Disability Cultural Competence in the Medical Profession

St. Louis Journal of Health Law and Policy, Forthcoming

U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-30

28 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2015

See all articles by Mary Crossley

Mary Crossley

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

Date Written: August 24, 2015


People with disabilities make up 19% of the U.S. population, and many of them are heavier consumers of health care than people without disabilities. Yet relatively few physicians – the persons responsible for providing medical care to this significant fraction of the patient population – have disabilities themselves, and the percentage of medical students with disabilities is even smaller. This Essay highlights how the relative rareness of doctors with disabilities may contribute to a generally low level of understanding within the medical profession of the social context of disability and how non-medical factors affect the health of people with disabilities. This lack of understanding, in turn, contributes to less effective medical care for people with disabilities. Better educating medical students and doctors about the disability experience by treating disability as an element of cultural competence could produce benefits on two fronts. First, by equipping doctors to provide the culturally competent and accessible services that people with disabilities need, it could help mitigate the health and health care disparities that group experiences. Second, expanding the medical profession’s understanding of disability could, over time, lead to more accessible programs of medical education and more accommodating health care employment settings, thus smoothing the path for more people with disabilities to enter the medical profession. This Essay first describes the concept of cultural competence and its place within medical education and considers briefly whether a “disability culture” exists and should be an element of cultural competence training for doctors. It proceeds to review some recent signs of progress, including increased attention to the health and health care disparities experienced by people with disabilities and expanding discussions about health care providers’ role in addressing these disparities. Moreover, some medical educators have begun developing curricula that emphasize competencies doctors need to care effectively for people with disabilities. The Essay concludes by suggesting how disability cultural competence education may both benefit patients with disabilities and contribute to increased representation of people with disabilities within the medical profession.

Keywords: medical education, health disparities, disability discrimination, disability culture, cultural competence, healthcare workforce, social model of disability, medical model of disability, disability studies, curricular innovation

JEL Classification: I12, I18, I28, I29, I38, J78, J79, K32

Suggested Citation

Crossley, Mary, Disability Cultural Competence in the Medical Profession (August 24, 2015). St. Louis Journal of Health Law and Policy, Forthcoming, U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-30, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2650092

Mary Crossley (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
412-648-5300 (Phone)
412-648-2649 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.pitt.edu/people/mary-crossley

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