Being disabled goes against the doctor stereotype

This anonymised account reflects the views of an individual, and not the General Medical Council.

An intercalating medical student with a visual disability talks about how their medical school has provided adjustments based on their disability, but that perceived stigmas and negative reactions initially prevented them from disclosing their disability.

My experiences will help shape me into a better doctor

I have just completed my third year of medical school and am currently intercalating. I chose to study medicine because I've wanted to work in healthcare since being treated for numerous visual disabilities. 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 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.

Being disabled goes against the stereotype that doctors are healthy

When transitioning to clinical environments and facing external teachers not from my medical school, I unfortunately faced negative experiences. There was never a patient who was uncomfortable with my eye conditions, the judgement came from the doctors themselves. Once, I shadowed a consultant on a placement who asked questions about my eyes and what was ‘wrong’ with me which made me feel unequal. This happened a few other times, with doctors pointing out I have a disability.

I informed my medical school, who sent out an equality reminder, yet this situation continued. These experiences had a significant psychological impact on me, making me doubt whether I could become a doctor. I think they feel a disabled medical student goes against the stereotype that doctors are able-bodied and healthy, and patients are not. I also found that there were very few online resources to help with the psychological impacts on disabled medical students and, more importantly, strategies to cope with those feelings.

Another challenge is the fear of stigma and feeling embarrassed or ashamed about requesting or receiving adjustments. Another medical student said it was an unfair advantage that I received extra time for exams. The perceived stigma of having a disability placed immense pressure on me. It led me to take two whole years to state my disability to my school. I was often worried that disclosing my disability would impact my ability to become employed or licensed.

Adjustments to suit my disability

I am grateful that my medical school gave me support for my disability, including certain exam adjustments. The disability team suggested equipment to aid my impairments, and student support guided me, placing me in contact with occupational health.

I was daunted when I started the transition to clinical rotations, but the school helped by giving me the opportunity to make requests to suit my disability. They met these and they constantly kept in contact with me about this, so I wasn’t lost within the system. I feel the school knows me on a personal level and are extremely accommodating.

What I would change…

  • The application process - universities where the interviews take place should take greater effort to account for disabilities. I had a multiple-mini interview where the font sizes on the majority of the admission tests were difficult to see, which hindered my performance. An improvement would have been to contact applicants regarding any requirements.
  • Make people aware that there are disabled medical students in clinical environments. There are times when I have felt often very alone as a medic with a disability. 
  • Have programmes which offer opportunities to meet doctors with disabilities.
  • Give more talks to students and doctors about this to standardise disability within the institution and address a topic that is often not talked about.
  • Have a specialist to talk to about worries regarding future career options and what would suit certain individual’s disabilities. I found a lot of the support given was only relevant to current situations and did not prepare me for the future.
  • Staff, faculties and fellow students to acknowledge and take more seriously the fear amongst students with disabilities of stigma and feeling embarrassed or ashamed about requesting or receiving adjustments.