Issues relating to the admission of disabled applicants to UK medical, dental and veterinary schools.
Pushing the Boat Out was published in March 2003 as a result of an LTSN-01 funded miniproject carried out between November 2002 and January 2003. The report had a considerable impact, leading LTSN-01 to commission a follow up study from September to December 2003.
The second report, entitled The Sequel, is due for publication in Spring 2004. This article explains the links between the two reports and highlights some of the key findings.
The report Pushing the Boat Out crossed the three subject areas of medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine. The aim was to examine the levels of information offered by the websites of the UK medical, dental and veterinary schools for applicants with disabilities. As the focus was on students wanting to qualify as doctors, dentists or veterinary surgeons, the report also assessed the relevant requirements of the registration or professional bodies.
There was one central question. Did the websites make it clear that the nature of a registerable degree - with the intrinsic link with the legal ability to treat patients - currently has an automatic and sometimes significant impact upon whether a particular student is considered fit to enter the course and subsequently to practise in the profession?
The report explored a range of issues which arose from the scrutiny of websites and policy documents. These ranged from an in-depth analysis of the concept of fitness to practise to technical issues relating to how easily information could be accessed from websites.
Pushing the Boat Out had two print runs, with a total print distribution of 2,000 copies. These were distributed to the deans and a range of other staff in medical, dental and veterinary schools.
The report was also sent to the main professional bodies and other relevant organisations in the health and education sectors as well as to the main disability organisations.
Copies were sent to individuals and organisations across the world, based on contacts already established by LTSN-01 and the report's author. The report was also made available online on the LTSN-01 website and this continues to be accessed. The confidence that the appropriate audiences had been circulated was almost instantly rewarded by the responses that began to pour in to both LTSN-01 and the author.
The report had clearly come as a considerable shock to people in some institutions. Having previously paid little attention to websites including that of their own institution, they were anxious to remedy this. There was a flurry of activity, which provided the backdrop for the other types of responses which were received. Such responses demonstrated that if Pushing the Boat Out had achieved anything at all, it was to provoke widespread debate. It was in order to further this debate that The Sequel report was commissioned.
Many staff and institutions were keen for issues to be further explored so that they could ensure that policies and procedures would offer the best possible guarantee that aspiring doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons who happen to have a physical or mental disability would be fit to practise within these professions.
Although the overall reaction to Pushing the Boat Out was positive, it must be said that there was also a negative reaction. This has been more difficult to quantify because negative views were often not expressed directly. The author did receive feedback, however, through other channels. One of the issues that The Sequel explores is the causes and the characteristics of such negative reactions.
This is not a question of insisting that people must share the same views but of expecting educated people to be willing to continue to be educated. Negativity is frequently based on ignorance, an idea that will be developed in The Sequel. Part of the preparatory work for the second report involved carrying out a further scrutiny of the websites. The Sequel will reveal the findings of the second scrutiny
One fundamental question lay behind the follow up scrutiny: Have medical, dental and veterinary schools made any improvements in the information provided for applicants who have a disability? Although Pushing the Boat Out contained quotations from some websites, institutions were not named. In The Sequel, however, named examples will be provided of institutions whose websites provide comprehensive information for a disabled applicant as well as for disabled students already enrolled within the schools.
Whatever the eventual outcome of the second report and the reactions it provokes, one detail remains outstandingly clear. All the UK medical, dental and veterinary schools have been given not one but two opportunities to confront the issue of disabled applicants. Most rose to the challenge on the first occasion and it is to be expected that their colleagues will now join them. If they do, the UK will lead the world in considering disabled applicants for a career in healthcare.
Pushing The Boat Out can be downloaded from: http://www.medev.ac.uk/resources/features/pushing_the_boat_out
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