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Should you tell your medical school about your disability?

Have you struggled all the way through medical school without letting anybody -- or, at most, a select few people -- know about your disability? Is it time to open up about your disability before you matriculate and apply for licensing?

You may feel that the risk of exposure and the possible negative consequences you'll experience by disclosing your disability isn't worth it.

However, consider the following:

1. Even if you've kept your disability secret out of a sense of privacy, you may be doing yourself a serious disservice by not reporting it to your school's disability officer. Doing so allows you to request reasonable accommodations during your medical board testing. Unless you pass that test, all your sacrifices and hard work will have gone for nothing.

2. Accommodations are your legal right. Discrimination against you on the basis of a legitimate disability is illegal and schools and medical licensing boards are sensitive to that fact. Most of the accommodations are fairly small and people do not generally regard it as an "unfair" advantage (if that is what worries you). Some of the most common accommodations include:

  • A private testing room (which can help with disabilities like Asperger's or attention-deficient disorder (ADD)
  • A reader (which can help those who struggle with visual processing disorders)
  • Extra breaks or time for the exam (which may accommodate certain physical disabilities that require you to move around, stop to eat something or increase fluid intake -- which means more necessary bathroom breaks)

3. You may need time to provide additional evidence -- including updated medical information if the evidence you have of your disability is fairly outdated. By giving your school the information ahead of graduation, you give yourself the time necessary to set up accommodations when it comes time to the most important test you have in your future.

Receiving a professional medical license is an achievement that deserves a great deal of admiration. Don't allow your disability, fear of discrimination or fear of judgment hold you back. If necessary, you can seek legal advice about your rights before you proceed with your disclosure or if you find the school resistant to your requests.

Source: FINRA.org, "Exam Candidates Requiring Special Accommodations," accessed Nov. 24, 2017

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