Re-assessing physical disability among graduating U.S. medical students
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Before the 1970s, many potential college and graduate students were denied admission or prevented from graduating on account of their disabilities. Since that time, legislation such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has been enacted to end discrimination against individuals with disabilities. In two prior studies, the proportion of graduating medical students with physical disabilities (MSPD) was found to be 0.23% in 1980 and 0.19% in 1990. The current study sought to learn what effect passage of the ADA has had on the graduation of MSPD and the proportion of MSPD with pre-existing v. acquired physical disabilities. A questionnaire was sent to the deans of student affairs at all accredited medical schools in the United States (n=123) to determine the proportion of MSPD who graduated during the years 2002-2005 and onset of disabilities, either before or after admission to medical school. Current results indicate that the proportion of graduating MSPD was 0.15% in 2005, indicating a significant decline. Furthermore, a significantly lower proportion of graduating MSPD in our study had pre-existing physical disability before admission to medical school than in the Wu study. Speculation was made regarding the possible causes of the progressive decline. Ways to increase opportunities for MSPD through inclusion of disability-related questions in medical school application packets, removal of requirements by medical schools for the undifferentiated medical student, effort by the AMA and AAMC to include rather than exclude MSPD, and passage of laws by Congress to encourage students to enter medical careers are discussed.