Dr Astrid Vanderwerff studied to become a doctor in the Netherlands before coming to the UK to continue her career in medicine. Here, she writes about how reluctance to buy a new telephone prevented her from doing her job.
Astrid shared her story at a roundtable event hosted by the GMC as part of a review of its guidance on supporting medical students and doctors with health conditions and disabilities, which is now open for public consultation.
I currently work in a hospital on an elderly care ward as a foundation year two locum doctor. I came to the UK three years ago and used to be a registrar specialising in elderly care in the Netherlands.
After spending a year improving my English, I applied for my first job through an agency who recommended a role as a clinical fellow. I did a job interview with the hospital and they said I was welcome for the job. I told them I was hearing impaired and would need a telephone with volume control. They said that would be no problem.
That was in November 2016 and I started in January 2017. When I started, the hospital only had landlines without volume control and the sound was very soft. I tried to use the phones but I couldn’t hear anything.
I asked for a phone with volume control as a reasonable adjustment so I could to do my job but there was delay after delay. I eventually got help from the equality officer at the trust. She helped to get a meeting with HR, but they initially asked me to buy a phone myself or use my own. I was eventually promised a phone but another month went by and nothing had happened. By this stage, I’d been there for four months.
After further delays I became more and more depressed. I couldn’t use any telephones and I couldn’t carry out all the tasks I was capable of. I should have been able to do on calls and night shifts and go to other wards, but I was limited to clerk patients in A&E. I was blamed for the situation by my peers. It was a very busy ward and everyone was needed but I couldn’t fully do my job. I was given medication for my depression and told to stay home by my GP. After three weeks at home, the phone was ordered.
I felt by this stage that it was too late. I finally decided to leave and I got another locum role through a different agency. In the new hospital, they had landlines with volume control, so I could really do my job.
I’ve since started on the elderly care ward. I was aware one of the phones on the ward was a bit soft and I couldn’t regulate the volume. I spoke to the ward manager and explained that I had a problem with the telephone and asked whether it would be possible to get another phone.
The ward manager picked up the phone, listened to the dial tone, and said ‘You are right, the telephone is too quiet. The problem isn’t you; the problem is with the telephone. Don’t worry, I will change it.’ It felt so opposite to my previous experience. I felt so welcome and supported.
Respond to the GMC’s consultation on its guidance for educators and employers on supporting disabled learners or those with health conditions by 20 September 2018 to have your say.