Share on Pinterest

Got questions about life with diabetes? You can always Ask D'Mine -- our weekly Q&A column, hosted by longtime type 1 and diabetes author Wil Dubois.

Today, Wil is looking at careers that may or may not be available to people with diabetes.

{ Got your own questions? Email us at AskDMine@diabetesmine.com }

*   *   *

Kim, type 1 from Mississippi, writes: I’m close to graduating college and entering the workforce, living with T1D. I’ve been told by some teachers and advisors to look for a “diabetic-friendly job.” Is there such a thing? 

Wil@Ask D’Mine answers: When I first read your email, I thought your teachers and advisors were total morons, and that you should request a full refund of your tuition. Because here’s the thing: There are precious few jobs that you, as a type 1 diabetic, are barred from—and the list gets shorter every year. The biggest one still remaining is military service. The military won’t take you, although if you develop diabetes while you’re in the military, it’s sometimes possible to stay in, with some limits on the job you’re allowed to do. 

But other than soldiering, nearly every field is now accessible to you. Even the traditionally closed doors of public safety are now open. On the local level, T1Ds are packing heat and insulin in the police force. And even the FBI, once a closed door to PWDs with T1D, has come around. Likewise, there are firefighters with diabetes, as well as ambulance drivers. Cross-country trucking, another formally closed door, is now not only open, but is much easier to walk through thanks to the recent abandonment of the burdensome Diabetes Exemption Program, which has been replaced with a simpler and more straightforward medical certification process for insulin-using drivers. 

And although, right now, there aren’t any T1Ds serving commercial pilots or an air traffic controllers in the USA who have type 1 diabetes, that’s about to change as the FAA has signaled that it’s changing the rules. Very exciting!  Heck, even NASA is open to a diabetic with the right stuff—although they are yet to launch one of us into orbit. 

Share on Pinterest
Fortunately, almost all possible career paths are now open to people living with insulin-dependent diabetes.

So, with even the sky not being the limit anymore, why are your teachers and advisors trying to hold you back? My first reaction was that they are woefully out of touch with modern reality. But when I thought more about it, I decided that perhaps these “morons” might have your best interests at heart.

Because, if we are honest with ourselves, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. While the right PWD (person with diabetes) can do any job, not all PWDs can do every job. Your teachers and advisors have, I hope, come to know you well, including your diabetes and your personal diabetes challenges. With that perspective in mind, let’s talk about diabetes-friendly and unfriendly jobs. 

Let’s assume, just for a moment, that you’re one of those PWDs who’s excessively sensitive to the effects of physical activity. The least bit of extra exercise sends your BG plummeting like an elevator whose cables just snapped. If that’s the case with you, I think we can all agree that having a job with unpredictable excess exercise—I dunno, maybe working as a UPS driver—would be a poor choice for you. Sure, you could do it. No question about that. But you’d be on a roller coaster of lows, fast-acting glucose, rebound highs, etc. That would not be good for your health, which in turn means this would not be a healthy job for you—in short, a diabetes unfriendly job, at least for your diabetes. On the other hand, if you’re one of those PWDs who can ride out a wide variety of activity, the UPS job might be a great fit for you. A diabetes-friendly job. For you.

In a similar fashion, if you and your diabetes have a really hard time with varied sleep patterns, a job with a shift rotation—five days on swing shift, five days on graveyard, five days on day shift—would be a diabetes unfriendly job. For you.

I think that’s what your teachers and advisors had in mind: Guiding you to find a job that’s a good fit for you, including your diabetes. 

Simply put, on the physiological front, not all cases of diabetes are created equal. Your diabetes may vary. And so, too, do jobs. The trick to finding a diabetes-friendly job is to match the physical work environment with the physical needs of your personal diabetes. Likewise, we need to think about our treatment choices. If you wear a pump, working as a deep-sea salvage diver would probably be a diabetes unfriendly job, simply because you’d have no way to operate your diabetes gear in your work environment.

That’s the medical perspective. But there is another side to friendly and unfriendly workplaces and environments, and that’s the social environment. In some industries, there’s a lot of prejudice and ignorance to battle. Aviation comes to mind as an example, and surprisingly, so too does medicine. So how are your public education and advocacy skills? How thick is your skin? How patient are you? 

Another element to consider here, as part of the social side, is the size of the organization you work for, and how many people you will work with. If you only have to enlighten a small group of people that you work with all the time, it’s not that big a deal. If, on the other hand, your prospective job has you constantly working with a large number of new and different people, being a diabetes spokesperson can be, well, exhausting.

So diabetes-friendly jobs do exist. They are simply jobs that are a good fit with your diabetes, your diabetes treatment, and exist in a social environment that suits your education and advocacy skills. And of course, it should be a job that you either enjoy or feel called to do.

Diabetes aside, life’s too short to spend it working in a job you don’t enjoy or find fulfilling.


Will Dubois lives with type 1 diabetes and is the author of five books on the illness, including "Taming The Tiger" and "Beyond Fingersticks." He spent many years helping treat patients at a rural medical center in New Mexico. An aviation enthusiast, Wil lives in Las Vegas, NM, with his wife and son, and one too many cats.

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. Bottom Line: You still need the guidance and care of a licensed medical professional.