Being a Medical Student With Dyslexia

Some readers may be surprised to hear that I am dyslexic. That may be a shock for a number of reasons and probably raises some questions. Why would someone with dyslexia start writing a blog (and publish more than 30,000 words of blog posts)? Can you be a dyslexic doctor? How do you manage medical schools exams and essays?

I’d love to know more about other students’ experiences of dyslexia at university. Please do get in touch if you would like to share your story with me or other readers.

A little about dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects approximately 10% of the global population. Primarily it affects skills involved in the accurate understanding, reading, spelling and writing of words. However, dyslexia does not only impact these skills. It can impact information processing, including memory and organisation. This could be written, heard or remembered information. Dyslexia does not need to be seen negatively. Different doesn’t mean worse.

There can be many positives to thinking differently, which many dyslexic people will attest to. It can lead to strengths in creativity, reasoning and problem solving. Dyslexia occurs across a full range of intellectual abilities, and does not affect an individual’s IQ. I would really encourage anyone reading to learn more about dyslexia. I recommend the British Dyslexia Association, Dyslexia Support in Medical Training (GMC),

Dyslexia in medicine

There are many famous doctors with dyslexia, past and present. However, there is a clear disparity in medical education between the number of medical students with dyslexia and the prevalence in the general population. While 10% of the global population is likely to have dyslexia, only between 2 and 5% of medical students do. This is likely due to the difficulties faced by dyslexic students during their primary and secondary education leading to difficulties in achieving the required grades for medical school, coupled with a lack of understanding and exceptions from medical schools.

This is, however, higher than the average for all higher education courses. Some have suggested that those with dyslexia and a high intelligence or academic ability are able to develop ‘coping mechanisms’ to compensate for any differences during their secondary education.

These compensated dyslexics “clearly developed effective mechanisms for study” before arriving in university, meaning that they have found ways to use their different skill sets to perform well in education.

How did you know you were dyslexic?

As a kid I really struggled with reading and writing. There were whole terms at secondary school where the only thing written in my workbooks was the date and learning objectives. I managed to still do well in exams though, as I understood the concepts taught to us. My handwriting and spelling have always been awful too. I think I was lucky enough to subconsciously develop coping strategies from quite a young age, which served me well until A Level. This was the first time it felt like I was struggling with academic assessment.

I excelled in Maths from a young age, so had already achieved an A in A Level Maths in year 11. In year 12 I took Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Further Maths. When it came round to opening our AS results at the end of the year I was expecting 4 A’s, but was greeted with an A, a B and two D’s. Biology and Chemistry, which had involved a large amount of coursework and written answers in exams, had screwed me! I did start to think about dyslexia, and attempted to get a consultation with the educational psychologist at the school. However, I was told that I couldn’t be dyslexic because my grades were too good at GCSE. A common misconception, that people with dyslexia must suck at academia and exams, but not a belief that should be held by a professional employed to help students!

Being dyslexic doesn’t have to mean you get bad grades.

I worked incredibly hard in year 13, coming up with new learning techniques and ways to MAKE myself work, and managed to leave college with AABBB. When I started at university, following my gap year, I made sure to request an assessment straight away. The disability serves at King’s conducted an assessment and concluded that, in fact, I do have dyslexia. I also have a condition commonly paired with dyslexia (but not always) called Meares Irlen syndrome, which leads to visual stress particularly from reading. Suddenly the frequent debilitating migraines of my childhood made sense!

Little old dyslexic me. Here I'm wearing my 'Dyslexia Glasses' which are actually to help with Meares Irlen syndrome.
Little old dyslexic me. Here I’m wearing my ‘Dyslexia Glasses’ which are actually to help with Meares Irlen syndrome. They help me to read for longer periods of time without straining my eyes, avoiding migraines and increasing my reading accuracy too. I had a long appointment at the institute of optometry to find the exact colour combination for my glasses.

How do you manage medical schools exams and essays?

Dyslexia, as a specific learning difficulty, qualifies me for extra time in timed written exams. At King’s the vast majority of assessments for medical students are Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs). These have been shown to be a fair way to assess both neurotypical and neurodivergent students when the additional time is granted. Coursework can be a challenge. It often involves a large amount of reading and writing. However, I have found ways to cope with this and actually received an award for the highest grade on the course for my dissertation last year.

Writing essays is a whole topic in and of itself. I have found these tips to be really helpful though: Split your reading across multiple platforms to minimise strain (such as your phone, your laptop, paper printouts); Take regular breaks to avoid burnout; Work out if you are able to listen to music with/without lyrics while working (I’ve found I can read well with deep house or trance on, but find it very hard with music with lyrics); Set realistic goals; Keep our references organised from the beginning (you will need to go back and read things multiple times.

Can you be a dyslexic doctor?

Absolutely! I hope that I have managed to dispel the myth that doctors with dyslexia are any less intelligent than neurotypical doctors. The UK’s Equality Acts sets out that employers must make reasonable adjustments for people with dyslexia, such as assistive technology and space in which to use it. There is absolutely no reason that the same techniques dyslexic students use to tackle their workload can’t be used by dyslexic doctors. There is no danger to patients.

How have you managed to write so much blog content?

Aha! this may be the reason any dyslexic readers have stayed with this article so long! I have just two tips here:

Write about something that interests you.

Every single one of the posts I have written on this site has been started because it was something I wanted to write. I find that if I am actively engaged with the content I am reading or writing then I am way less likely to struggle with the task. The same is true for essays. Choose a topic (where possible) that really interests you and you will write something great. Choose something that you aren’t that bothered about and it will show! My essay on the inner workings and quality assurance in Gamma Camera’s from last year will account to that (yawn)

Just get words on the page. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation or your dyslexic train of thought going off on tangents.

The hardest part for me about writing under timed conditions or by hand is that there is little possibility of going back, and so I hold back. I have really found while writing this blog that the best thing for my writing is just to write. All of my posts are composed on Notion first. All of the formatting carries over to WordPress when I publish the posts. I just sit down and write until I’m bored. It’s great! I don’t bother to read over what I’ve written until I’m done.

I can come back and use the spell check tools to correct my spelling and think about the order of my ideas. Does it make sense to someone not inside my head? Does the beginning make any sense or does it rely on the information at the end? The great thing about Notion is that each paragraph exists as its own entity and can be dragged and dropped anywhere else. This really helps me with reorganising my prose to make sense to the other 90% of the population!

I choose not to use a grammar correction or writing platform like Grammarly because I don’t want to entirely lose my perspective or thought progression from my writing. These blog posts are my thoughts, and so , however illogical, they should somewhat follow that pattern!

Enjoying my dyslexic ramblings? It would mean so much to me if you shared the website with a few friends!

Remember you can always get in touch with me via the Contact Page or by leaving a comment below!

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1 Comment

  1. This was really interesting, thank you for writing it! Lots of what you wrote is familiar from when my partner, who is also dyslexic, was doing his degree. A very positive example of how dyslexia needn’t stop anyone from excelling academically.

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