Students must meet the legitimate technical standards of a medical school’s clinical program –
McCuley v. The University of Kansas School of Medicine
No. 2:12-CV-02587-JTM (D.Kan. 2014)
A student who has Type III spinal muscular atrophy was admitted to the medical school. The primary manifestations of her disability were that she used a wheelchair for mobility and had limited arm strength. As a part of the accommodation process, the student and her physician were presented a list of physical requirements for participation in the clinical program. Based upon those requirements, her physician identified the following accommodations as being necessary: "… she would need a staff person to assist her with lifting and positioning patients, stabilizing elderly patients, and performing basic life support."
The Medical School's clinical faculty concluded, following a review of the requested accommodations, that the student would not meet the School's technical standards. Of particular concern was the program's Motor Technical standard which requires, in pertinent part, that students"… be physically able to carry out diagnostic procedures and provide general care and emergency treatment to patients, including CPR, opening obstructed airways, and obstetrical maneuvers." The student's admission was rescinded because it was felt that she could not satisfy the Motor Technical standard.
The Court of Appeals, in this case, reiterated its earlier position that "compelling an educational institution to change its requirements for advancement through its medical school program would represent a substantial, rather than a reasonable accommodation, because it would fundamentally alter the nature of the educational services and programs it provides." See Cunningham v. University of N.M. Bd. Of Regents, 531 F.App'x 909, 920 (10th Cir. 2013). The court agreed with medical school administrators that permitting a staff person to be a surrogate for the student for purposes of lifting patients, administering basic life support and performing other tasks would result in the student being little more than an observer in the educational process. The court specifically concluded that this would fundamentally alter the nature of the student's medical education that was intended to train her to engage with patients often in emergency situations where assistance would be unavailable.
The court noted that the fact that the student did not intend to pursue a physically demanding medical specialty did not excuse her from meeting the medical school's technical standards. The court further noted, in this regard, that medical schools have the right to use a broad medical curriculum that prepares students to serve as physicians in a wide range of practice areas. The court also remarked that the clinical procedures that the student sought to have staff members perform on her behalf were required elements of the United States Medical Licensure Examination.