When Doctors Don’t Believe Doctors

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Debbie says:

BBC News’ unbylined article “The Disabled Doctors Not Believed By Their Colleagues” begins with accounts from disabled doctors and medical students, chronicling their stories of being disbelieved and/or trivialized by other doctors and medical professionals. None of it is surprising: the value of the article is the power of seeing several comparable stories in one place:

Sarah Islam was a fourth year medical student at Indiana University when she developed a chronic illness which caused exhaustion, chronic pain, and cognitive impairment. She said her symptoms, which didn’t tick a specific box, made her feel like she lacked fluency in the medical language she was learning.

With her experience of sickness, Islam shifted from believing legitimate illness could be diagnosed to living as a patient with symptoms which didn’t fit a clear disease profile.

But she noticed a change in her colleagues too, when she returned to medical school after a period of recovery….

“They would challenge my reality,” she says, something which led her to conceal her symptoms. “I felt like everything I shared was going to be weaponized against me. They would say ‘you walked two days ago so why can’t you walk today?’ Almost like they caught me in a lie.

The article then pans out to quantitative analysis of the issue. Among other examples:

Drs. Havi Carel and Ian Kidd, philosophy professors at the University of Bristol and University of Nottingham, … found medical experts often perceive disabled patients as incapable, unreliable, and emotionally unstable, leading clinicians to “downgrade the credibility” of what disabled patients say.

This discrimination can impact treatment decisions and compromise disabled patients’ health, increasing their risk of secondary conditions.

And some early solutions, including

This is something the University of Michigan is trying to address. Its medical school has started providing students with teaching sessions focused on disability in its entirety – from disability pride to the everyday and justice.

And a call for more disabled doctors, and (I would say) a call for more doctors to come out about their disabilities.

It is outright shameful that a profession which claims to want to help people with medical issues shoves these issues under the rug in its own house. It is absolutely inevitable that a profession which considers disability as weakness treats disabled patients badly.

Neither better teaching sessions nor more disabled doctors will have much effect unless both are employed in the context of dismantling ableist supremacy. I was consistently struck by how much the stories in this article reminded me of stories about how BIPOC and other people of color are treated under the medical — and the carceral — system.

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