Dr. Elizabeth Lusczek Seeks Other Disability Champions in Medical School

I was born with mild cerebral palsy. As a child, I was told that as long as I faithfully did my exercises while I was young, I would have a normal life as an adult.  As it turns out, I have had more problems with cerebral palsy as I’ve aged, not fewer. And as I sought healthcare as an adult, I was met with skepticism and even defensiveness about my decrease in functionality over and over again.

You see, sophisticated and plentiful medical support exists for children with cerebral palsy that simply does not exist for adults. This is most unfortunate since my personal experience with decreasing functionality turns out to be extremely common among adults with cerebral palsy. I’ve learned to be very upfront about my credentials and career when I encounter skeptical medical providers. I find that I am universally taken more seriously afterward.

There’s a theme here that I think is a common experience of underrepresented people: the illegitimacy of our lived experience. I am privileged to have gained credentials that lend legitimacy to my experience in the eyes of the status quo. We who live outside it labor invisibly and exhaustively in order to participate fully in a white supremacist and ableist society. No human being should have to prove themselves with the highest academic credentials to gain credibility. Insidiously, this kind of respect is not extended to Black women, as the deaths of Dr. Susan Moore and Dr. Chaniece Wallace demonstrate.

I am sharing a small slice of my experience with you—something I’ve not done publicly before—because I have personally toiled in silence for many years, yet I know I cannot be alone. I am hopeful that change is possible if we join our voices together, starting with increased awareness and acceptance of the lived experience of our patients, students, and coworkers. With this letter, I seek to identify people who will specifically champion disability as part of the Medical School’s DEI efforts. Please join us in creating respectful and inclusive healthcare, learning, research, and workplace environments for people of all abilities in our medical school. 

If you're interested in engaging with myself and others in this work, reach out to the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, at ms-odei@umn.edu

Elizabeth Lusczek, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery.