By Dr. Franco Rizzuti, BSc, MD
Read time: 2 minutes
The 2020s, an inflection point for medicine, have required us to pivot. This decade has also been a watershed moment for medicine to acknowledge and meaningfully support Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI). (Dis)ability is an essential element of the EDI discussion. Until recently, discussions of disability were patient-centred, without much acknowledgement that physicians could also have disabilities. Canadian data on physicians with disabilities is limited, and the stigma experienced by Canadian physicians living with disabilities may contribute to this incomplete data. However, a 2021 study revealed that approximately 3.1 per cent of American physicians self-identified as having a disability. We can expect a similar rate in Alberta.
While we may not have firm data on the number of Canadian and Albertan physicians with disabilities, we do have supports. The Canadian Association of Physicians with Disabilities (CAPD), founded in 1999 by Dr. Ashok Muzumdar, is a national organization whose mandate is to support and connect physicians with disabilities, while fostering national discourse around disability issues. If you look to the CAPD website you will not find a definition of disability, nor will you see rigid requirements for disclosure. Both are by design. Disability is inherently personal and comes in many forms. Despite this variability there are some common themes:
- Physicians with disabilities are unique and have their own stories.
- Physicians with disabilities should be provided with an equity-based approach.
- Physicians with disabilities may require accommodations.
- Physicians with disabilities continue to experience significant hurdles.
- Physicians with disabilities provide excellent and safe patient care, and are of high value to both the profession and the healthcare system.
When thinking about disability within the profession, we can consider visible and invisible disabilities. An individual with a high C-spine injury requiring a wheelchair has a visible disability, as does an individual requiring mobility aids or hearing aids. However, many individuals have less visible disabilities, such as individuals living with chronic pain, type-I diabetes, mental health concerns or a learning disability.
Over the last five years, the CAPD membership has doubled. Many of our new members are early- or mid-career physicians, and many live with less visible or invisible disabilities. This shift in CAPD membership mirrors the general shift within health care. As stigma begins to diffuse and the profession takes an EDI focus, we will continue to see more physicians self-identify as having a disability. While this adds to our collective diversity, it also requires us to rethink our approach to supporting these physicians.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically advanced virtual care, which has benefited our patients. It has also enabled physicians with disabilities, who only a few years ago may have been deemed unfit to practise, to see patients virtually. This sort of pandemic-inspired innovation and outside-the-box thinking must be retained as we return to “normal.” This unintended benefit of virtual care has expanded the realm of possible accommodations for physicians with disabilities, and prompts the question, “What should medicine’s technical standards be in 2021?”
As we continue our collective EDI work, we will continue to face uncomfortable questions that require deep critical thinking and introspection. As we do this, I encourage you to not lose sight of the unique and valuable contributions of physicians with disabilities to our profession. I also encourage anyone with questions or wanting to connect to reach out to CAPD.
|Dr. Franco Rizzuti, BSc, MD (he/him) is a PGY-5 in Public Health & Preventive Medicine at the University of Calgary, President of the Canadian Association of Physicians with Disabilities and a member of the International Council on Disability & Medical Education.|
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