Medical Students With Disabilities Face Barriers in Medical Schools

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine (UCSF) released a publication that explores the current state of medical education for medical students and physicians with disabilities. This report is designed to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges and opportunities for individuals with disabilities at the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals.

Firsthand experiences are documented in this report. One medical resident with a physical disability was about a year and a half into training when the health care institution finally installed an automatic door he needed. Another student faced frustrations when arranging accommodations for taking tests, with it seeming like the medical school was “making up rules along the way.” When another resident first sought support, the disability representative for the school was allegedly unfamiliar with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

About 1,500 medical students in the U.S. have disclosed a disability and receive formal accommodations. That’s about 2.7 percent of students, according to the report, and represents a lower percentage than undergraduate programs, in which about 11 percent of students, on average, disclose a disability. The report found that in medicine especially, many students hide their disability out of a “fear of judgment, bias, and skewed perception of ability.”

According to the AAMC, “Learners need effective structures that sometimes are missing, such as clear policies around disabilities and knowledgeable disability service providers. But that is not enough,” said Dr. Meeks, who was on the faculty as director of medical student disability services at UCSF during the development, data collection, and writing of this report. “They also need a culture that lets them know they are welcome.”

Additional key considerations include:

  • Employing a disability services provider (DSP) or staff member who is knowledgeable about accommodations and other supports;
  • Ensuring that DSPs are trained in accommodations and other supports specific to medical settings;
  • Having an outside expert conduct an assessment of existing services;
  • Having a clear process for requesting accommodations that does not involve disclosing sensitive personal information directly to a colleague, dean, or supervisor;
  • Posting on the institution’s website the policies and processes for requesting and accessing accommodations; and
  • Encouraging help-seeking behavior and offering time off for health appointments, including regular mental health appointments.


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