A curriculum on care for people with disabilities: Effects on medical student self-reported attitudes and comfort level

Previous presentation: Previously presented at the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, Conference on Medical Student Education, January 2012, and at the North American Primary Care Research Group Annual Meeting, November 2011.

Andrew B. Symons, M.D., M.S., Christopher P. Morley, Ph.D., M.A., C.A.S., Denise McGuigan, M.S.Ed., Elie A. Akl, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.

Disability and Health Journal, Vol. 7, Issue 1, p88–95
Published online: October 11, 2013
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2013.08.006


Early, frequent encounters with people with disabilities may improve medical students’ knowledge, attitudes and skills regarding their care. We developed and implemented a longitudinal four-year curriculum addressing caring for people with disabilities.


To test differences in mean scores between intervention and control groups on individual post-survey items regarding attitudes toward people with disabilities, and to conduct exploratory procedures to examine individual factors that may account for group differences.


Students at two U.S. medical schools, one with the new curriculum, and one with no specific disabilities curriculum, were surveyed in Year 1 of medical school, prior to curriculum introduction, and again at the end of Year 3, using a validated 30-item instrument measuring medical students’ self-reported attitudes and comfort toward people with disabilities. We compared mean item ratings between the two groups using χ2 and ANOVA. Principal components analysis was then used to construct linear composite variables that were then regressed on potential predictors of attitudes and comfort level.


The intervention led to significant or near-significant improvement in several factors. However, male students in the intervention group, particularly those who encountered people with disabilities in a clinical context, had a tendency to more frequently agree with negative statements (β = .628, p = .005).


Exposure of medical students to a longitudinal curriculum for caring for people with disabilities led to significant improvement in several factors related to comfort and attitudes. The gender-related reinforcement of some negative attitudes merits further investigation and caution when implementing the curriculum in the future.