When medical students with disabilities fail, identifying the underlying cause is challenging. Faculty unfamiliar with disability-related barriers or accommodations may falsely attribute academic struggles to disability. Fear of legal action may prompt inappropriate promotion of students with disabilities who are struggling to meet competencies. Therefore, a clear understanding of the origin of difficulty is critical to determining an appropriate response to the student’s failure, including revision of accommodations, academic remediation, probation, and dismissal.
A large Midwestern medical college created an innovative approach to differentiate between disability-related barriers and academic deficits by creating a diagnostic objective structured clinical examination (OSCE). The goal of this OSCE was to determine the need for additional or refined accommodations versus clinical remediation, and to guide future decision making about a student on academic probation. Using 3 simulated cases that drew on a cross-section of clinical knowledge, a team of clinical and disability specialists observed a disabled student to determine the origin of that student’s difficulties in a clinical rotation.
Using the diagnostic OSCE, the team quickly identified clinical reasoning and fund of knowledge deficits, and need for further accommodations. As a result, the team was able to remediate the clinical deficits, augment the current accommodations in vivo, and determine the potential impact on performance. The team approach was documented and facilitated the legally required interactive process for determining additional barriers, efficacy of existing accommodations, and need for additional reasonable accommodations. All parties reported a positive experience. The collective knowledge and expertise of the team helped confirm the origin of the deficit: a fundamental lack of knowledge and reasoning skills versus a disability-related barrier.
The next step is to formalize this process to ensure appropriate evaluation of students with disabilities.