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Without handicap”: issues of medical schools and physically disabled students

Reichgott, M J

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The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that access to education not be denied simply on the basis of disability. The law requires definition ofbasic qualificationsrequired of all applicants, “essential elementsof the curriculum, and whether accommodation would alter thefundamental natureof the learning experience or imposeundue burden.” Medical schools have a very low proportion of physically disabled students, which the author argues is largely a result of schools' conception of theundifferentiated graduateas being capable of performing the history, physical examination, and any medical procedure without an intermediary. But the author maintains that medical students need not be unblemished physically; medical educators' obligation is to educate those students who are qualified to become physicians by virtue of intelligence, professional attitude, and ability to effectively interact and communicate. With respect to clinical training, it is important to consider whether personal, hands-on experience is required for adequate learning to occur. Because most physicians limit the scopes of their practices and do not perform all procedures, because those physicians who develop physical disabilities are not precluded from continuing in some forms of medical practice, and because technologic advances allow for the substitution of imaging and diagnostic testing for the more conventional approach to the physical examination, the requirement for hands-on capability becomes less compelling. Yet not every physically disabled applicant should be admitted to medical school, and those admitted require coaching, guidance, and career advice in order to succeed with their physical limitations. The author suggests that one of the seminal concepts of medical education, “without handicap,” should be seen not as referring to the pre-existing physical status of students but instead as the obligation of educators to provide all their students with the broadest possible learning experiences so that they will be without the handicap of inadequate education when they proceed to their chosen fields.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461, USA. reichgot@aecom.yu.edu

Created Date: 03 July 1997; Completed Date: 03 July 1997; Revised Date: 26 November 2001

© 1996 Association of American Medical Colleges