Working with doctors Working for patients

Gateways guidance: 2. The importance of disabled people in medicine

  1. Disabled people add immense value to the student body. They help any group understand and appreciate diversity. It made a huge difference to the medical school when the first student in a wheelchair was admitted.’
  2. Medical teacher

Although about 19 per cent of people of working age are disabled, only 5.5 per cent of medical students or about 2100 individuals declared a disability in 2007/8.*

Comparisons over time and between university courses are difficult because the figures are affected by declaration rates as well as the actual numbers of disabled individuals.

Benefits to the profession

The medical profession can gain real benefits from having disabled people in its ranks. Accommodating and encouraging disabled students is not just about being responsive to equality legislation. It is also about enhancing the diversity and competency range of those who are enrolled in the medical profession, thus promoting the skills and knowledge of disabled people to undertake important roles in society.

Already many disabled people are actively practising in the medical profession alongside non-disabled doctors. And increasing numbers are applying to medical school year on year. Critically, with the implementation of appropriate policies and practices, disabled practitioners have demonstrated their ability to undertake their role within the profession to the same standard as their non-disabled peers.

Unique contribution

Disabled people can make a unique contribution to patient care and, indeed, to medical research by providing direct experience and knowledge of particular health conditions or impairments.

Patients often identify closely with disabled medical professionals who can offer insight and sensitivity about how a recent diagnosis and ongoing impairment can affect patients. Such experience is invaluable to the medical profession as a whole, and illustrates the importance of attracting and retaining disabled students.

Barriers to overcome

There are many positive examples of disabled people being successful in medicine.

However, a number of people interviewed for this advisory guidance declared that the lack of role models was a problem:

  1. ‘Another barrier was that I had no role models I could look to. I knew of no psychiatrists who were open about mental health difficulties at that time. I am now open about my problems partly for that reason – that I want others to know that it’s OK to have such an illness and also be a professional.’
  2. Doctor in training

All applicants to medical school should have easy access to information about the standards they have to meet. Reasonable adjustments should be put in place to ensure that disabled people can demonstrate their competence in appropriate ways.

Footnotes

* HESA Student Record 2007/08. HESA cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the data by third parties.

Experiences shared: Disabled students, doctors in training and practitioners share their experiences of medical education and training.

Web links: Statistics

Statistical information about the numbers of disabled people among applicants to universities, students and the population as a whole is available from: