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What to Consider as a Disabled Medical School Applicant

Having a disability doesn’t necessarily preclude you from becoming a doctor. Many people with various disabilities have attained medical degrees, including those with learning disabilities, hearing and visual impairments, and other disabilities. Physicians with disabilities contribute to the diversity of the profession and bring unique insights to the practice of medicine.

Because the physical, emotional, and cognitive demands of medical school are different from those of undergraduate education, even individuals who applied for college with a disability may not know what to expect from medical school admissions and the medical education itself. Applicants with disabilities go through the same admissions process as anyone else; however, in addition to the usual application-related tasks, they often need to deal with extra issues.

These obstacles may include requesting accommodations on the MCAT, determining how to handle the disclosure of a disability, and working with medical schools to determine accommodations for both classroom and patient care settings.

The type and severity of disabilities applicants have varies greatly, so your personal situation determines exactly how you deal with these issues; however, the following sections cover some factors many applicants with disabilities need to consider as they apply to medical school.

Obtain disability accommodations for the MCAT

Some test-takers require accommodations for the MCAT because of a disability or medical condition. For example, an examinee with a learning disability may receive extra time for the test or be given a private room in which to take the examination.

As part of your request for accommodations, you need to supply documentation about your disability, such as an evaluation from a professional and evidence that you’ve received accommodations in the past.

Requesting accommodations doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get them. If you’re denied your request, you have the option of appealing the decision or providing additional evidence and asking that your case be reconsidered. You may also opt to take the MCAT without accommodations.

For some accommodations, such as extended time, the score report notes that the examination was taken under nonstandard conditions, although it doesn’t disclose any information about the type of accommodations or your disability or condition.

The AAMC recommends that examinees request any necessary accommodations at least 60 days prior to their planned test date. Register for the test prior to applying for accommodations so that you have a seat already reserved for the date you want while you await a decision about receiving accommodations.

When to disclose a disability

“Should I disclose my disability? If so, when?” are questions that weigh heavily on the minds of many applicants with disabilities. The major concern of these applicants is usually that revealing that they have a disability may negatively impact their chance of admission, despite legal protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some applicants decide to play it safe (in their views) and wait until after they’ve received an acceptance to disclose a disability.

As you decide which course to take with regard to disclosure, make sure that you consider not only the drawbacks of earlier disclosure but also the potential benefits. For example, you may want to discuss your disability on your personal statement in the context of how you became interested in medicine or to illustrate how you overcome obstacles.

Although you may choose not to disclose a disability until you have an acceptance in hand, remember that you’ll eventually have to discuss your situation with the school administration if you require accommodations during medical school.

In that case, you provide the school with documentation regarding your disability and work with the administration, and usually staff from the university’s office for students with disabilities, to determine whether you can complete the medical school curriculum with reasonable accommodations and what type of accommodations you require.

Note that each medical school has its own procedure for students to follow when requesting accommodations, so check with the schools to find out when and how to approach this process. Some schools specifically request that students wait until a decision has been made regarding their admission before requesting accommodations.

Examples of accommodations include the following:

  • A sign language interpreter

  • A note-taking service

  • Modified equipment (such as an amplified stethoscope)

  • Course materials written in larger font

With advances in technology, med students and physicians with disabilities have resources that weren’t available to previous generations, making a disability less of a barrier to becoming a doctor now than ever before.

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