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stethoscope by Alex Proimos on Flickr

Disclosing disability when applying for med school

“I am planning on applying to medical school but I have a disability. Should I disclose my disability?”

Here Maggie Bunting, Senior Lecturer at Norwich Medical School, talks through the issues, gives tips for applicants and answers the question.

Medical training is a competitive, tough, and demanding course but a key point I want to make here is that the course will require you to learn and perform in a variety of different environments. Some components of the course are purely brain work, other aspects involve hands on pragmatic clinical skills and there is also a strong focus on developing key communication skills such as asking questions, listening and explaining. Through working within groups, you will be required to develop a co-operative and approachable working style and an ability to engage in self-directed study is also crucial to success.

You will learn medicine by listening, doing, thinking, and you will be examined on doing things, your ability to communicate, and your ability to learn knowledge and apply it to new situations. Of course, all students will have strengths and weaknesses in these different aspects but on the medical course you can be tested on these components as stand-alone exams and you therefore need your weak areas to still be strong enough to progress successfully through the course. A medical degree is also a form of professional training and engagement on the course can be measured as part of the assessment of your professionalism – so absences from the course maybe a way the medical school measures a student’s engagement and therefore their professionalism.

It is important for you to consider if your disability may have an effect on your ability to study on the course. Think about traditional academic studying, clinical assessments and work placements. Identify all aspects you can think of where you may be weak because of your disability. Once you have identified these you can start taking control to minimise the effects by considering what adjustments would be required in order for you to perform to your full potential, and enable you to demonstrate competency. An example of this is a student with hearing loss who requires the use of an amplified stethoscope when listening to the chest. All medical schools will support reasonable adjustments and so declaring your disability starts the process of ensuring you have the right adjustments at the right time.

Top Tips for identifying and considering if adjustments are going to be required


Make use of work experience to explore the reality of being a doctor. Observe and consider if there are any aspects you may require an adjustment in order to support you in undertaking the role. An example of this is that there are an increasing use of technologies that can assist people.


Before a medical school graduates any student from a medical programme, the student MUST be able to perform ALL practical clinical procedures set out in General Medical Council (GMC) publication Outcomes for Graduates. You can access this document on the internet via Clinical skills competencies, such as physical examination can require taking the weight of a leg, looking into someone’s eyes, or listening to someone’s heart, whilst fine motor skills may be required to insert a urinary catheter or take blood. Make use of any work experience to explore this further.


When attending open days enquire about reasonable adjustments that are already in place for the disability that you have. Alternatively, ask for the contact details of the Disability Officer who arranges any reasonable adjustments for medical students. This will allow you to talk through your disability on a one to one basis and they can explain the type of adjustments that have been put in place for others with a similar condition to yourself.


When attending an interview you are likely to be nervous and it is helpful if things go smoothly on the day. So consider if any arrangements need to be made in advance of your interview day. For example, if you are wheelchair user, let the administrators who are organising the interview know in advance. This will then ensure that the location for interview is wheelchair friendly.


Ask to see the medical school’s confidentiality policy. This will give you information on how data about yourself and your health is protected. Declare early, don’t wait until you have problems. Support and advice early on can enable you to reach your full potential right from the start. Students are ranked by the end of the programme and this can affect their choice in jobs on graduating. The medical school’s ranking process may start from year 1 results onwards.


With reference to disability:

The General Medical Council has two particularly relevant publications:

GMC Gateways to the Professions – The GMC has published a booklet called ‘Gateways to the professions’ and it is aimed at advising medical schools to support disabled students. This is a useful resource for you when considering a place at medical school.

GMC Outcomes for Graduates July 2015 – The GMC state that medical schools must only graduate medical students who can undertake the competence standards set by the GMC which are listed in this document.

Posted by Maggie Bunting on Wed, 8 Feb 2017

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Maggie Bunting is a Senior Lecturer at Norwich Medical School and has undertaken the role of Disability Liaison Officer for the past eight years. This role requires her to advise, guide and support medical students in order for those with a declared disability to achieve their full potential.

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