Medical school and disabilities

I have a student (high school senior) with a cochlear implant. She’s very, very bright and even more hard-working and she wants to be a doctor. She’s also very unworldly and introspective–I suspect both by inclination and because of the implant–so I don’t know her very well, for all that I have taught her for the last two years.

Another student, who knows her ambition, came to me with a concern: his sister had just been accepted into medical school and had had to sign a paper stating that she has “full use of all five senses”. Well, this girl doesn’t. Is that an impossible barrier to medical school? If so, I suppose I (or someone ) needs to tell her now, before she spends years invested in that goal.

So, Doper Doctors–did you have to sign similiar statements? Are they standard? Have you known practicing doctors with hearing disabilities?

In the UK there are “Fitness to practice” guidelines. When I applied to medical school I had to provide evidence that my medical condition was not going to affect my ability to take part in all required training, and in my ability to practice after qualification. I did so with a letter from my specialist (who was actually very supportive of my application). I didn’t get in, but I wasn’t rejected on medical grounds.

The best person to talk to (as I did) was the administrative team who handle admissions. they will be fully aware of any regulations and any conditions that would exclude someone from practicing or training.

I have some knowledge of U.S. disability laws, but no knowledge of medical schools. My semi-educated guess is that a disability might disqualify her from some aspects of medicine – for example, can she hear a patient’s heartbeat through a stethoscope? That might be considered a bona fide occupational qualification, and, broad though the disability protections are, they do not supercede an ability to do the job in question.

However, I can’t imagine that it would apply to all aspects of medicine – there are certainly specialties and technical jobs that do not require “full use of all five senses.”

This guy did just fine at my alma mater. See here.

Deafness will make getting into medical school harder, but not impossible.

There is also the matter of how much her cochlear implant helps her. Some people are not helped by them at all. Others go from being deaf to, say, being able to use a telephone without assistance - not perfect hearing but adequate for a lot of things. In which case how is that different than someone with poor vision needing glasses?

There are deaf doctors in the US. There are doctors with a variety of disabilities who practice medicine daily. It’s not impossible.

The girl should, however, speak with admissions at any school she is considering. The assumption is that medical students are healthy, fully functioning people. If accommodations must be made they need to be set up in advance. She may be limited in which schools will accept her, in which case she should focus on those schools and not others who will not accept her.

It’s actually really hard to tell how much the cochlear implant helps her. She thinks her hearing is fine, and insists she doesn’t lip read anymore than everyone else, but if you are walking next to you she doesn’t hear you talking. She is very hard for me to understand, even after two years, but she can talk on the phone to her mom. As far as conversations around her and incidental noises, it’s hard to tell what she really can’t hear and what she tunes out just because she’s so introverted and because it’s work to listen to them and she just assumes they aren’t about her.

I wonder (hope, actually) that college will be very good for her. Right now, 90% of her conversations are with her mother, and since her mom can understand her perfectly and vice-versa, she has little incentive to improve. I know that kids often loose their accents when they go off to school–sometimes very strong accents–and I and her speech therapist hope for something like that for her.

I have no doubt that there are specialties she could practice, but my understanding is that everyone has to master the basics, first–even someone who wants to be a podiatrist has to learn to use a stethoscope.

Anyway, thanks for all the replies. I will tell her that when she starts pre-med she needs to be working with an advisor who is aware of her condition from the get-go. I am sure she hasn’t even thought about it. She’s one of those kids that believes that if you just keep your head down and work your butt off to get perfect grades and test scores, everything else will take care of itself.