We need more doctors with disabilities

July 11, 2017

We need more doctors with disabilities


More than 56 million Americans have a disability of some kind—nearly a fifth of the country. Yet a vanishingly small percentage of doctors have a disability of any kind—estimates vary and data is scant, but the consensus suggests that the number is somewhere around 1 percent.

The problem starts at the tip of the pipeline: People with disabilities make up somewhere between 0.3 and 2.7 percent of medical school classes—estimates vary, but even at the high end, this makes them one of the most underrepresented groups in American higher education.

The divide is stark, and the consequences can be severe. Americans with disabilities are more likely to be sick but less likely to get adequate health care. This is partially because having a disability increases the likelihood of being poor or being unable to access care. But it has also created a system in which vulnerable patients feel their doctors misunderstand their bodies and their lives.

A 2016 paper by IHPI member, Dr. Philip Zazove at U-M, found that many schools’ technical standards are difficult to find or refuse to offer accommodations or intermediaries. A minority of schools even ask students make their own accommodations. This encourages a self-selecting application process, where students with disabilities narrow their lists to historically welcoming schools and choose not to spend their time or money applying to schools that may not accommodate them.