Removing Barriers for Aspiring Doctors With Disabilities

Doctors with disabilities are rapidly changing stigmas, peer-to-peer learning, and outcomes for patients, yet remain underrepresented in the medical profession.

In an article published in Academic Medicine, an expert task force convened by the Association of Academic Physiatrists recommended legal, cultural, and technological advances to facilitate the inclusion of students with disabilities.

“It is abundantly clear that a more diverse physician workforce, one which reflects the demographics of the general population, is necessary to optimize healthcare outcomes,” explained Laura Kezar, MD, lead author of the article. “Today, almost three decades after passage of the [Americans with Disabilities Act], most medical schools do not provide a warm welcome to students with disabilities and such students are not typically included in their schools’ diversity and inclusion efforts. These new Technical Standards guidelines update the critical first link in a process to promote inclusion of people with disabilities in medical education.”

While medical students must meet academic standards for admission, they must also meet nonacademic requirements, called Technical Standards (TS), such as observation, communication, and motor function. TS guidelines were first issued by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 1979, and, while they vary considerably by school, they remain the primary reference for medical school policies. The outdated TS can serve as a barrier to entry to the medical profession, causing bias and discrimination in the admissions process, lack of access to or knowledge of reasonable accommodations, and misconceptions about the ability of people with disabilities to function as physicians.

The task force proposes new language for the five TS categories and/or updating the content of each category to promote a functional approach. In addition, they advocate that medical schools monitor admission and retention of students with disabilities, ensure the accessibility of their TS to applicants and the public, clearly define procedures and decisions for accommodations, implement the principles of universal design in education, and other recommendations.

This article was adapted from information provided by Binghamton University.

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