Prevalence of Physicians with Disabilities in the U.S.

Among those surveyed, 3.1% self-identified as having a disability.

New data shed light on the characteristics of physicians with disabilities in the U.S.

The findings may have important implications for physicians at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. Research examining harassment, discrimination, and bias is needed to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces and to support retention in healthcare.

Lisa Meeks, Ph.D., and colleagues conducted a survey study that represented the first report of the prevalence and characteristics of practicing physicians with disabilities using data form the Association of American Medical Colleges 2019 National Sample Survey of Physicians. The National Sample Survey of Physicians included data from 6,000 practicing physician members of a healthcare professional panel. Physicians used the survey to self-disclose their disabilities from a list of eight possible disability categories using the Americans With Disabilities Act definition. Participants self-identified race/ethnicity, their gender assigned at birth, and their current gender identity. Survey respondents could select all responses that applied for each category. The physicians were asked about their practice characteristics, including employment arrangement, work location, specialty, and use of telehealth services.

Among the 6,000 physicians, 3.1% self-identified as having a disability (95% CI, 2.6-3.5). The sample included 62.8% men, 34.3% women, and .3% transgender, genderqueer, or other. The mean age was 53 years old. The predominant races/ethnicities were White (69.1%), Asian (22.5%), and Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish origin (3.7%).

The most common reported disability category was chronic health conditions (30.1%; 95% CI, 23.3-36.9), followed by mobility (28.4%; 95% CI, 21.7-35.1), psychological (14.2%; 95% CI, 9-19.4), other disabilities like essential tremors (13.4%; 95% CI, 8.3-18.4), hearing (12.1%; 95% CI, 7.3-17), adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (10.4%; 95% CI, 5.9-14.9), visual (7.8%; 95% CI, 3.8-11.8), and learning (2.6%; 95% CI, .2-4.9). Of the respondents, 15.7% reported multiple disabilities (95% CI, 10.3-21.1).

Those with disabilities were significantly older than those without disabilities (mean age, 54.8 vs 52.5 years old). Among those with disabilities, 9.2%identified as members of a racial or ethnic group underrepresented in medicine and 14.7% served on active military duty.

In a comparison to the physicians without disabilities, higher percentages of those with disabilities reported working in medical schools (8.1% vs 4.3%), in nonteaching hospitals (10% vs 6.5%), and locum tenens (5% vs 1.3%). The differences were not statistically significant. Physicians with disabilities also worked fewer hours per week on average (43.2 vs 47.1 hours per week; P=.001) but had more on-call days (1 vs .6 days per week; P <.001) and were significantly more likely to work in rural areas (17.3% vs 11%; P=.008).

The study, “Estimated Prevalence of US Physicians With Disabilities,” was published online in JAMA Network Open.