Why Disability Education Is Needed in Medical Schools


As a biomedical sciences student and aspiring doctor, I am often taught about disease, its clinical manifestations and how it is treated. I am rarely taught about the positive elements of disability. This worries me a little. A lot of people who become doctors nowadays are not exposed to the environment of disability, nor do they fully understand disability as a whole. Consequently, they lack a positive view on disability.

I am not ignoring the challenges that come with disability, but I am saying that disability can be a motivating element in one’s life – it can motivate you to do much more. It can equip you with the strength and resilience to face the daily problems life can bring with great bravery and maturity in your heart.

I believe teaching the true meaning of disability in medical schools and health science courses is essential to making more empathetic and compassionate doctors. This is often overlooked in medical schools, and doctors might not know how to understand a person with a disability because of their recurring exposure to the medical model of disability. Understandably, some doctors take a more medical-centered view of the disease state, and while this is also essential, we need to educate doctors to see the potential and abilities in their patients, and not see disability as a bad thing. Educated doctors should be able to bring a more positive attitude towards disability into the workforce.

The social model of disability tells us that we are more disabled by the attitudes of society than our actual impairment. This is so often forgotten in medicine and by medical students and doctors. This is why medical schools should be encouraged to teach disability education in their courses on a regular basis. Medical students should be able to see that people with disabilities have potential and abilities and just like them, they can contribute to make a big difference in their community.

Most patients with disability do not want sympathy. They want empathy. They want you to understand them and really know their needs. They want to be treated equally and not looked down upon. They want you to see the potential they have and celebrate the major achievements in their lives. They want their doctor to believe in them and offer words of encouragement.

To solve this problem, when medical schools are interviewing aspiring doctors, I encourage them to talk about disability, and ask about the applicant’s views and attitudes on disability. When lecturing about illnesses in university, think about ways you can minimize or prevent disability bias. Creating a diverse environment of doctors and medical students with disabilities is important too, because then we can all learn to understand each other better and hopefully contribute to a more positive outlook on disability. So please, wherever you are, let’s get the discussions going on how we can integrate disability education into medical education.

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Thinkstock photo by Michael Jung.

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