Do the ivory towers need ramps

Doctors are among the first to recognize that physical disabilities can occur at any point in an individual's life, but even medical school faculty members facing the onset of such a disability often keep it secret for as long as possible, fearing discrimination from their colleagues and academic officials when it becomes known.

That concern underscores the experience and expectations of disabled medical faculty as they persevere in their careers with "a silent and lonely tenacity," according to findings of a paper to be published in the December 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

"Anecdotal reports suggest that many medical faculty members with disabilities decide against making their condition known because they fear reprisals, particularly the loss of professional opportunities such as tenured positions," said Annie G. Steinberg, MD, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Steinberg co-authored the study with Lisa I. Iezzoni, MD, MSc, of the Department of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass.

"Faculty members with disabilities bring a wealth of personal insight and experience to medical teaching, but they must be made to feel as welcome, comfortable and secure as their able-bodied colleagues. They are neither super-heroes nor more vulnerable than their peers, but only require legally-mandated accommodations to succeed, " Steinberg added. "Through the daily example of their lives, they may remind students, residents and attending colleagues that medicine is about more than diagnosis, treatment and cure -- it requires an understanding of chronic illnesses that affect 100 million Americans."

The research paper, which is being published as a "special communication" in JAMA, is an outgrowth of the Penn Initiative 2000 project to examine quality of life issues for the university's faculty. Steinberg, Iezzoni, an

Contact: Ellen O'Brien
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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