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Thread: MD Careers for Disabled

  1. #1

    MD Careers for Disabled

    I am seriously considering going to Med School (almost finished my prerequisites). And I cant find any resources about what kind of doctors people in wheelchairs can be. I know phisiatrist, radiologist, and pathologist are possibilities. But does anyone know of people in other fields that have gone or finished med school in a wheelchair? Thanks.

  2. #2
    Senior Member willingtocope's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Pleasant Hill Iowa
    Got an MD friend with MS that does ER triage in a wheelchair.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator Sue Pendleton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    Wisconsin USA
    It depends on your level of injury and your abilities. Any MDs require the ability to palpitate, thump and to practice alone after medical school means surgical rotations. Psychiatry requires a full MD degree also while psychologists do not require an MD but a PhD but they cannot prescribe medicines nor admit patients for hospitalization. They would need to work with an MD to provide full services but this is the same as AB requirements.

    My attending doctor in rehab was Laro Halsted, MD. He has post polio syndrome but got polio before medical school. And one of my Neurology group at Hopkins was a young MD who was a C6 from what I saw and was obviously an MD as he wrote my prescriptions a few times. So it is possible. I'd talk to a near by medical school. Go for a visit and discuss your options. Or talk to your own doctors as long as they aren't ancient and find out what they think.

  4. #4
    These are a couple stories I found with the search term Doctors with Disabilities. There were others.

    Quadriplegic Fulfills Dream of Becoming Doctory - Medical School Grad Pursued Goal Despite Repeated Rejections
    (Seattle Times)

    Meghan Wilson's Impossible Dream to Become Doctor Comes True (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

    All the best,

  5. #5
    I had a client who was a cardiovascular surgeon before he had his C6 SCI. He did another residency in internal medicine, and then worked out of his own office, using a nurse practitioner to do much of the more physical aspects of patient exams for him.

    Getting through medical school is probably more difficult than the residency (specialty) training, since medical students must rotate through all specialties. You might want to talk to Roger (who posts on the New SCI forum only) since his son Brian is in medical school currently (at Johns Hopkins).


  6. #6
    I went through rehab at TIRR post accident, and my neurologist was a quadriplegic.

  7. #7

    "It is certainly possible for a tetraplegic to become a physician as there is ample precedent. However, I must caution you that it is more arduous that you may realize and is much more so for a tetraplegic than a paraplegic. Make sure you have an excellent support system beforehand. Being a physician is no longer the prestigious or lucrative profession that it once was and regulatory agencies keep increasing the hoops that you have to jump through in order to maintain licensing and board certification. Make sure that it is right for you for the right reasons as there may be other allied health professions that are less difficult to pursue.

    "If you are an undergraduate, you must ace all your premed courses such as organic chemistry, physics and biology. You also need to do very well on your MCATs. If you are accepted into med school, your first 2 years will be mostly academic and will literally consume every waking moment of every day. It is of a magnitude more difficult than college. Your biggest challenge will likely occur in your third year when you begin your clinical rotations. All medical schools have pretty much the same mandatory curriculum and rotations including surgery, medicine, OB/GYN, pediatrics, psychiatry and neurology. Hopefully, they will cut you some slack when it comes to performing procedures, i.e. starting IV lines, ABGs, central lines and intubations as these are definitely problematic for a quad. As another poster indicated, performing a physical exam will present challenges. You will learn certain tricks and discover that position is extremely important. You need to have some intact sensation in order to palpate.

    "Getting up at 4 AM in the middle of winter and braving a foot of snow (if you are up north) gets old pretty fast. Upon graduation, you will have to complete a residency, which is a minimum of 3 additional years with extremely poor pay while working 80+ hours per week and taking call. If you choose a specialty that is more amenable to your limitations, e.g. psychiatry, radiology, pathology or PM&R, residency will be 4 years (5 years for radiology). If you want to sub-specialize in SCI Medicine, you will have an additional year of fellowship to complete with lousy pay in addition to taking the subspecialty board. You will also have a mountain of debt to deal with.

    "In spite of the ADA, there is still much prejudice to contend with out there and not everyone has an open mind even in the field of SCI Medicine, unfortunately.

    "However, if you are willing to make the sacrifices and have the tenacity, you will have accomplished something that very few other people are capable of and will be profoundly rewarding to you."

  8. #8
    I'll give my opinion as a 3rd year medical student T8 complete currently going through the system. From your post I'm going to assume you're a para, since a quad probably would have mentioned that fact since it presents a new set of challenges. Here's what I think about what you can do as a paraplegic specialty wise since I've spent quite a lot of time thinking about this over the past few years.

    PM&R - I'd bet that SCIs are most prevalent in this field. I thought I was going to do it when I started med school, but I changed my mind. That being said, it's probably one of the more difficult specialties to do physically. Many of your patients won't be able to move the parts of their body you'd like to examine, so there's a lot of lifting and whatnot. That being said, I haven't done a PM&R rotation so what do I know. There's just tons and tons of SCIs in this field. I did my rehab at Shepherd Center in ATL where there's an awesome doc who's IM and PM&R certified. Then in my home town I volunteered at a rehab facility during undergrad which had a paraplegic attending on the wards and a quadraplegic attending who did PM&R as well (he wasn't involved in patient care where I was, so I'm not sure exactly what his job entailed).
    Internal Medicine - ah, the most popular specialty and the gateway to the myriad of IM sub-specialties. I'm planning on applying for IM residencies next year, so I probably can't be trusted to give an unbiased opinion here. Personally I don't know anyone who practices IM from a chair, but I'm 100% sure they're out there, I just haven't looked for them. There's not too much of the job you can't do sitting down [after all they're all telling us we have to sit down to talk face to face with patients anyway ;) ]. The only part of the job I'm sure I CAN'T do so far is CPR compressions, you gotta have the core muscles and the height to break those ribs and it's just not going to happen. That being said from my experience of doing a rotation at two different hospitals the attending is never doing compressions, they are running the code, and whenever a code gets called there's twenty people in the room within a matter of seconds (depending on where you are in the hospital), so I don't think that's an enormous obstacle. Most IM subspecialties are roughly as "accessible" with the exception of interventional stuff like electrophysiology or interventional cards where it's more like surgery.
    Surgery - obviously, probably one of the more difficult specialties. That being said, I talked to a guy who was trying to match into surgery either this rotation or the last... didn't hear if he did or not. It's definitely doable, but surgeons are assholes (j/k that's just a stereotype... at least 50% of the time) and I'm not sure how many residencies would want to go to the trouble to accommodate you. On my surgery rotation more than one surgeon tried to convince me to go into surgery, but it's a huge PITA being in the operating room in a chair. I had a standing chair but didn't bring it, because it would have been more trouble than it's worth (only because I'm not gonna be a surgeon and have no desire to hold someone's necrotic bowel with my hand while the fellow cuts it free). The operating room isn't wheelchair friendly.
    ​Anesthesiology - Like I said, the operating room isn't wheelchair friendly. However, anesthesia is probably easier to do in a chair than surgery... at least you don't have to scrub in. They don't really do anything that you "couldn't" do from a chair besides little stuff like moving the patient from stretcher to bed and wheeling the beds down the hallway. However the ORs I've been in are super crowded and some of the stuff you would need to do as an anesthetist would be pretty critical and time dependent. You can definitely intubate someone from a chair, but it's a little bit harder and a little bit slower. I thought about doing Anesthesia for like 2 weeks, but decided it wasn't worth overcoming the obstacles and it's pretty darn competitive for an able bodied applicant anyway.
    Pediatrics - I'm currently doing my pediatric rotation. Difficulty wise, it's probably like internal medicine for the most part. The difference is some of your patients are actually small enough for you to manipulate easily from a seated position, but there's a down side as well since some of your patients are super uncooperative (it's not easy to move your head the way you need to in order to look in a 2 year old's ears while their whipping their head around when your stuck in a chair). If you wanted to do it, it would not be a problem and I think it would be easy to match into. And you gotta pay attention to the fact that Ped's has the highest job satisfaction!
    Radiology - you said it, I agree. There's at least one radiologist who's a member of this site, although he doesn't post much. It's pretty darn difficult to match into and from what I hear salaries and job opportunities in general are dropping for recent grads, but you can definitely do the job from a chair.
    Pathology - for the love of god I don't know why anyone would want to be a pathologist, but to each their own. I actually think this would be one of the more difficult specialties to go into. During your training you'd need to get at all sorts of microscopes and machines and chemicals that are going to be at regular standing people height. Path isn't flashy and the patient's never see it, so they get stuck in the oldest rooms with minimal "updating" so the labs I've been in aren't the most accessible. I'm sure you could find a job that would be easy to do from a chair when you graduate, and it's definitely doable, but there are significant obstacles during training. I've been able to look into all of the "learner" microscopes during my training, but they tend to be at a height where you've got to push yourself up out of the chair with your arms to get a peek... not too bad if you're just looking for a minute or two, but I definitely wouldn't want to do it all day. If it's really your passion I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to make yourself competitive. (but seriously who WANTS to be a pathologist!)
    Emergency Medicine - Another iffy one. If I was AB, I would probably think long and hard about applying for EM. As it is, I still think it makes for an interesting career, but navigating most EDs is sketchy if you've got two working legs. One benefit is many rooms don't have walls, so you fit "inside" easier. You'd always have someone there if catastrophe struck and you were unable to do something, but everyone is super busy and you wouldn't want to be unable to complete a significant portion of your job. I'd wager it's more difficult than Path to do from a chair, but probably easier than Anesthesia. If you wanted to, you could do it. Somewhere out there is a EM attending who had his accident after he was already an attending and now is a quad who has an assistant act as his hands in the room... probably not something you could do starting out in your training, but just an example of how stuff can get done if you have the right people in your corner.
    Neurology - I have very little experience with Neuro and haven't rotated with them yet. It'd probably be marginally more difficult than IM or Peds to do from a chair. The big thing that comes to mind is walking patients. There's quite a few disorders where you want to have the patient walk or stand and see if they fall over. From our height there is no way you are going to stop a patient from hitting the floor if they loose their balance, so you'd need somebody to help you with that. That being said, it's probably one of the easier specialties to do from a chair.
    OB/GYN - Pretty sure you could do it if you want, but I'd bet dollars to donuts some of those (crazy) moms are going to go nuts if they see someone wheel in to catch their baby. That being said, if it interested me in the slightest, I'm pretty sure I could do it. It'd be one of the more difficult ones to do from a chair, but not as awkward as surgery.

    Psych - Easy. You can do the job and you can match into it because it's not very competitive. Some of the rubber rooms are a little tight to navigate, but that's not a big deal. I think Psych is really interesting, but I would never go into it because I like the mediciney part of medicine too much. A couple people have assumed that I'm going into Psych... not sure if it's because they see me in a chair and think I can't do real medicine or because they've uncovered how crazy I actually am.

    My experience in med school has been incredibly positive. No med student, resident, or attending has even batted an eye when I wheel into the room for the first time. If you get into med school you're gonna be thrown into the fire with all the rest of us and treated the same. In every rotation I've had, an attending or resident has tried to convince me to go into that specialty (including surgery) and I've experienced much less hesitancy and apprehension (dare I say "discrimination"?) with regard to my disability than I expected. In fact, I probably take much too much for granted so you should probably take everything I just spent half an hour typing with a huge grain of salt, lol.

    Med School is harder from a chair, but so is putting on your pants. You might have to do it a little different and you definitely have to know your limitations, but medicine is probably more wide open than you think for a paraplegic. Getting into med school is much harder than everything that comes after as long as you're okay with working 70-80 hours a week long term.

    Just make sure you're going into medicine for the right reasons. I don't know your financial situation, but your profile said you're 34, which means med school will never be a fiscally responsible career for you to go into. Average cost of 4 years is $207,000 with living expenses, if you've got to take a large chunk of that at 7.9% interest, that is a very serious chunk of change which will only accrue interest during residency. I'm glad I made the decision to go into medicine, it's the most interesting work I can think of, but it's such a ridiculously long road I'm not sure I'll still feel that way five years from now when I'm still just a resident.

    In summary (I guess this ridiculously long post needs a summary, and probably a table of contents as well):
    1. You can do whatever you want... seriously. If you are smart enough, hard working enough and dedicated enough I really do think you could match to absolutely anything you wanted to.
    2. Some specialties are going to be pretty darn hard to do from a chair (Surgery and all the surgical subspecialties, anesthesia, OB) and probably not worth the trouble it would take to match to them. If you're super brilliant and hard working and dedicated you could probably match to one of those, but I think the number of people who would be that dedicated is pretty slim. If you're one of them I'm sure you know, I definitely am not one of them.
    3. There are examples of paraplegics who went into all kinds of stuff, not just PM&R.
    4. Don't go into medicine if you've got something to prove (doctor's kids do that all the time and it doesn't turn out well), but if you decide to go into medicine you had damn well better prove yourself on paper and in person because every applicant who walks through that door does really have an advantage over you physically.
    5. The chair is your ally. You can't hide it, so embrace it. I debated about whether or not to mention it in my personal statement at first, but in the end the most compelling reason for many of us who choose to go into medicine after a SCI is our experience on the other side of the bed. Your story isn't a generic one the adcom's are likely to forget.

  9. #9
    Thank you all for your responses. I am sorry I have not thanked you earlier, but I have not been logged on in a while.

    Funklab, your incite is very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to pen your response. I think your post will be helpful to anyone who searches in the future. It is nice to hear nobody is patronizing you, and that most areas of medicine are opening up to us. The few doctors I have talked to went to school in the 60's and 70's so their opinions very closed minded with regards to possibilities for me. It refreshing to hear from someone out there currently in the trenches. You are right about it not being a financially savvy move at 34, but I have made worse financial decisions than this. Thanks again.

  10. #10
    I for one wish you the very best of luck in becoming and MD. A doctor with a disability might get other doctors thinking.
    "The problem with self improvement is knowing when to quit." "Diamond" David Lee Roth.

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