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Doctors with disabilities: A case for inclusion

A greater acceptance of, and more, people with disabilities are needed in the health care workforce, physician Cheri Blauwet writes.

People with disabilities — of all sorts — go to the doctor. And it makes sense that doctors with disabilities could have an enhanced understanding of what that a patient's life is like.

Nonetheless, doctors with disabilities are rare, Cheri Blauwet, MD, writes in a recent essay in Stanford Medicine. One 2012 survey found that less than one percent of graduating medical students self-reported as disabled.

So where are those doctors? One answer is that many people hesitate to identify a disability to avoid discrimination or other consequences, Blauwet writes.

Others probably don't want to face the nearly daily reactions that Blauwet receives: "some good, some bad, all interesting."

Or, they are told — directly perhaps, or through our societal image of doctors — that medicine is not for people with disabilities.

Yet, when doctors can relate to patients, they offer a "heightened level of empathy" as well as a variety of other experiences and skills that can enrich the physician workforce.

Several initiatives are underway to make room for more doctors with disabilities, as well as to give all medical trainees a greater understanding of the challenges many patients face, Blauwet writes, calling attention to a 2018 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The ultimate goal, she writes, is "to again be invisible, but in a much more empowered way. This new form of invisible would be one in which access is so ubiquitous and stigma so low that entering a patient room would not turn heads of even elicit a response. People with disabilities would, in fact, not stand out in the profession, but would rather be a common sight in all health care environments."

Image by Riki Blanco

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