah owl.


Hi spider!

Only just seen your thread. Can give a longer reply later but just wanted to quickly say a few things. Everyone has said great things so far.

I too am a medical student...third year with brittle asthma. I didn't become brittle til last year although asthma took a nose dive as soon as i went to med school.

I just wanted to say go for is blooming hard work and sadly you do get ill at some points but i wouldn't do anything else. I missed a lot last yr but managed to take my exams when everyone else was resitting (i was in hospital for the actual exams) and am now in my clinical years. I have had to transfer med schools (was in leeds now at barts and the london) but with a bit more stability and the help of RBH i am still doing medicine. I'm very stubborn and will never let anything get in my way. I am v lucky (as andrea said) i have been more well in between attacks this year which has made life easier. Med schools are very understanding and will support you. As owl said Emh will also fill you in on this when she's better.

Also ali commented on problem-based learning (PBL) and more intergrated/clinical course. Most courses are now integrated. I would actually recommend doing a PBL based course as you could miss more.

Please PM me any questions i would love to help.

Em x


Thank you so very much for your replies they all have some excellent suggestions and explanations and advice of what it may be like. I am sorry for the long time with no reply but I have been in hospital due to, guess what, asthma!! I appreciate all the responses I have had I do think I would stay clear of certain aspects of a doctors job but hopefully when the time is right for me my asthma may be better controlled if not I am sure I shall find some thing I am interested in doing! I do worry about missing practical as well as theory work but if I am able to maintain a high level of academic achievement and practical experience, when I am well, I am sure I will do this to great personnel and job satisfaction. I am involved in st Johns and work at my cousins school in the after school club when I am fit to be able to. I have had work experience at local hospital and old people’s home. I have also taken advice and spoken to my consultant and he feels time will tell and I would have great benefit from doing a job I have great passion for and that medical schools are able to extend missed time if it takes a year longer for me at the end of the day if I am able to do this job I will. but only time will tell for now i have great concern if things do not get much better and missing lots of work but well see thank you all once again.

spider x


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