The importance of flexible and anticipated adjustments

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

A student explains how inflexible reasonable adjustments led them to leave medicine and shares their tips for medical schools on building a culture of support.

Changing course

When I gained entry to medical school, I had a foot problem which was stable and not considered a physical disability. However, within two weeks of commencing my course, I exacerbated my foot condition, so it became chronic and was regarded as a physical disability under the Equality Act.

The university disability and accommodation services were fantastic and very supportive.  I completed my first year successfully despite all the difficulties, which included having to use a wheelchair for most of the first term and crutches for the rest of the year.

I was well for most of my second year, but unfortunately had a relapse a month before the end of second year exams. The medical school wanted to defer my exams, despite me wanting to take them as I felt well prepared. The medical school eventually agreed to make reasonable adjustments for a practical exam – they would provide a stool and a helper to move the stool. The helper was not allowed to hold my crutches however which meant I could not physically take the exam – I was not allowed to rest my crutches on a table or the floor whilst writing answers on a clipboard. As a result, I became extremely anxious and unwell so returned home.

Following ongoing discussions, I became disillusioned with the medical school student services and reluctantly decided to change my course. I remained at the university who had been very supportive, unlike the medical school.

What I would change…

  • Medical schools should understand the additional challenges students with disabilities face in what is a very demanding course. The GMC’s guidance is excellent and easy to follow, all medical school student services staff should familiarise themselves with it.
  • A student with a physical disability should have a key worker within both the disability and student services who can be easily contacted when problems arise.
  • Reasonable adjustments should be anticipatory for both exams and clinical placements, and students should not have to chase medical school student services to try to get reasonable adjustments in place.
  • Prospective students with disabilities need to do their homework and ideally speak to students with disabilities already at that particular medical school before applying. It would also be useful for them to be aware of and read the GMC’s guidance on health and disability.