The Office of Student Affairs at Yale School of Medicine (YSM) works closely with Yale's Resource Office on Disabilities (ROD) to support students with a wide range of disabilities, of differing severity levels. We want prospective and current students to know that YSM’s Office of Student Affairs and ROD are outstanding resources should they need help with one or more disability. We also want to provide information about how the school can help students navigate challenges caused by disabilities during medical school, whether that disability pre-exists their arrival at YSM, develops while at school, or simply is recognized for the first time during a student’s time at YSM.
While there are certain Technical Standards regarding observation, communication, motor, intellectual, and behavioral and social functioning that applicants must meet to attend YSM, beyond these thresholds, people who may think they cannot pursue a career in medicine, often can successfully do so. This has been achieved at YSM through a combination of the determination of the individuals with disabilities, and the dedicated teamwork of members of the Yale community to develop creative, supportive solutions to reasonably accommodate students with disabilities. We encourage students to feel comfortable raising any limitation they are concerned about with YSM’s Associate Dean for Student Affairs and/or a member of the ROD office, to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be found. Students do not need a referral to meet with ROD, they can just reach out directly.
Below are a few examples of the types of disabilities we have provided support for in the past.
For a variety of medical reasons, some students have not had the ability to stand for the long periods of time required in some clinical rotations, particularly the surgical rotation. To address this challenge, ROD found an innovative "sit-stand chair", which allows the user to take most of the weight off one's feet, but still sit up high enough to see the surgical process, or perform other responsibilities where height is relevant. The chair is lightweight, breaks down to fold into a locker, and can be sterilized.
YSM has had students with varying degrees of hearing loss. Amplified stethoscopes have addressed the situation for some students with a mild loss. For more significant hearing loss, when amplification is not enough, a team including Yale academic and clinical representatives, the ROD staff, and the student's audiologist, work alongside the student to find solutions for various environments. For example, one student was trained in the use of portable ultrasound, and in surgery, where masks prevented the student from relying on lip reading, the team developed a protocol using a sterilized microphone that hung over the operating table to receive and transmit spoken information into personally-prescribed hearing aids.
A number of students who unquestionably have the ability to learn and excel at YSM need more time during exams for various reasons. YSM is generous with the time it allows for test taking, with some tests not having time limits. The school supports additional time for timed exams if a student needs it because of a disability. Furthermore, YSM has supported several students in the application process for additional time on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), although the decision about whether or not to accommodate a student for USMLE extended time remains in the authority of the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME).
YSM views care seeking and treatment around mental health issues as much a part of taking care of oneself as addressing physical health issues. As students and professionals in health care, we must care for ourselves so that we can care for others.
All YSM students have free access to mental health and counseling at Yale Health. Incoming students with existing mental health issues are encouraged to arrange an appointment as soon as possible to maintain coverage, and students experiencing new mental health symptoms should go to Yale Mental Health & Counseling at Yale Health to engage with a therapist. (Yale Health also offers free, anonymous, and confidential online screenings to Yale students to help them determine if a consultation with a mental health counselor would be helpful.) YSM will work with students on their class and clinical schedules to allow for necessary mental health appointments.
Occasionally while at YSM, students notice that they learn differently than their peers and realize that this has been a life-long pattern in many academic environments. Yale makes it possible for students to be formally and expertly assessed for learning disabilities, without cost to the student. The results of the assessment frequently bring great relief and self-actualization of skills and challenges experienced over a life time. The information can also act as a basis to develop and experience accommodations within the curriculum.
A range of issues such as a broken wrist or shoulder surgery can interfere with a student's ability to take notes in class. ROD, in partnership with YSM, has recruited and hired peer note takers to help while the student is unable to take notes. And the process is flexible: the recipient of the notes can remain anonymous or the process can be very informal.
Medical leave of absence:
A student who must interrupt study temporarily because of illness or injury may be granted a medical leave of absence, of up to two years, with the approval of the associate dean for student affairs, on the written recommendation of the Director of Yale Health Student Services or the Chief Psychiatrist. A student on leave of absence may continue to be enrolled in Yale Health by purchasing coverage through the Student Affiliate Coverage plan. In order to secure continuous coverage from the Yale Health Plan, enrollment in this plan must be requested prior to the beginning of the term in which the student will be on leave or, if the leave starts during the term, within thirty days of the date when the leave is approved.
Removing logistical barriers:
YSM makes every effort to remove logistical barriers. For example, clinical rotation schedules are thoughtfully created, providing local placements for students with disabilities that make travel more difficult, so that they do not have to navigate travel. The school also works to balance physically demanding rotations with ones that are less physically demanding. And students for whom walking is difficult have access to wheelchairs and motor scooters, which enable them to move quickly and easily through the vast hallways of Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH).
Additionally, Yale Parking and Transit operates a Special Services Van that provides door-to-door pick up and drop off within the campus boundaries for school-related purposes. It operates 24 hours a day Monday through Friday and from 6 pm to 7:30 am on Saturday and Sunday. Students must complete a form to register for assistance from the Special Services Van.
Illness and injuries are not planned and Yale is proactive to retain students who may experience illness or injury while enrolled, as well as supporting students who enter with disabilities. These examples are just some of the way that ROD and Student Affairs at Yale Medical School have worked together to support students.