Medical students’ attitudes toward persons with disability: a comparative study.

OBJECTIVES: To investigate first-year medical students’ attitudes toward persons with disability and to examine whether gender and a background in disability determine attitudes toward persons with disability.

DESIGN: A cross-sectional survey.

SETTING: University settings in the United States and Canada.

PARTICIPANTS: Ninety first-year medical students (US, n=46; Canada, n=44) were surveyed.

INTERVENTION: Medical students given 3 surveys.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Attitude Toward Disabled Persons (ATDP) Scale, Scale of Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons (SADP), and Rehabilitation Situations Inventory (RSI).

RESULTS: There were no differences between the medical student groups from the United States and Canada. Compared with norms, medical students overall have more positive attitudes on the ATDP. Their attitudes were less positive on the SADP and on its optimism-human rights subscale. On the RSI, they were less comfortable with sexual situations and depression. Male medical students held poorer attitudes as scored than female medical students. Those with a background in disability were more comfortable dealing with challenging rehabilitation situations. Comfort with challenging rehabilitation situations showed significant differences across levels of experience but not gender. The more positive medical students’ attitudes are toward persons with disability, the more likely they are to be comfortable with challenging rehabilitation situations.

CONCLUSION: First-year medical students from the United States and Canada held similar attitudes and had less positive attitudes than SADP norms. Gender and background in disability influenced attitudes. Male medical students were more likely to hold negative attitudes. Specific educational experiences need to promote more positive attitudes.