Tips for Medical School Applicants With Disabilities

Researching schools far in advance can mean the difference between failure and success.

Since writing a blog post several years ago about considerations for medical school applicants thinking about not disclosing a disability, I’ve come to understand more about disabilities. It’s imperative that applicants with a disability research med schools far in advance of applying to ensure that they are making the best possible choice for success.

[READ: 7 Scholarship Opportunities for Students With Physical Disabilities.]

Here are three strongly recommended action items:

— Read a 2018 report about learners and physicians with disabilities.

— Research the technical standards at the med schools where you want to apply.

— Assess the quality of each medical school’s disability office.

Read a 2018 Report About Learners and Physicians With Disabilities

Accessibility, Inclusion, and Action in Medical Education: Lived Experiences of Learners and Physicians With Disabilities” is a 2018 report based on a research study led by Lisa M. Meeks — a faculty member at the University of California–San Francisco School of Medicine at the time and now on faculty at the University of Michigan Medical School Institute for Health Policy and Innovation — and Neera R. Jain at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. It was published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, also known as the AAMC.

The report, which I consider required reading, highlights research on medical students and residents with disabilities, including the current state of disability in undergraduate medical education. It offers important insights into accessing appropriate accommodations and enlightening information about schools’ technical standards — nonacademic abilities such as observational skills and motor functioning — that students must formally attest to yearly and that may be challenging for some students, depending on their disability.

Research the Technical Standards at the Med Schools Where You Want to Apply

You will want to focus on schools that offer “accommodations, including assistive technology.” The report by UCSF and the AAMC describes various issues the researchers uncovered related to technical standards.

[READ: How to Showcase Diversity in a Med School Essay.]

For example, they had trouble locating the technical standards on many med school websites. If you can’t easily find a school’s technical standards, email its disability office or admissions department and ask to see the standards.

Assess the Quality of Each Medical School’s Disability Office

This point is perhaps the kingpin. Apparently there is much more variation in quality than I formerly understood. The connection between the disability office and the medical school is critical. You’ll want answers to questions such as: Has the school provided accommodations to students in all years, both clinical and nonclinical? How easy was the process? Which kinds of assistive technology is the school willing to provide?

If you have taken advantage of accommodations during secondary or undergraduate school, you will surely need them during med school because of its fast-paced nature.

[Read: Primary Care vs. Research: Which Med School Is Right for You?]

You might be surprised to learn that students with a disability often have to describe in detail which accommodations work for them. Schools may have an inkling, but remember that every student is different, and how a student manages with a disability may be unique.

On a final positive note, med students with a disability are needed. The AAMC points out that students with a disability contribute to its mission of increasing diversity and inclusion within medical education. Students with a disability help teach peers and faculty how to better help their patients who have a disability. And patients appreciate seeing providers who understand and have experienced a disability themselves.

If you are an aspiring medical student with a disability, know that your med school journey likely will not be an easy one. But the tremendous value you and your experiences will bring to your classmates, faculty and future patients and colleagues cannot be overestimated.

More from U.S. News

5 Ways to Develop Cultural Competence in Preparation for a Career in Medicine

What Type of Research Helps You Get Into Medical School?

How to Navigate Online College Classes as a Student With Disabilities

Tips for Medical School Applicants With Disabilities originally appeared on

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