Studying Medicine With a Disability – My Thoughts & Experiences so Far

This is a guest post written by Elle, a 3rd-year medical student.

I met a Doctor called Emma when I was 9 years old. She sat on my hospital bed and asked me what TV shows I love. My reply was, ironically, Doctor Who. I don’t really know why this, in particular, is so clear, but I think it is because it’s the first time I remember feeling human, feeling like a 9-year-old person but most importantly feeling valued.

I was diagnosed with pulmonary lymphangiectasia as a young child and that has left with me various lymphatic abnormalities around my body; incurable but manageable. My experiences of being a patient fundamentally led to me wanting to be a doctor. Whether I would have become a doctor without my condition – I’ll never know, but I am so pleased to say I have now completed my pre-clinical years at Medical School and am journeying into the world of clinical placement.

So, what has life been like as a medical student with a disability/’difference’/long-term-health condition/dodgy leg? I never really know what label to use.

Let’s start with getting one teeny, tiny rant out of the way. Lifts. Lifts are the bane of my life. There are 2 lifts to the floor where most of my lectures were held, I think I can count on one hand the number of times those lifts have actually worked these past 2 years. So please, if you ever see someone waiting by a broken lift in the hospital, give them a little smile or a comforting arm stroke. Us ‘lifties’ have quite an ordeal when Tim the handyman says “back in a jiffy” and is yet to appear 20 minutes later – that’s certainly the longest ‘jiffy’ I’ve ever experienced.

What remains prominent in my mind about the initial few weeks of medical school is the fact that I genuinely cannot remember the first time someone asked me about my leg. I would call that a good sign. Reassuringly, what sticks out most instead is the memory of how bubbly and smiley everybody was.I felt like I just blended in, which I suppose was helped by the fact that I didn’t use a wheelchair or scooter in any of the sessions. If people noticed they noticed, if not then I didn’t really say much. There was still that part of me that was absolutely petrified what people would think – how can someone who has limited mobility perform the tasks of being a doctor? At that point, I didn’t even know myself.

I do remember feeling more of a minority than I thought I would when I started to find out that so many of my peers were elite sports players, party goers and gap year world travellers. Because of that, there was a time where I genuinely thought I was the only one with any sort of health condition or ‘difference’.

Well, how wrong was I! It can be easy to forget sometimes that medical students and doctors are humans, just like anyone else. I was so naïve to think that I was the only one. When I think about it, it does make sense; one of the many application criteria to medicine is an awareness of the career – what better environment to experience prime time ‘medical career awareness’ than when lying in a patient bed?! So, is it any surprise that many want to become doctors?

The role of a doctor is changing and the NHS is adapting. Now more than ever before we have to acclimatise and thrive under ever-growing pressure. Doctors are not immune from illness, and many of us will experience physical and/or mental health difficulties and I really don’t think we should ever forget that. We should welcome the diversity that doctors with a ‘difference’ can bring. We should never forget the wealth of experience that a patient experience can bring to the table.

Inevitably, there are challenges along the way, especially when there are lifts involved (it’s still a sore subject) but the journey can be such a beautiful one. The truth is that medicine is never an easy option. However, I passionately believe that with the right help and support, it is possible. Essentially, the point I’m trying to make is, studying with my health condition so far has had its challenges, and I don’t know what the future holds but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


My name is Ellen and I am going into my 3rd year of studying medicine. I’m really passionate about widening access to medicine and felt really inspired to spread the word about my experiences so far. I’ve set up my blog “medicelle” and release weekly blog posts sharing my insights.

My blog: www.medicelle.co.uk

My Instagram: @medic_elle

My Twitter: @medicelle

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