New Report Examines Experiences of Medical Students and Physicians with Disabilities

Today the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) and the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine (UCSF) released a first-of-its-kind publication that explores the current state of medical education for medical students and physicians with disabilities. Accessibility, Inclusion, and Action in Medical Education: Lived Experiences of Learners and Physicians With Disabilities is designed to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges and opportunities for individuals with disabilities at the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals.

“Leaders at AAMC member medical schools and teaching hospitals play a critical role in shaping the culture, establishing accountability, and allocating necessary resources to enhance access and inclusion for individuals with disabilities,” said Darrell G. Kirch, MD, AAMC president and CEO. “The AAMC has examined the topic of disability in medical education since 1993, and, as with other diversity efforts, this will require a sustained commitment across institutions and institutional leadership.”

Through examples and lived experiences of medical students and residents with disabilities, this report reveals the common barriers to inclusion, as well as the opportunities and promising institutional practices that will help inform and enhance the academic medicine community’s approach to students and physicians with disabilities.

Coauthored by Lisa Meeks, PhD, University of Michigan Medical School and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, and Neera R. Jain, MS, CRC, policy advisor for the Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science and Medical Education, the report describes practices that can foster a positive culture around disability. One key step is provideing ongoing professional development for faculty on how to communicate with and about people with disabilities.

“Learners need effective structures that sometimes are missing, such as clear policies around disabilities and knowledgeable disability service providers. But that is not enough,” said Dr. Meeks, who was on the faculty as director of medical student disability services at UCSF during the development, data collection, and writing of this report. “They also need a culture that lets them know they are welcome.”

Additional key considerations include:

  • Employing a disability services provider (DSP) or staff member who is knowledgeable about accommodations and other supports;
  • Ensuring that DSPs are trained in accommodations and other supports specific to medical settings;
  • Having an outside expert conduct an assessment of existing services;
  • Having a clear process for requesting accommodations that does not involve disclosing sensitive personal information directly to a colleague, dean, or supervisor;
  • Posting on the institution’s website the policies and processes for requesting and accessing accommodations; and
  • Encouraging help-seeking behavior and offering time off for health appointments, including regular mental health appointments.

“We are proud to have collaborated with the AAMC in the development of this report, and to partner in disseminating knowledge and best practices around disability issues and medical education. Our organizations remain fully committed to advancing diversity, inclusion, and accessibility for all members of the academic medicine community,” said Dan Lowenstein, MD, UCSF executive vice chancellor and provost.


The Association of American Medical Colleges is a not-for-profit association dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research. Its members are all 151 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 80 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC serves the leaders of America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and their more than 173,000 full-time faculty members, 89,000 medical students, 129,000 resident physicians, and more than 60,000 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the biomedical sciences.