Health and disability in medicine 

The importance of inclusion in medicine

As the professional regulator, we firmly believe disabled people should be welcomed to the profession and valued for their contribution to patient care.

Doctors, like any other professional group, can experience ill health or disability. This may occur at any point in their studies or professional career, or long before they become interested in medicine.

The very qualities that make a good doctor, such as empathy and attention to detail, can also make medical students and doctors more vulnerable to stress, burnout and other health problems (Managing your health, GMC).

Medical students and doctors have acquired a degree of specialised knowledge and skills, which should be utilised and retained within the profession as much as possible. It is an expensive and avoidable loss to the profession if an individual gives up their medical career as a result of disability or long-term ill health when, with the correct support, they can continue for many years.

A diverse population is better served by a diverse workforce that has had similar experiences and understands their needs. Patients often identify closely with medical professionals with lived experience of ill health or disability, 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.

Panel 1: What disabled people bring to the profession

'Each person has things to offer and in a team can contribute to excellent patient care. For example, because I was less able to walk the wards and do cannulations etc., I took responsibility for the majority of discharge summary management, drug chart management, lab result signing and general office tasks. This rapidly upskilled me in undertaking these tasks effectively and freed other colleagues to gain more complex clinical experience without an administrative burden. On the other hand, I think my experiences as a patient as well as a doctor improved my skills in the doctor-patient relationship such as outpatient clinics and history taking.’

‘I am using my experience of being a vulnerable patient to become a better doctor. I understand how lonely and scary being in hospital can be, and how you can be made to feel more like a bed number than a human being. Having empathy, asking a patient about their concerns, and good communication can go a long way.’
‘Patients seem to really appreciate that I am a doctor and a wheelchair user, some have opened up to me about health concerns or practical struggles. They instinctively know I have an insight into their side of the bed.’

'As a patient, I experienced and appreciated first-hand the care and sensitivity required for medicine. I want to be able to give back this care I received and more to the healthcare service that had significantly changed my life. My personal experiences as a patient have become the foundation of my career in practising medicine and will shape me into a better doctor.’

Practising medicine with a long-term health condition or disability

There are many medical students and doctors in training with a long-term health condition or disability. Therefore, it is vital to have policies in place to support these individuals throughout their careers.

Many medical students with long-term health conditions and disabilities successfully complete their degrees and go on to practise medicine. Equally, many doctors in training who develop a long-term health conditions or disability during their careers continue to work in medicine for many years. No long-term health condition or disability by virtue of its diagnosis automatically prohibits an individual from studying or practising medicine.

There are times when a health condition or disability might prevent someone from continuing their studies or career in medicine. These cases are very rare. There is more advice within this guidance about how educators and managers can support students and doctors in training finding themselves in this situation.

All medical students and doctors, regardless of whether they have a long-term health condition or a disability, need to meet the competences set out for different stages of their education and training. Organisations must make reasonable adjustments to help learners meet the competences required of them. Medical schools are responsible for arranging reasonable adjustments for medical students. Employers are responsible for arranging reasonable adjustments in place for doctors in training in the workplace. Postgraduate training organisations work closely with the employers to make decisions on reasonable adjustments to support doctors in training.