Deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHoH) individuals are underrepresented among physicians and physicians-in-training, yet this group is frequently overlooked in the diversity efforts of many medical training programs. The inclusion of DHoH individuals, with their diverse backgrounds, experiences, and struggles, contributes to medical education and health care systems in a variety of ways, including (1) a richer medical education experience for students and faculty resulting in greater disability awareness and knowledge about how to interact with and care for DHoH individuals and their families, (2) the provision of empathetic care desired by many patients and their families, including individuals who have a disability or chronic condition, and (3) the promotion of a more supportive and accessible professional environment for physicians, including older physicians in practice and as educators, who are experiencing age-associated decreased hearing acuity or other acquired disabilities.
Today, many qualified DHoH individuals face barriers to pursuing medical careers even while physicians who become DHoH can continue to practice medicine. These barriers still exist two decades after the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and despite technological advancements and changing attitudes. In light of the findings by Moreland and colleagues, the authors of this commentary discuss reasons to include DHoH individuals in the physician workforce, explain why this group remains underrepresented among physicians, and suggest ways that medical schools and training programs can ensure fair application processes and inclusive educational opportunities for work with DHoH students who are interested in health care careers.
Dr. McKee is assistant professor, Departments of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York.
Dr. Smith is assistant professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York.
Dr. Barnett is associate professor, Departments of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences, and associate director, Rochester Prevention Research Center: National Center for Deaf Health Research, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York.
Dr. Pearson is Albert D. Kaiser Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, senior associate dean for clinical research, University of Rochester Medical Center, and director, Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Institute, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York.
Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Pearson, University of Rochester, 265 Crittenden Blvd., CU 420708, Rochester, NY 14642; telephone: (585) 275-0698; fax: (585) 276-1122; e-mail: Thomas_Pearson@urmc.rochester.edu.