How disability is viewed by patients, colleagues and educators

Medical students and doctors in training have both positive and negative experiences of how their health condition or disability is viewed.

They've told us that sometimes it is difficult to reconcile the culture in medicine of being 'superhuman' with the reality that some doctors and medical students are disabled or have a long term health condition.

Some come up against unwelcoming attitudes when progressing through medical school and training, whereas others feel valued and well supported as an individual. Experiences with patients are also mixed, with some patients feeling they could relate more to them and others questioning their professional abilities.

Here, disabled students and trainees share the mixed reactions, misconceptions and prejudice they've experienced from colleagues and patients while training.

Feeling like a nuisance

"I didn’t feel particularly supported as a trainee and, whilst not meeting hostility, I felt I was a ‘nuisance’ or ‘inconvenience’ to others. I’ve also been asked deeply personal questions about my health countless times by fellow trainees, consultants, trainers, nurses and allied health professionals without any relevance to the job at hand. This is often followed by an unsolicited opinion on my coping, treatment or ability to be a doctor."

More about securing reasonable adjustments when always moving on

Dealing with the constant questions

"Patients seem to really appreciate that I am a doctor and a wheelchair user, whilst 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."

More about the importance of good occupational health support

Not being seen as a team player

"As a flexible trainee, I had predominantly positive experiences and supportive educational supervisors. Most teams regarded me as an asset and many colleagues learned from my experiences... However, I was at times accused of not being a team player, just because I was working to a more regulated schedule."

More about different support needs in different training settings

A supportive and respectful team

'The consultant body are open about mental health problems and respectful. The trainees are sometimes a bit careless and have made inappropriate comments, but the workplace has independently noticed and addressed this.’

More about the benefits of an open and respectful team

Dealing with misinformed assumptions and prejudice

‘Once I started medical school I found some of the consultants had a bullying nature and their views were outdated, prejudiced and discriminatory. One consultant supervisor asked ‘did I think I should consider changing course, and wouldn’t it be easier for me to do something else?’.'

More about being proactive and planning for reasonable adjustments

Able medics podcast

Listen to episode two of our Able medics podcast where we're talking about how disability is viewed by patients, colleagues and educators, and what impact that has on doctors who have their own health needs.

Read the transcript for episode two

A doctor bandaging a patient's arm

Shared experiences

Read the full experiences of other disabled medical students and doctors where they talk about what they bring to the profession, how their disability or health condition has been viewed, reasonable adjustments, moving through medical education and training, and what they would change to improve the culture of support.