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An Innovative Clerkship Module Focused on Patients With Disabilities

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older adults, health, quality of life, age-related changes, autism


Lack of medical training results in physicians being unprepared to provide care to people with disabilities, which, in turn, contributes to the substantial
health disparities that are evident in this population. Few medical schools or primary care residencies address the care of adults with disabilities. Competencies and guidelines to assist American physicians in caring for patients with physical or intellectual disabilities have yet to be established, thus making educational goals unclear. This article describes one novel training module regarding people with disabilities that was developed at the University of South Florida Health, Morsani College of Medicine (USF) and inserted into the primary care clerkship during a major curriculum redesign in 2005. Since then, all USF third-year medical students have been required to participate in this disability-related course component. The authors describe the module’s development and integration into the primary care clerkship, as well as the specific elements of their curriculum. By using a variety of teaching modalities in the classroom and community, and especially by involving people with disabilities themselves, the medical students have a very comprehensive learning experience regarding people who have physical, sensory, or intellectual disabilities. The authors have been able to show that USF medical students, on completion of this module, demonstrate improved knowledge, attitudes, and comfort in caring for people with disabilities, which the authors believe will lead to improved health and health care access for this underserved population. Suggestions for program replication, including common challenges, are also discussed.


Elizabeth A. Perkins and Karen A. Berkman (2012) Into the Unknown: Aging with Autism Spectrum Disorders. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: November 2012, Vol. 117, No. 6, pp. 478-496.

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