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The number of U.S. medical students reporting a disability is on the rise, according to a new research letter in JAMA

Part of the reason, according to researchers, could be due to medical schools’ efforts to create disability-friendly spaces. Nearly all of the students who participated in the research said their school made accommodations to support them.

The reasons for the increase in student disclosures of disability are unclear. Even with the increase, medical students with disabilities — defined as physical, sensory, learning, psychological, and/or chronic health conditions — represent less than 5% of the overall student body.

Study lead Lisa Meeks, Ph.D., M.A., from the University of Michigan posits that a “constellation of events” likely led to the increase in disclosures, including increased awareness about the accommodations medical schools have granted.

“Having more medical students with all categories of disability could improve the diversity of the physician workforce, reduce stigma and stereotypes about people with disabilities, and inform the care of patients,” the researchers said in a statement.

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Meeks’ team analyzed medical schools in 2016, 2018, and 2019 through a series of surveys. The schools represented approximately 41,000 students.

“In just three years, the percentage of students with disabilities rose from 2.7% to 4.6% at the 64 medical schools that responded to the survey in both years,” reads a statement.

“This 69% relative rise was mainly due to growth in the percentage of students who disclosed a psychological disability or a chronic health condition. Psychological disabilities include anxiety, depression and eating disorders.”

Types of accommodations

Every school that responded to the 2019 survey provided accommodations for students with disabilities, including:

  • Note-takers (75%) 
  • Adjustments to test schedules
  • Clinical procedure modifications (33%)

Read the full paper here.