Why Am I Having Difficulty NOW?

New section

This is a question asked by many medical students who contact the Office of Disability Services at campuses across the world. A related question is also often asked by medical school faculty/staff: How could a medical student make it this far if they have a disability?

New section

New section

Cindy Poore-Pariseau, Ph.D., Director, Rutgers Health

There are many reasons why this occurs, and one being that as individuals, we all find ways to accommodate, which makes us unique. If we are short in stature, we may use stools to stand on; if we have an undiagnosed reading disability, we may utilize audiobooks; if we live with anxiety, depression, PTSD or other mental health conditions, we may learn to navigate the world through our scheduling choices, through avoidance, or other measures we’ve learned to keep ourselves safe.

Sometimes, however, we find ourselves in situations (like medical school) where the conditions around us change so quickly or dramatically that our lifelong strategies (self-applied accommodations) are no longer effective. Where does that leave us?

Campus Resources
There are many resources available on campus to help students navigate the world of medical education. One such resource is the Office of Disability Services. This can be a scary place for students who think they are the “only one” who is having disability-related challenges. I guarantee you; you are not. My office currently supports over 100 medical students who live every day with disabilities that include non-apparent (invisible) and apparent (readily visible) disabilities.

But I Don’t Want Anyone to Know
If you are a student with a disability/disabled student and come forward for support, please know that your specific diagnosis, the details you provide verbally or in writing, and your documentation are held in confidence by the office. The purpose of coming to the office is to allow us to become a part of your team to determine if there are accommodations that can be offered or implemented to allow you equal or equitable access to your education.

I am Determined to do it on My Own
Imagine a world in which people refused to wear their eyeglasses/contacts because of what others might think or because they wanted to “do it on their own” without any assistance. “But that’s different,” you might be saying to yourself. I’m here to tell you that it is NOT different. Not seeing 20/20 is a disability (and eyeglasses or contacts are the accommodation), but, as a society, we have come to accept the accommodation of glasses or contacts as “normal”. Wouldn’t it be great if all accommodations that ameliorate the impact of a disability were normalized in this manner? The more students seek out disability related equal access, the more normalized accommodations will become.

Don’t Delay
Regardless of your diagnosis, your local Office of Disability Services is in place to support you. You have enough stress and struggles on your plate . . . allow us the opportunity to provide you with access to your education that is equitable to your non-disabled peers.

Cindy has worked in higher education for over 30 years, supporting students from all walks of life as they pursue their education beyond high school. Cindy is currently the Director of Disability Services for Rutgers Health (which includes 2 medical schools). She is also an adjunct instructor, teaching students in the online environment.

New section


The views and opinions expressed in this collection are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Association of American Medical Colleges.