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Treating Patients with Disabilities

Einstein and Montefiore Medical Center Trains Doctors of Tomorrow in Disability Etiquette

NEW YORK (January 11, 2013) – Attending physicians from the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center directed a disability etiquette course for medical students from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, teaching them how to interact with patients with disabilities and guiding them on how to translate medical knowledge into an achievable treatment plan.

Dan Myers, M.S.W.
Dan Myers, M.S.W.
“According to Census 2000, nearly 50 million people in the U.S. live with a disability – which is nearly one in every five people,” said course director Jennifer Halstead-Kenny, M.D., attending physician in Montefiore’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Einstein. “With so many people impacted by disabilities, it is important for physicians to be trained to examine, interview and treat patients based on their unique needs.” 

As part of their first year curriculum, all Einstein medical students receive training in basic clinical skills and guidance on the use of appropriate terminology, interview and examination techniques. In this Introduction to Clinical Medicine workshop, students choosing a rehab track role-played using assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, and were tasked with carrying out everyday situations, for example going to the deli a few blocks away. This allowed students to experience firsthand how patients face challenges and barriers every day and encourages them to be more empathetic and understanding in their clinical practice.

“The patient’s perspective is really driven home when a student has to navigate a task normally taken for granted,” said Dan Myers, co-director of Einstein’s Introduction to Clinical Medicine course and assistant professor of family and social medicine. “It’s a real ‘eureka’ moment that we believe is integral to teaching compassionate care.”

Several patients from Montefiore’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine attended the class to help train the students, who rotated around patients and interviewed them as if it were an actual appointment. One longtime patient participant is a 54-year-old mother of two who has syringomyelia, a spinal cord injury requiring her to use a wheelchair for the past 12 years. Ms. Cecila Lugo believes this class in invaluable in helping to educate the doctors of tomorrow on how to work with disabled patients in a courteous and professional manner.

"The patient’s perspective is really driven home when a student has to navigate a task normally taken for granted…It’s a real ‘eureka’ moment that we believe is integral to teaching compassionate care."

— Dan Myers, M.S.W.

“This program makes a major difference in helping students become comfortable and confident with people who are physically challenged,” said Ms. Lugo. “I would love to see more students offered this kind of practical education in other schools and institutions.”

The CDC recently released tips for both patients and health care providers on how to get and provide the best care for people with disabilities. It also included information for healthcare professionals to find training opportunities to improve their competence in caring for people with disabilities, something Montefiore and Einstein have been focused on with medical students for more than five years.

“This workshop allowed me to gain better insight into the lives of patients with disabilities,” said Joshua Johnson, a first year medical student. “It taught us how we can address their individual needs as future doctors.”