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New study becomes first to explore the relationship between disability and academic performance at medical school


Disability in medicine is an important issue, yet little is known about the factors associated with declaration of a disability by medical students and doctors, or the association of disability with academic performance. Published today, a new study is the first report to ‘map’ disability in medicine in the UK, using data from the UK Medical Education Database (UKMED). Record-linkage of declared disability status and other data in UKMED has permitted more detailed investigation into disability than has previously been possible.

Key findings:

All medical students who started at a UK medical school between 2002 and 2018 were included in the study. It found that the most commonly declared disability was what HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) calls 'a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD'. Declaration of SLD increased almost threefold during that time. The study also found that:

  • First year medical students were less likely to declare SLD if they were younger, female, from a non-white ethnic background, or school-leavers.
  • Attendance at a fee-paying school predicted recording of SLD in first year, but socio-economic class, and parental higher education did not.
  • 43% of first year students who declared SLD during medical school had not sat the UKCAT Special Educational Needs (UKCATSEN) aptitude test which gives extra time for those with special educational needs. This discrepancy raises the possibility of under-identification of SLD by secondary schools/further education colleges.
  • 28% of registrants who declared SLD as medical students did not declare it at GMC registration. The transition from medical student to junior doctor marks a critical career point, and the uncertainty associated with the change in role may precipitate different declaring behaviour.
  • The substantial increase in declaration of SLD during the study period suggests that it may act as a ‘bellwether’ for disability declaration.

Academic performance impact:

A key finding from the study was that, despite small differences in academic performance outcomes, medical students who declare SLD at any point are just as likely to complete the course successfully as those who do not. Those who declared SLD from first year were less likely to have problems with academic progression than those who declared it subsequently (often in response to academic failure), raising the possibility that early identification of SLD by medical schools might ensure a smoother path to graduation.

Dr Michael Murphy, Director of Admissions at the University of Dundee School of Medicine, said:

“There may be a misconception among medical students that declaring a disability will somehow reduce your chances of graduating as a doctor. Our study findings should reassure people that this is not the case. The increasing numbers who declare disability early in the course suggests that medical students are less afraid to do so, and understand the value of receiving support and adjustment.

“It is clear that some groups are less likely to declare disability than others, and medical schools should work together to see how these students can be made to feel more comfortable about declaring. In particular, efforts should be made to ensure that clear information is provided about the support provided for those who declare disability - before, during and after medical school.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, Chair of the UKMED Advisory Board, said:

“It is reassuring to see that UKMED data has found that declaring a specific learning disability does not make it any less likely that a student will graduate as a doctor. This is a powerful message, and should help to ensure that medical students and applicants are aware of the importance of declaring disabilities to ensure they are able to access appropriate support.

“The aim of the UKMED collaboration is to inform the development of medical education and training, We hope that this is the first of many studies that can help medical and postgraduate schools understand and improve the experiences of students with disabilities.”

Read the study: Factors associated with declaration of disability in medical students and junior doctors, and the association of declared disability with academic performance: observational study using data from the UK Medical Education Database, 2002–2018 (UKMED54)


Notes to editors:

  1. UKMED is a partnership between data providers from across the education and health sectors. The data collated through UKMED are provided by:

    -The Higher Education Statistics Agency
    -UK Clinical Aptitude Test
    -Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admissions Test
    -General Medical Council
    -UK Foundation Programme Office
    -Postgraduate Deaneries and Local Education and Training Boards
    -UK National Recruitment Offices

    By linking these data, it is possible to create a large-scale, long-term body of information, in a database. Researchers make proposals to gain access to specific data from the database, with all proposals subject to a formal evaluation procedure based on a set of published criteria.

    The scope of the research that can be undertaken through UKMED is potentially broad, ranging from analyses of selection tests in predicting future performance, to studying how socioeconomic background might affect an applicant’s chance of acceptance to medicine and progression through their career. Understanding individuals’ performance at different points during their study and medical career is helpful to understanding the factors that make doctors more or less likely to progress and succeed within the training pathways.

  2. The study described included all students starting at a UK medical school between 2002 and 2018 (n = 135,930). Declared disability was self-reported to medical schools using categories defined by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which embraces both physical and non-physical disabilities, including a ‘specific learning disability such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD’.                                                                                                                   
  3. For more information on this press release, please contact Flora Meadmore, Communications Officer, on 020 7419 5427 or email


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