Health Professions Office must publicize guidance for students with disabilities

Neha Dronamraju

Pre-meds are stereotypically high-strung, competitive and annoying — notoriously the type of people who won’t stick their foot out to trip you, but won’t help you up when you fall either. Within a cohort that’s already exclusive, students with physical and intellectual disabilities often feel isolated and lost. As a pre-med student myself, I’ve seen this firsthand.

The Health Professions Office, a pre-health-specific advising center, should capitalize on their partnership with Services for Students with Disabilities and host and advertise more public workshops on how disabilities play into health-oriented careers. These workshops will provide an opportunity for students to gather information and promote the notion that the Health Professions Office works to disseminate information to the pre-health community.  

The Health Professions Office is a resource available to all pre-health students, serving more than 4,000 students on campus. The health professions counselors are trained by Services for Students with Disabilities to address all students’ needs, and they are aware of the intricacies of navigating a disability in a health care setting. 

Lesley Riley, director of the Health Professions Office, said the office can offer more guidance if a student divulges their disability.

“We can help students assess their ability to meet the essential functions required by each health profession,” Riley said. “Essential functions are the basic activities that a student must be able to perform to complete the professional school curriculum. Many disabilities can be and are accommodated by health professional schools.” 

Useful resources to help students with physical and intellectual disabilities exist, so why don’t many of these students know about them? 

The answer comes down to publicity. Often, pre-health students who live with disabilities don’t know they should disclose them to the Health Professions advising team. Sometimes they don’t know which questions to ask or that they can even seek advice concerning their disability. 

A sophomore who requested to remain anonymous so as to not divulge her disability status expressed surprise when I informed her of the Health Professions Office’s services. 

“I definitely struggle a lot to keep up with the demanding work that the pre-med track requires, and I’m scared that if I’m already struggling now, I won’t be able to keep up in med school,” she said. “My disability hinders me in more ways than one, and I’m glad I know now that the Health Professions Office can guide me on how to work that into my career goals.”

The student said had she known about it, she would have taken advantage of this resource long ago.

As pre-meds, we’re implicitly told our future careers are rife with great responsibility. We’re responsible for real human lives, and we’re responsible for conducting ourselves in a professional, stable and compassionate manner to save the lives we’re handling. A visible or invisible disability can plant a seed of doubt and shake our confidence when handling this massive responsibility.

The Health Professions Office offers great resources to deal with and overcome that doubt, and pre-health students should know about these resources so they can take advantage of them. The office can better reach the pre-health community by offering and publicizing more workshops about navigating disabilities in the health care industry. 

Dronamraju is a public health sophomore from Dallas.