Aspiring Doctor with CP Galvanizes Support for Alternative Paths to Med School

By Jerusha Mather

My name is Jerusha Mather. I was born in Sri Lanka in December 1994. Because of my diagnosis of athetoid cerebral palsy, the doctors gave my parents little hope that I wouldn't be able to walk or talk. My parents decided to move to Australia when I was just two years old where I received therapy and, despite the initial prognosis, I did learn to walk, talk and so much more, beating the odds at every level. I am determined to become a doctor, despite steep barriers for people with disabilities to enter medical school. I hope that when you hear my story, you will be encouraged lend your voice to me and others like me who want to make a difference.

Jerusha Mather

Doctors with Disabilities are Assets to the Profession

I finished high school with remarkable achievements. I went on to successfully complete my undergraduate in biomedical sciences followed by my honours year. I excelled both academically and socially. As I pursue my PhD studies, I am looking at strength training and transcranial direct stimulation and how we can use it to treat adults with spastic cerebral palsy.

In my years of life, I have undertaken a lot of leadership and extracurricular activities that has made a positive difference in the community. I have also travelled to a lot of countries and had some great experiences. I also volunteered my time at hospitals, not-for-profits and institutions which I enjoyed.

I have always wanted to study medicine in order to accomplish my goal of becoming a medical doctor but in Australia, there are significant barriers that make it incredibly difficult for students with a disability to gain admission into medicine. These barriers come from the culture. For example, students have to complete a written and timed test and the inflexibility of the administration and format of the test puts someone with a physical disability at a great disadvantage. There are also multiple mini interviews in which student interviewees could be discriminated against because of preconceived bias or false judgement. 

Jerusha Mather as doctor

Why I chose to pursue a career in medicine? It is because I loved biology in high school and university and I have an endearing passion for social justice and people. I also think that my life experiences will make me the most human doctor and will inform my practice. I hope my future patients feel more comfortable and secure in my presence. 

This should not be a problem in Australia because the medical board has previously registered physicians with physical impairments. They found meaningful employment and are great doctors. However, most of these physicians became physically impaired while in medical school.

There is also a discriminative policy document in Australia formed by the Medical Deans (an organisation) called the inherent requirements document that could discriminate students attempting to study medicine. This document lists physical and sensory attributes that they think a person must have in order to complete the course. However, this is deceiving information because there are many specialties a person with a disability could work in. Thus, a person with a disability would find a specialty that aligns with their ability and strengths. And with support, I bet they will also be able to successfully complete their internship. It is important that hospitals and medical clinics have available a disability-friendly environment, adaptive technology and accessible medical equipment. 

Jerusha Mather facing medical school

I think the first and crucial step is for medical schools to open their doors and provide alternative pathways for students with disabilities, similar to those currently offered to indigenous students. Most medical schools accept indigenous students without a GAMSAT score and have a standard one on one interview. The Australian Medical Council standards states that medical schools can create access schemes and pathways for disadvantaged groups. Why then can they not create doors of opportunity for students with disability to become doctors? This responsibility lies with them as they have been given the power to take a chance on someone and see through them. 

Doctors with a disability have a distinct quality of empathy. They are true assets to the medical profession. Their compassion and life experiences should be valued and appreciated. They should be given the opportunity to demonstrate their potential and strength. 

Please sign my petition here to make medicine more accessible.

Together, let us create positive change. 

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