October 25, 2021

Dr. Lisa Meeks, colleagues present five strategies to Liaison Committee on Medical Education to promote inclusion, support of medical students with disabilities

Authors request committee to define disability as diversity; mandate disability support; and protect students' privacy, among other actions.

Many students with disabilities encounter barriers to entering and completing medical training due to restrictive technical standards required to fulfill their educational responsibilities, as well as poor internal practices on the part of medical schools to protect student privacy. Many medical students with disabilities also are reticent to disclose information about their disability due to fear of bias, stigma and a misperception that they will be unfit to practice medicine.

Lisa Meeks, Ph.D., Clinical Lecturer
Adjunct Professor Lisa Meeks, Ph.D.

Lisa Meeks, Ph.D., adjunct professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan, along with Erene Stergiopoloulos, M.D., MA, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto; and Kristina H. Petersen, Ph.D., assistant dean of academic support at the New York Medical College, have issued a call to action to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) to create an environment that allows students with disabilities to apply to, flourish in, and feel completely supported in medical school.

Their commentary, “Institutional Accountability for Students With Disabilities: A Call for Liaison Committee on Medical Education Action,” was published Oct. 19, 2021, online ahead of print in Academic Medicine.

 Specifically, Meeks -- who is also a researcher at the UCDavis Center for a Diverse Healthcare Workforce and associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine – and her co-authors ask the committee to take the following actions:

  • Define disability as diversity
  • Mandate disability support
  • Protect students with disabilities from conflicts of interest
  • Protect students’ privacy
  • Verify that their respective school’s technical standards comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act

“By adopting these recommendation, the LCME would send the powerful message that students with disabilities bring welcome expertise and value to the medical community,” the authors write.

Meeks et al note that these steps are necessary, given that medical educators and leaders are striving to increase the diversity of the physician workforce. Those with disabilities are a critical part of what makes up diversity in the medical workforce.

Physicians with disabilities may also improve health care delivery by providing well-informed care for patients with disabilities. They can also teach peers and medical trainees about being culturally sensitive to patients with disabilities.

To date, the LCME has not taken actions such as mandating that medical training maintain disability policies or that trainees are afforded adequate disability accommodations.

Meeks et al propose specific steps within the five actions items they put forth to support the inclusion of students with disabilities in medical education.

“Meeting the calls for the inclusion of disability as a valued part of diversity in medical education will require institutional accountability to create a culture where students feel safe disclosing their disabilities and requesting accommodations,” the authors write. “We believe the LCME is well position to support these efforts.”

Article Citation: Meeks LM, Stergiopoulos E, Petersen KH. Institutional Accountability for Students With Disabilities: A Call for Liaison Committee on Medical Education Action. Acad Med. 2021 Oct 19. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004471. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34670236.