October 10, 2016

Reducing barriers to medical school admission for students with disabilities

In a new article, published in The American Medical Association (AMA) Journal of Ethics, Dr. McKee explains how updates to medical school admissions policies could address the underrepresentation of people with disabilities in the medical profession.

Students with sensory and physical disabilities are underrepresented in medical schools despite a wealth of adaptive technologies and accommodations. A new essay in the AMA Journal of Ethics identifies how medical school technical standards serve to exclude qualified students with disabilities (SWDs) in the admissions process. 

Michael M. McKee, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor is the lead author, along with co-authors Philip Zazove, M.D., the George A. Dean, M.D. Chair of Family Medicine, and Michael Fetters, M.D., M.P.H., M.A., professor. The authors distinguish between two approaches that medical schools admissions committees take when assessing students with disabilities. The most common “organic” approach requires students to demonstrate certain physical, cognitive, behavioral, and sensory abilities without assistance from adaptive technologies or accommodations. The authors argue that this approach “highlights students’ limitations or deficits rather than their abilities.” An alternative “functional” approach takes into account the student's’ abilities with the use of accommodations and assistive technologies.

The authors justify the functional approach to technical standards, grounding their case in the ethics of social justice and beneficence. They argue that more inclusive and modern technical standards will lead to fair access for students with disabilities, a more diverse population of physicians and students, and ultimately, improved access to care for patients with disabilities. 

Read the full article in the October 2016 AMA Journal of Ethics