Returning to Work After an Organ Transplant

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on July 28, 2021
3 min read

Most people who get an organ transplant can go back to work. Settling back into your old job can help you feel like yourself again -- and it pays the bills, too.

Jeffrey D. Punch, MD, professor of surgery in the Transplant Clinic-Taubman Center at the University of Michigan Health System, says that he encourages his patients to go back to work. "I advise people to do as much as they can," Punch tells WebMD. "It's healthy to be more active and involved."

But readjusting can be a challenge. You may not slide back into your job as smoothly as you like. Though you may be sitting in the same chair behind the same desk, things may not feel quite the same.

If you've been sick and out of work for some time, returning can be hard. People working in very competitive fields may feel out of the loop after an organ transplant. Your co-workers may seem to have left you behind, Punch cautions.

If you're recovering slowly or worried about returning to work, Punch recommends that you start with a volunteer job. It will ease you back into the working world, but won't demand too much of you. After all, people do have complications sometimes, and you might need to go back to the hospital for a few days.

"If your only job is volunteer work clipping hedges at a church, no one will be too mad if you can't show up," Punch says. "But if you're an attorney trying a big case, it can be a problem."

Going back to work after a long absence can make you feel like the new kid in school all over again. You're craving to feel normal, but can't because everyone is treating you so strangely.

Barry Friedman, RN, senior director of the Florida AdventHealth Transplant Institute, says that many people don't understand how common and how successful transplants are. They think that a transplant recipient must still be gravely ill. Or they treat you like a fragile medical marvel.

So it may be up to you to tell them otherwise. Living with a transplant often means that you have to become an educator, too. Talking openly with your co-workers and boss about what it's like to have a transplant may make everyone feel more at ease.

Unfortunately, some of these common misconceptions about organ transplants can be more than annoyances. They can hurt your career.

"Many corporations, if they find out that you have a transplant, are afraid to take you on," says Friedman. "That's a challenge that many people with transplants face."

Punch says that some people with transplants find it hard to get insurance coverage.

If you feel that you're being treated unfairly at work, don't accept it. After all you've been through, you probably know how to fight back. Talk to people on your health care team. Many transplant centers have social workers who will help you transition back into life. Get some advice from folks in a support group. Don't let your employer's wrong-headed notions hold you back.