To tell or not to tell – that is the question for Mikael

Mikael (© Ulrika Hallin)

How will your boss react if he or she finds out that you have a congenital heart defect? Should you mention it during the job interview? Or does it make no difference at all? Read about Mikael Meijer's path to find a permanent job.

For Mikael Meijer, working at a hospital seemed an obvious choice. “After all, I've experienced health care my entire life, and I want to give back a little of the love that I've been shown by everyone, with the exception of the occasional ‘evil nurse’,” he says with a smile.

At secondary school Mikael studied mechanical engineering, but sensed that it was not really for him, so he took further courses to become a registered practical nurse. On completion of his education, he managed to find a nine-month substitute position at the Thoracic Surgery Centre at Karolinska Hospital, Sweden.

At the hospital he chose not to tell anyone about his heart defect as he wanted them to be recognised for himself, rather than his heart defect. As he puts it, he wanted to be seen as ‘Nurse Mikael’, not ‘Heart Mikael’. However, one day, a colleague asked him in passing whether he had a heart defect. Deciding to address the issue, the next morning at the staff meeting, Mikael told his colleagues about his heart problem. But that afternoon, Mikael’s supervisor called him into the office and told him that, unfortunately, they would not be able to extend his substitute position.

Keeping quiet

Mikael was lucky enough to find a new four-month substitute position in another department at the same Thoracic Centre. “This time there was no way I was going to mention my heart defect,” he says. So Mikael kept quiet. He worked hard, was never sick, and his position was extended several times. Then suddenly Mikael failed to get the position extended. “Somehow they had found out about my heart defect,” he says. “They still wanted to employ me, but as an extra resource. This would mean they would only pay half my salary, and expected me to find a sponsor to cover the other half.” Mikael decided to quit the department.

Telling the truth

The Clinical Physiology department at the centre needed people, and he applied. “I was the only male applicant, and was given an interview,” he says.  “As we sat there chatting, I felt compelled to lay my cards on the table, so I told them about my heart defect. And I got the job! I am now in my seventh year working in the department, and I’m also a patient here once a year, although I have never had any problems.”

Of course Mikael has wondered how a congenital heart defect affects you when applying for a job. “It’s hard to know whether or not to bring up your defect,” he says. “When I was working in surgery and had to change clothes, I would always take my shirt on and off quickly, and I always had a T-shirt on under my V-neck. It didn't seem like a good idea to reveal my scar.”

He has continued to keep his personal and professional lives separate; despite working with heart patients, he never tells them that he himself has a heart defect. “The focus is always on the patient. You meet so many different people; some tell you their whole life story, others say very little. I have a big advantage because I understand, based on my own experience, what the patient is going through.”

Author(s): Ulrika Hallin
Last updated: 2010-04-19