Creating Disability-Competent Medical Students Via Community Outreach

J Natl Med Assoc. 2020 Aug 7;S0027-9684(20)30150-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jnma.2020.07.010. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Medical students often have limited exposure to providing care to physically and cognitively disabled patients. To address this gap, Involvement with Disability Education and Advancement (IDEA) was started in 2015 at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS). The organization provides NJMS students the opportunity to visit a school dedicated to disabled students and lead educational sessions on health topics.

Materials and methods: We conducted a survey study in 2018 to compare comfort levels between IDEA members and non-members in eliciting information from and providing medical attention to nonverbal, cognitively impaired, and physically disabled patients. The survey-based study utilized yes/no questions, and a Likert scale questionnaire to determine IDEA member and non-member comfort levels in working with various disabilities. Statistical analysis was performed using SAS Enterprise Guide 7.1; p value < 0.05 was considered statistically significant.

Results and discussion: A total of 56 responses (19 members, 37 non-members) were analyzed. Regardless of IDEA membership, medical students of all years perceived themselves to have more comfort caring for physically disabled than cognitively impaired or nonverbal patients. IDEA members also recorded higher comfort levels with eliciting information from cognitively impaired patients and lower comfort levels with providing medical attention to physically disabled patients.

Implications: IDEA members may have increased comfort interacting with cognitively impaired individuals due to their regular experience and lower levels of comfort providing medical attention to physically disabled patients due to awareness of complex problems specific to the population. The current results warrant continued data collection and further evaluation.

Keywords: Disabilities; Medical education; Medicine; Pediatrics.