Skill: National Bureau for Students with DisabilitiesBMJ 2004; 329 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.329.7468.s131 (Published 25 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:s131
- Kate Goddard, policy officer
Skill's policy officer Kate Goddard outlines how they are helping students with disabilities access medicine
Skill, a UK charity, promotes opportunities to empower young people and adults with any kind of disability to realise their potential in further and higher education, work based learning, and employment throughout the United Kingdom.
Empowering students with disabilities
We do this by operating an information and advice service, informing and influencing key decision makers, running conferences, producing publications and information booklets, and working with our members.
What about medical students?
A number of students have contacted us about the opportunities available in the medical profession.
There are many opportunities—sometimes society assumes that disabled people will not be able to meet the demands of medicine, but this is certainly not the case. There are many examples of successful doctors who have disabilities.
Others assume that the preregistration house officer year is unmanageable for disabled people, but this is another myth.
Specific questions if you have a disability and are thinking about studying medicine
Will my disability have an impact on my studies?
Your disability may have an impact, but it need not be a difficulty. You may be asked to have an occupational health assessment, which is sometimes referred to as fitness to practise. Don't worry about this—it is just to find out if you need any support or if the medical school needs to make any adjustments. Your medical school should be involved so it can make the necessary adjustments you require.
What support can I expect at university?
Support varies between institutions, but they are all required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students as part of the Disability Discrimination Act, Part 4 (education). This may include improving access, providing information in alternative formats, adjusting teaching styles or allowing you to complete an assessment in a different way. You may also be able to get support through the disabled students allowances (see below).⇓
What about when I am on placement?
Again, support will vary from place to place, but your university should liaise with the placement to ensure support is in place. Hospitals and health centres are also covered by the Disability Discrimination Act, under part 2 as employers and part 3 as providers of goods and services and, from October 2004, students on work placements will also be covered by part 2 of the act. So all hospitals and health centres should be able to make adjustments for you.
Can I get any help with funding?
Disabled students are able to receive disabled students allowances to meet the extra costs of studying with a disability. These allowances can meet the costs of special equipment you need, non-medical helpers, such as notetakers and sign language interpreters, and any extra travel costs you may have. You can apply for the allowances from your awarding authority.
Where can I get more advice?
Skill has a range of information booklets available on its website. Alternatively it may be useful to talk to the disability officer at your chosen institution, or talk to other medical students with or without disabilities. For more information, see box. The BMJ Careers chronic illness matching scheme (bmjcareers.com/chill) should be able to put you in touch with other medical students with a similar disability.
Can you tell me about a real example of a student with a disability who has made it into medical school?
We have been in touch with Ruth Douglas, who started her medical degree at Leeds University in September 2003. Here is what she said:
“I have a genetic condition called nail patella syndrome which means, among other things, that I have limited arm movements and strength, particularly with my dominant arm. I have had an ambition to study medicine for years, probably fuelled by my being on the receiving end of the NHS on a regular basis. Once qualified it seems to be relatively easy to work as a doctor with a disability, but the preregistration house officer year can be more difficult. I knew I could meet the people specifications and academic criteria, but I realised that not having normal arm function could possibly pose problems in applying to study medicine.
If you want more information about any of the points raised in this article, please visit www.skill.org.uk, or contact our information service (open Tuesday 11.30 am-1.30 pm and Thursday 1.30-3.30 pm) on 0800 328 5050 (voice) 0800 068 2422 (text) or email . Alternatively, you can write to Skill at Chapter House, 18-20 Crucifix Lane, London SE1 3JW
“I had a bit of help via school and careers advisers and, later on, some helpful pointers from Skill. I decided to disclose my medical background to the prospective medical schools as recommended as I didn't want to get a place and then later be turned down on medical grounds. I knew I risked getting negative responses, but I decided it was the best way forward.
“I contacted the medical schools and gave a full explanation of my condition, how it affected me, and what extra provision I anticipated would be required. Most said I would need to be assessed. One university wrote a blunt letter suggesting I would not be fit to become a doctor and suggested that I choose another career. Another replied more sensitively but expressed major doubts about my ability to fulfil a house officer role. Other universities were more proactive and supportive. My local university arranged a medical for me and gave me a copy of the recommendations to use with all my other applications. The occupational health doctor was very clued up on disability rights issues and said that she felt that adjustments could be made to take me onto the course.
“I ended up with six universities that were happy to accept my application and chose the four I was most happy with in terms of the course, location, and how well I felt they would support me in terms of my disability. All that was left was to go through all the other processes that every student goes through. I had a lot to do in terms of applying for disabled students allowances, finding suitable accommodation, and ensuring arrangements were in place for my care needs. I relish the prospect of fulfilling my ambition of studying medicine.”