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Removing Barriers and Facilitating Access: Increasing the Number of Physicians With Disabilities

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Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population has a disability, and many of these Americans experience disparities in the health care they receive. In part, these health care disparities result from a lack of understanding about disability by health care providers. The education of physicians is grounded in a biomedical model that emphasizes pathology, impairment, or dysfunction, rather than a social model of disability that focuses on removing barriers for individuals with disabilities and improving their capabilities. According to a recent report, only 2.7% of medical students disclosed having disabilities—far fewer than the proportion of people with disabilities in the U.S. population. Including students and other trainees with disabilities—those with lived experiences of disability who can empathize with patients and serve as an example for their peers—in medical education is one mechanism to address the health care disparities faced by individuals with disabilities. At present, medical students and residents with disabilities face structural barriers related to policies and procedures, clinical accommodations, disability and wellness support services, and the physical environment. Additionally, many face cultural barriers related to the overarching attitudes, beliefs, and values prevalent at their medical school. In this Commentary, the authors review the state of disability in medical education and training, summarize key findings from an Association of American Medical Colleges special report on disability, and discuss considerations for medical educators to improve inclusion, including emerging technologies that can enhance access for students with disabilities.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2018

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