This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website:

25 July, 2011

Why do we do what we do?

Why do we do what we do? This question was posed during closing remarks by Dr. Michael Fox from the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the 2011 Disability and Health Partners Meeting. Gathered in the room were professionals, both seasoned and new, who share the common mission of promoting health and preventing secondary diseases for people with disabilities. Through their daily work, the different professionals in the room encounter the inequalities experienced by people with disabilities. Each person has experienced different things that impact the way they see life and the passions they have. These passions can provide powerful personal and professional guidance.

As a reminder of why we do what we do, look back to an experience that has put something into perspective for you. In college I worked for the Citizen Advocacy Program, a program with The Arc that helps adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities gain access to services to live more independently. I helped people first identify medical providers that would take their insurance, then provided any support needed during their medical appointments. Seeing the difficulties many adults had in finding providers that would serve them was an extremely eye opening experience for me.

I am now very aware of some of the barriers that people with disabilities face when trying to receive health care services. In one instance, I brought a woman who had Cerebral Palsy to her consultation so she could learn more about the surgery she was going to have. Even after I insisted several times that the doctor speak directly with her, he continued to ignore her and act as if I was the only person in the room. Instead of explaining the procedure, he assumed that neither of us was capable of understanding it, so he handed me a black and white diagram of a kidney with no explanation. When discussing after care procedures, I could see his forehead scrunch when he asked her repeatedly, “You really live independently in the community?”

My experiences helping adults with disabilities gain access to the services they rightfully deserve made me passionate about improving access to care. Seeing firsthand inequality and barriers has reaffirmed to me the need for work in this area. I share this understanding with many professionals in my field that strive to make healthy lifestyles possible through improved access. Passions can drive the work that you do and make the work you do worthwhile.

Articulating your passions is important.

Be proud of and highlight the work you have done, as it contributes greatly to who you are as an early career professional today. Look at what you are passionate about and how that has contributed to your accomplishments. As a recent graduate, I realize it is not only your education that is important but your passions and interests. Your passions drive the work you do and makes what you do valuable to others.

Networking can help you find others that share your passions.

Networking with people in the field is extremely beneficial; it can lead to personal and professional growth. In my first semester of graduate school we had an assignment (I thought was silly at the time) to interview three people in leadership positions with similar interests or with careers we admired. This assignment forced me to reach out to leaders in the field, which can be an extremely valuable exercise even without a formal assignment. Two of the people I decided to interview worked at the University of Delaware where I was studying and ended up being my academic and professional mentors. While in graduate school, I frequently picked their brains for ways to use my degree and passions to benefit people with disabilities. They were excited to have a student seek advice on becoming part of their field and who shared their passions and interests, which opened up doors for me for future opportunities.

Passion can help you find success.

If you take the time to talk to leaders in the field that share your passion, you will see that they want you to succeed and help you find a place within the field to use your passion and knowledge. Finding a job and supportive work environment where you can share those passions can be very rewarding and is certainly something worth searching for. I encourage all young professionals to reflect often on what it is you are passionate about, and why you do what you do to maintain a clear vision for your future.


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