Returning to Work While on Dialysis

October 17, 2017, 2:16pm EDT

By Ashley Blackmon LMSW
The face of dialysis is changing. As people begin dialysis earlier in life, an increasing number of young adults and working age adults successfully maintain stable work histories.  
In the past, misconceptions may have led people on dialysis to believe they are less employable or unable to work at all. In fact, working is strongly encouraged by healthcare professionals because of its many benefits – decreased depression, improved confidence, greater sense of control and independence, improved relationships, and generally a better quality of life.

What do I need to know?

Ask for a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

Vocational rehabilitation services are a hidden gem for people on dialysis seeking employment. Ask your dialysis social worker to refer you to a vocational rehabilitation program in your state. These specialized employment counselors help find employers willing to accommodate your dialysis treatment schedule and any physical limitations. They also work diligently to secure employment based on your interests and career goals. In addition, they can provide training for new skills you may need to get a job in you are no longer able to do your current job.

Consult a Disability Benefits Specialist

If you receive social security benefits, your vocational rehabilitation counselor may refer you to a disability benefits specialist. This highly trained specialist will review your social security income and help you understand which benefits, such as Medicare or Social Security, may be impacted by your return to work. This can also help determine if part-time or full-time work will best fit your lifestyle.

Involve Your Doctor and Care Team

Don’t forget to discuss your plans to return to work with your doctor and health care team. Your health care team can offer guidance on work restrictions and limitations, such as heavy lifting or prolonged standing, etc. Your team can also provide written communication to your employer regarding work-related restrictions.

Tell Social Security When You Begin Work

If you decide to look for work on your own, it’s very important for you to report to your Social Security Administration Office once you find work. Failure to report you are working can result in the overpayment of disability benefits. If that happens, you may be required to pay those funds back.

File Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Paperwork

It’s a good idea to file Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) paperwork with your employer once you are eligible. This paperwork offers job protection to attend necessary medical appointments should you be off work for an extended period of time or if you feel ill.

Keys to Success

Get Friends and Family on Board

Rely on family, friends, religious community, neighbors and your healthcare team for encouragement. Sharing your hopes and fears about returning to work will help relieve stress and build up the team of people who are ready to support you.

Take Time to Relax

Don't forget to find time for activities and hobbies you love. Balancing work, home, and treatment is always a challenge. Doing things that make you happy will help you juggle other demands on your time.

Never Neglect Your Health

It is essential to stick to your dialysis treatment to feel your best and enjoy the highest quality of life.
  • Never miss a treatment or doctor’s appointment.
  • Ask your health care team about your options. Your center may be able to provide an alternate chair time or different treatment day. If schedule conflicts occur often due to work, discuss treatment options with your healthcare team such as nocturnal dialysis or home dialysis.
  • Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for home dialysis. Home dialysis offers more flexibility and works well for those who want/need to work.
You are the most important member of your healthcare team. With the right information, you’ll decide which options are best for you and how they can be tailored to your needs and lifestyle.
And, if you have questions or concerns along the way, your dialysis social worker is ready to offer support and counseling to help you succeed.
Ashley Blackmon, Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) earned her Master of Social Work at University of Memphis and works with home dialysis patients at Satellite WellBound of Memphis. Ashley is very passionate about improving the quality of lives of individuals living with kidney disease and their families. She previously served as a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of mental disorders, substance-use disorders, trauma and stress related disorders. Ashley is actively pursuing her clinical social work licensure.