Welcomed and valued: Supporting disabled learners in medical education and training

What is expected of medical education organisations and employers?

There are two overriding expectations for all medical education organisations in the UK with respect to disability. This applies to medical schools at the undergraduate level and postgraduate training organisations.

Firstly, organisations must comply with UK equality legislation. Secondly, organisations must meet our standards and requirements for medical education and training in the UK.

Complying with equality legislation means:

  • Not treating a student or doctor worse than another learner because of their disability. This is called direct discrimination.

  • Recognising a disabled learner can be treated more favourably. It is not direct discrimination against a non-disabled learner to do this.

  • Making sure learners with a disability are not particularly disadvantaged by the way an organisation does things, unless this is a ‘proportionate way’ to achieve a ‘legitimate aim’ of the organisation, e.g. maintaining education standards or health and safety. Disadvantaging learners this way is called indirect discrimination.

  • Not treating a learner badly because of something connected with their disability. This is called discrimination arising from a disability.

  • Avoiding victimisation and harassment.

  • Making reasonable adjustments: Organisations must take positive steps to make sure disabled learners can fully take part in education and other benefits, facilities and services. This includes:

    • Expecting the needs of disabled learners.
    • Avoiding substantial disadvantage for disabled learners from way things are done, a physical feature, or the absence of an auxiliary aid.
    • Thinking again if an adjustment has not been effective.
    • Considering support on a case by case basis and deciding what adjustment(s) would be ‘reasonable’ for each person’s circumstances and the barriers they are experiencing.
  • Organisations might like to keep an audit trail to demonstrate they have considered whether an adjustment is reasonable, including how they assessed and balanced different factors for each case.

  • Medical schools owe this duty to applicants, existing students, and, in limited circumstances, to disabled former students. Postgraduate education organisations owe this duty to all applicants and doctors in training under their organisation, and in limited circumstances to former doctors in training.

  • The GMC cannot define what adjustments are reasonable in medicine.

  • Meeting our standards for medical education and training means following the requirements for supporting disabled learners set out in Theme 3 (R3.2 – R3.5, R3.14, R3.16).

  • Medical schools must use the competence standards set out in Outcomes for graduates to decide if a student can be supported through the course or not.

  • Employers have the same legal responsibilities as education organisations, in terms of avoiding discrimination and making reasonable adjustments. Employers only have to make adjustments where they are aware – or should reasonably be aware – that an employee or an applicant has a disability.