Students who are deaf can not only pursue medical school but they can successfully complete it. Especially when there are students and medical professionals who are working towards ensuring fair access to a medical education. However, technical standards written by each medical school to screen applicants can unfairly exclude students with disabilities who are otherwise qualified.
Students cannot pick and choose what they want to study based on mental, moral, or physical individual limitations. In medicine, you do not get to choose your patients. Nor do you pick the circumstances by which you encounter your cases. That is the beauty of medical training.
You are expected to learn everything in order to successfully complete your academic and clinical requirements to receive a medical degree. So, if there are accommodations made for students when taking the USMLE1 or the MCAT2 shouldn’t the same accommodations exist for students at all other points in their academic career?
I stumbled across an article on KevinMD.com written by Josh Butler, a second year medical student. It was about the technical standards set by medical schools. I never thought about “technical standards” but with the diversity of students in the nation and the interest in medical school being widespread, shouldn’t there be some positive changes? However, some students feel as though they are being denied acceptance to medical school for being deaf.3
I will be honest, it never crossed my mind that someone who was deaf would be unable to pursue medicine only because I never thought there would be any “serious” limitations. Then I started to think of the small things that I may have overlooked because of my own ability to hear.4
Whenever I overlook something, there will always be a student who will find a solution! A student modified their stethoscope with customized headphones5, some students become proficient lip readers6, and schools like University of California Davis School of Medicine have new technology for deaf students on surgical rotations7. What I love about there being many opportunities for students of all abilities is the sky is the limit when it comes to what you’re willing to do to stay on the path to becoming a physician.
A technical standard is a formal document establishing requirements in several aspects of medical care which all physicians-in-training candidates must possess. Most medical schools require that all candidates meet these requirements in order to receive their doctor of medicine (MD) degree. Some schools require students to sign that document when applying to a program or as a condition to matriculate into medical school.
I took a closer look at different technical standards established by several medical schools in the US. As a deaf medical student, I wanted to look for any discriminatory language in the technical standards document that might exclude individuals who are disabled, but otherwise qualified candidates.
One commonality I noticed in comparing different technical standards, was that the schools require that you possess the ability to hear in order to auscultate, percuss, communicate with your patients or other healthcare professionals. Although, there are some subtle differences in wording in the language used between different schools, almost all seem to have this clause to some extent. Some schools included the Americans with Disability Acts (ADA) clause while others did not.
Josh Butler of DeafMD2Be
- Guidelines for Accommodations for the USMLE
- Frequently Asked Questions about MCAT Accommodations: What types of conditions or impairments might need to be accommodated?
- Schwartz, Michael A. “Technical Standards for Admission to Medical School: Deaf Candidates Don’t Get No Respect” (2012). College of Law Faculty Scholarship. Paper 80.
- Charlie Goldberg, M.D., A Practical Guide to Clinical Medicine: The Ear (2008) University of California: San Diego School of Medicine.
- Modifications to a Stethoscope for a Deaf Medical Student on Imgur
- Sara in Medical School: A Case Study on Dealing with Deafness in a Clinical Health Setting from University of Washington, School of Medicine
- Technology assures deaf student learns surgery at UC Davis School of Medicine
- Image of physician performing hearing test from NHS Choices
- Image of Tory Sampson, Boston’s University’s Only Deaf Freshman (in 2012)