Medical students' perceptions and understanding of their specific learning difficulties

Angela Rowlands1, Stephen Abbott2, Grazia Bevere3 and Christopher M. Roberts1

1Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, UK

2School of Health Sciences, City University, London, UK

3Dyslexia and Disability Department, Queen Mary University of London, UK

Submitted: 10/05/2013; Accepted: 05/10/2013; Published: 20/10/2013

Int J Med Educ. 2013; 4:200-206; doi: 10.5116/ijme.524f.cd3f

© 2013 Angela Rowlands et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use of work provided the original work is properly cited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to explore how medical students with Specific Learning Difficulties perceive and understand their Specific Learning Difficulty and how it has impacted on their experience of medical training.

Methods: A purposive sample of fifteen students from one medical school was interviewed. Framework Analysis was used to identify and organise themes emerging from the data. An interpretation of the data was made capturing the essence of what had been learned. The concept of 'reframing' was then used to re-analyse and organise the data.

Results: Students reported having found ways to cope with their Specific Leaning Difficulty in the past, some of which proved inadequate to deal with the pressures of medical school. Diagnosis was a mixed experience: many felt relieved to understand their difficulties better, but some feared discrimination. Practical support was available in university but not in placement. Students focused on the impact of their Specific Learning Difficulty on their ability to pass undergraduate exams. Most did not contemplate difficulties post-qualification.

Conclusions: The rigours of the undergraduate medical course may reveal undisclosed Specific Learning Difficulties. Students need help to cope with such challenges, psychologically and practically in both classroom and clinical practice. University services for students with Specific Learning Difficulties should become familiar with the challenges of clinical placements, and ensure that academic staff has access to information about the needs of these students and how these can be met.