Doctors ... Just Relax!

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Leana Wen, National Public Radio - May 17, 2014
"More than half of medical school deans report that their students aren't competent to treat people with disabilities, and a similar percentage of graduates agree. Accreditation and licensing boards don't require clinicians to demonstrate knowledge or skills in treating patients with disabilities.”
So disabled people get measurably worse medical care because caring for us properly is too hard?

This reminds me of a circular argument we sometimes hear in public education. Classroom teachers often say that they shouldn’t be teaching significantly disabled students because they aren’t properly trained, like Special Ed. teachers are. Their belief is self-fulfilling. When a teacher decides that teaching disabled students it is beyond them, then they will, in fact, do a pretty poor job.

I think it’s the same with doctors. An ER doctor doesn’t have to know all about every disability to treat a disabled patient well. What they need, I think, is a little more confidence, an open mind, and really good listening skills.

The doctors cited in the article don’t believe they are “competent” to treat disabled patients. I would agree that many of them are insensitive and fearful of disabled people, but I don’t accept that broadly speaking they are incompetent. We are people, not internal combustion engines or integrated circuit boards. What doctors need is to realize how similar we are to other patients, not how different. They should be more confident, and not shy away from us just because we aren’t the norm.

The problem is that these doctors do end up treating us anyway especially in settings like the ER; someone’s got to. And when they do, as often as not, they are awkward, rushed, and unresponsive. They can do better, but because they don’t think they can, they don’t.

A bit more training in medical schools might help, but I don’t think it would take much. Instead of a whole course, what doctors need to hear is: “Relax! You are a fully qualified physician. Just do you thing, listen to your patient, and quit trying to pass the buck.