Disabled Doctor Speaks Up

Jacqueline Fellows, October 9, 2014

An emergency medicine physician recounts her personal experience with stuttering to advocate for more compassion, training, and equitable treatment of patients who have a disability.

When physicians are faced with caring for a patient with a disability, they may be overlooking the most important aspect of treatment: respect for the patient.


Leana Wen, MD

Leana Wen, MD

It's ironic that physicians contribute to the inadequate treatment of people with mental and/or physical disabilities because the doctor's office is often where disabilities are initially diagnosed, or at least cared for, and there is some patient expectation that behaviors, such as avoiding eye contact, will not be encountered.

An essay published in this month's issue of Health Affairs, Leana Wen, MD, director of patient-centered care research and assistant professor of emergency medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, recounts her personal experience with stuttering to advocate for more compassion, training, and equitable treatment of patients who have a disability.

Wen spoke with me about the additional challenges patients face when they have a disability and what physicians can do to overcome their fears of caring for someone who is physically and or mentally disabled.

HLM: In your essay, you write that it wasn't until the end of medical school that you decided to be open about stuttering. What led to that decision?

Wen: Of course I knew that I stuttered, but I thought that if I were open about it, that people would see me as incompetent and not able to perform, and I wouldn't be able to realize my dream of being a doctor, so I hid it.

Jacqueline Fellows

Jacqueline Fellows is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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