The impacts of dyslexia and dyspraxia on medical education

  • Sebastian Charles Keith Shaw

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Dyslexia and dyspraxia are categorised as specific learning difficulties (SpLDs). Dyslexia impacts upon reading and writing. Dyspraxia is concerned more with hand-eye coordination. However, each of these conditions carries a variety of strengths and weaknesses. Universities and employers in the United Kingdom are required by law to make reasonable adjustments for these individuals. I was diagnosed with dyslexia at medical school. This diagnosis led to both a sense of realisation and also a variety of negative emotions. Literature searches revealed no published research on the experiences of dyslexic medical students or doctors at the time. Some studies of nursing students revealed issues with stigma and discrimination. They also explored coping strategies in clinical settings. No such pre-existing data were available concerning dyspraxia. This series of research aimed to explore the impacts of dyslexia and dyspraxia on medical education, with a particular focus on experience. The following publications are included: • Shaw SCK, Malik M, Anderson JL. The exam performance of medical students with dyslexia: a review of the literature. MedEdPublish. 2017;6(3):2. • Shaw SCK, Anderson JL, Grant AJ. Studying medicine with dyslexia: a collaborative autoethnography. The Qualitative Report. 2016;21(11):2036-54. • Shaw SCK, Anderson JL. The experiences of medical students with dyslexia: an interpretive phenomenological study. Dyslexia. 2018;24(3):220-33. • Anderson JL, Shaw SCK. The experiences of medical students and junior doctors with dyslexia: a survey study. International Journal of Social Sciences & Educational Studies. 2020;7(1):62-71. • Hennessy LR, Shaw SCK, Anderson JL. Medical students’ attitudes towards and beliefs about dyslexia: a single-centre survey study. International Journal of Social Sciences & Educational Studies. 2020;7(4):69-79. • Walker ER, Shaw SCK, Price J, Reed M, Anderson JL. Dyspraxia in clinical education: a review. The Clinical Teacher. 2018;15(2):98-103. • Walker ER, Shaw SCK, Anderson JL. Dyspraxia in medical education: a collaborative autoethnography. The Qualitative Report. 2020;25(11):4072-93. • Walker E, Shaw SCK, Reed M, Anderson JL. The experiences of foundation doctors with dyspraxia: a phenomenological study. Advances in Health Sciences Education: Theory and Practice. 2021. Online ahead of print. Methods This research adopted a mixture of approaches, comprising two literature reviews, two autoethnographies, two interpretive phenomenological studies and two survey studies. Data collection methods included literature searches, autobiographical accounts, interviews and online surveys. Data were subsequently analysed using thematic analyses, descriptive statistics and inferential statistics where appropriate. Results A variety of findings emerged across the included works. With reasonable adjustments in place, dyslexic medical students performed as well as their peers in exams. However, being dyslexic or dyspraxic came with an emotional burden. The medical school ranking system and the competitive environment were particularly challenging. Dyslexic medical students encountered bullying and feelings of isolation. This inhibited disclosure. Both dyslexic and dyspraxic medical students / doctors felt that stigma existed concerning their labels. Both developed a variety of personal coping strategies and reported subsequent strengths in other areas. Interestingly, the majority of dyslexic doctors were diagnosed at or since medical school. High proportions reported feelings of stupidity, inadequacy, anxiety and shame as both students and doctors. Furthermore, a minority of non-dyslexic students confirmed negative attitudes towards dyslexia – seemingly stemming from jealousy of supports. Conclusions The inspiration for this series of research was grounded in my own experiences as a dyslexic medical student and those of a dyspraxic colleague. The included studies advanced knowledge in a variety of ways. For example, the confirmation that, in a small number of cases, non-dyslexic medical students did seem to hold negative views regarding their dyslexic peers. These studies have also paved the way for future areas of research, some of which are highlighted in the critical appraisal.
    Date of AwardAug 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton

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