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Doctors and nurses with disabilities fighting discrimination

There's a line in the Bible that reads, "Physician, heal thyself." Friedrich Nietzsche took it a bit further by adding: "then wilt though also heal thy patient." The context in which the advice was offered is understood to apply to looking out for the well-being of your neighbor. That is, you can't adequately look out for others if you don't first look out for yourself.

Based on at least one recent headline, however, it is clear there is growing recognition that the medical profession is struggling with a cultural bias against individuals with physical disabilities. Research suggests disabled men and women often receive a lower standard of care. And notwithstanding laws against discrimination at the federal and state levels, many who aspire to become doctors and nurses find the stacked against them.

Not only do hopefuls face physical and structural barriers in facilities, many experience intractable administrative attitudes reflecting the view that disabled individuals can't fulfill the supposed requirements the healing profession demands. The result is that legitimate requests for reasonable accommodations for facility access and test taking are ignored, go unmet or require taking legal action to protect guaranteed rights.

Indeed, according to a recent report authored by the Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science and Medical Education, the pushback disabled doctors and nurses receive from schools and employers is so significant that many feel compelled to conceal their conditions if they can. If they can't, beware.

For example, there is the case of a medical resident with a disability who had to wait more than a year for his training hospital to install an automatic door he required. In another case, a disabled student seeking support came up against a disability representative who seemed unfamiliar with the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.

To be clear, the medical profession is not exempt from the provisions set out in the ADA and other federal and state laws. Instances of discrimination may not be universal, but they do happen. When violations occur, victims need to be sure they know their options for ensuring their rights.

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