Supporting students with long term medical conditions

  • Some students will have long term medical conditions that may have an impact on their studies. Many will be hidden disabilities that can cause considerable pain and fatigue, such as cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), multiple sclerosis (MS), cystic fibrosis, HIV and AIDS, asthma, heart conditions, allergies and other chronic medical conditions. Students often do not disclose their condition until it has an immediate effect on their studies. They may not regard themselves as disabled, although many of these conditions are now covered by disability discrimination legislation.

    Difficulties the student may experience

    • Irregular attendance.
    • Periods when they are unable to study.
    • Difficulty in completing work on time.
    • Fluctuating condition.
    • Deteriorating condition.
    • Concentration difficulties due to pain or side effects of medication.
    • Stamina problems. Evening classes may be particularly difficult.
    • Past medical history may have led to irregular education and gaps in knowledge.
    • Sensitivity to the environment.
    • Anxiety about disclosing condition and concerns about confidentiality.
    • Difficulty in moving around campus.

    Communication

    • Provide all students with opportunities to disclose disabilities and medical conditions or other circumstances which may affect their studies eg bereavement, pregnancy. See Handling disclosure.
    • Discuss with the student what is helpful or unhelpful for them.
    • Establish good lines of communication with the student, so that you both know what the student is doing.
    • Encourage students to keep in touch with their Personal Tutor if they have extended periods of being unable to attend university, or of hospitalisation.
    • Help the student to catch up on work they have missed by providing lecture notes, or arranging a study buddy.
    • Periodically review support arrangements and discuss additional support.

    Course delivery

    • Give students advance notice of topics to be covered.
    • Use of electronic media, including WebCT, may allow students to study even when they can’t get to the campus.
    • In lectures students may find it helpful to use notetakers or tape-recorders.
    • Allow flexible submission of work, including electronic submission.

    Coursework

    • Give students plenty of warning about forthcoming assignments.
    • You may need to be flexible about coursework deadlines if the student has been unable to complete it for a reason related to their disability.

    Field work and work placements

    • Discuss this with the student, and arrange adjustments or alternatives as necessary. Many adjustments will be to practical arrangements, such as travel and accommodation, rather than to work.
    • Offer extra rest breaks and time to take care of medical needs.
    • Students may need privacy to attend to their medical needs.

    Assessment

    • Stress may exacerbate an existing disability or medical condition, so be prepared to give extra support in preparing for exams.
    • Some students will be able to take exams, with adjustments such as rest breaks, access to medication or snacks.
    • Invigilators should be aware of students with particular medical conditions, so that they know what to do in an emergency.
    • Discuss the options available if a student is unable to take an exam. These include medical resits and MS grades. Contact the Modular Management Office for advice x3010.

    On campus

    • Students may need a room to rest in on campus.
    • Students may need privacy to attend to medical needs.
    • Students may need regular breaks to take their medication.
    • Medication may need to be stored in a secure refrigerator.
    • Diabetic students may need to eat food during class to maintain their blood sugar levels.

    Be prepared

    • Crises are rare with students with chronic medical conditions, because they are familiar with their condition, and are able to spot warning signs and take action, but occasionally in any large group there may be emergencies, so find out how to summon help.
    • Some people with hidden medical conditions wear a bracelet or necklet from the MedicAlert Foundation, which gives details of their main medical condition, an identity number and a 24 hour emergency telephone no. to access a database with crucial medical information and other details.
    • Be aware that students who wear a MedicAlert bracelet or necklet will not want to remove it for any reason eg engaging in sports.

    Further information