Disability, Equality, Diversity & Inclusivity

What are they and why are they important?




Doctors, like any other professional group, can experience ill health or disability. A disability may occur at any point in their studies or professional career, or, even, long before they become interested in medicine.


What is a disability?

Awareness of disability issues can be poor amongst some medical professionals. Both mental and physical disability in doctors are very diverse.

Diversity hands

"I strongly believe that a vital component of the relationship between the medical profession and disabled citizens is not just the treatment of disabled patients but how healthcare organisations treat disabled employees at all levels. Surveys indicate that most patients have no problem with being treated by disabled doctors; partly as a result of shared experiences and a greater understanding of patients’ needs. But this report outlines the negative attitudes which have prevented disabled doctors from pursuing a medical career."

Sir Bert Massie


General context of disability

Any person can become disabled at any time. Many personal and professional conflicts arise when doctors become patients, and these seem to multiply when doctors develop disabilities.

'Patient acceptance' is a concern that weighs heavily on most physicians with developing disabilities. Research has shown that for a physician, in the face of new disability, the physician-patient relationship holds up well.

The reaction from patients to 'visible' disabilities can be quite interesting. For example, Dr Cheri Blauwet, writing in the New York Times, comments.

"In my busy outpatient clinical practice, I witness the spectrum of patients’ reactions when they find out that their doctor is, herself, disabled. Typically those first few seconds after entering an exam room — before the patient’s guard goes up — are the most informative."

This is, actually, not an uncommon reaction.


How to cope

When a new diagnosis is received, as a person it can create many questions, concerns and uncertainties. As a doctor receiving a new diagnosis, this mental process can be very different.

Where a person who is not a medical doctor would have many questions about the nature of the diagnosis, the prognosis, the usual clinical course, etc., these gaps in knowlege are likely to be at least partly filled by some pre-existing medical knowledge in the mind of a doctor. Of course, there are always exceptions and it may be that the diagnosis received by the doctor is one that they have very little prior knowledge of.

For a doctor receiving a new diagnosis, our minds are often accelerated by our knowledge, past the questioning stages straight to the stages of denial, anger and bargaining.  This may mean that we make incorrect assumptions based on our own flawed medical knowledge and do not seek to clarify these.

It is therefore useful to have a pre-determined process to follow when receiving such news.  This helps to ensure that our reactions are logical, helpful and proactive rather than reactionary, random and potentially detrimental. 

It is a very similar situation when a pre-existing condition undergoes a significant deterioration or progression.  The doctor would presumably have prior knowledge and understanding of the condition.  However, it may be that the doctor was living under ‘false hope’ after a period of stability, or never really came to terms with the diagnosis at the time that it was made, due to having few or insignificant symptoms at the time.  In these situations, a progression or deterioration may provoke a similar psychological process to receiving a brand new diagnosis.

The focus of the Practitioner Health service is to provide support to those going through mental health difficulties. Physical disabilities are therefore not the primary focus, however there is of course overlap between the two. For more specific advice and support on the topic of being a doctor with a physical disability, please visit the Disabled Doctors Network.


To find out more, contact us to obtain our full disability factsheets.