Medical Professionals with Disabilities Workforce and their Associated Challenges

By Paulchris Okpala

person wearing medical scrubs

Do the provisions of the 2008 Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) address challenges faced by medical professionals with disabilities (MPD)?

A 2012 report on Americans with disabilities from the US Census Bureau suggests that it is highly unlikely. There is every reason to be alarmed by the increasing number of medical professionals with disabilities who leave their jobs, or express the intention to quit employment. There is also a rapidly decreasing number of MPD who express the desire to seek employment. Could this trend be attributed to the challenges faced by the MPD in the workplace?

Leslie Neal-Boylan suggests that there are compelling reasons to think so. With the lack of better understanding of the possible challenges and the effective ways of solving the challenges, the number of MPD in the workforce is set to shrink further. This trend is likely to be aggravated by the low number (less than 1 percent) of students enrolled in U.S. medical schools who self-identify as having some form of disability.

In my research I explored existing work and hospital records for current trends in employment of MPD and how organizational culture and healthcare leadership played a role in addressing the technical and “social barriers” to employment. By gathering this information, I also addressed the issue of set technical standards (nonacademic requirements such as visual acuity, hearing ability, and tactile ability) in impeding entry of the MPD into the workplace.

I found that the number of the MPD who have entered employment between 2009 and 2017 is low and insignificant. Is ADAAA, then, doing enough to aid this group? Are there any other underlying issues that have been overlooked by the Act?

Close to half of the data I gathered showed that the because the competence of medical professionals is based on the technical standards such as visual acuity, hearing ability, and tactile ability, individuals with disabilities are locked out or discouraged from entering into the medical profession. Even in medical schools, contrary to the provisions of the ADAAA, the “challenges associated with accommodation continue to persist.”

However, I would argue that it is not the technical and accommodation barriers, but the unsupportive organizational culture and the lack of lack of technical support that present the more significant challenges to MPD.

Without the provision of essential facilities, MPD often have no choice but to opt to leave employment. What then is the solution to these challenges? The solution lies with the healthcare leadership approach. The adoption of various aspects of leadership approach, such as leadership representativeness (i.e., representation of individuals with disabilities in leadership positions), and leadership sensitivity (as evidenced by how informed and responsive the leadership is to the needs of individuals with disabilities) are also critical in addressing challenges faced by MPD.

Finally, the degree of leadership inclusivity as indicated by the involvement of individuals with disabilities in policy formulation also helps in addressing the challenges I observed.

The number of MPD in active employment in the healthcare sector is low. To best combat this problem, health care leadership needs to adopt an approach that promotes a positive organizational culture that enhances inclusivity and representation of individuals with disabilities in leadership positions. I also emphasize the need to implement the ADAAA regulations fully, so as to limit accommodation barriers that restrict the education of individuals with disabilities in medical teaching institutions.

Photo by jblmpao/Flickr

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