Making Space for Disability Studies within a Structurally Competent Medical Curriculum: Reflections on Long Covid

Article Summary by Joanne Hunt

This article makes a case for integrating knowledge and tools from the discipline of disability studies into undergraduate medical school curricula, with a view to encouraging critically informed, structurally competent medical education and practice. Here, ‘structural competency’ refers to the recognition that both health and healthcare are influenced by social and institutional (structural) factors including organisational and national policies, legislation, dominant social discourse and political ideologies. The term ‘critically informed’ emphasises the role of power relations and their impact upon health and healthcare provision as an important site of inquiry, and assumes an explicit commitment to social change.

Long Covid is considered throughout the article as a topical exemplar of how such integration might work in theory and practice. Literature on the healthcare experiences of people with long Covid also highlights how clinical understanding of the lived experience of chronic illness and disability can be augmented through a partnership between medicine and disability studies.

Given the socio-political climate into which long Covid has emerged, development of a structurally competent approach to undergraduate medical education is recommended as a matter of urgency, not least to prevent long Covid inheriting the exclusionary landscapes long traversed by historically marginalised patient groups. This recommendation is supported by the observation that dominant explanatory frameworks in clinical training and practice – the medical model and biopsychosocial model – fail to demonstrate structural competency. Equally, whilst long Covid serves as the central consideration in the article, points raised are relevant to all chronic illness, especially those positioned as ‘contested’, socially and clinically marginalised, or otherwise poorly served.

Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.


Joanne Hunt is an independent disabled researcher with a background in psychological therapies across various settings, including the UK National Health Service. Her research interests centre on the (bio)politics of ‘contested’ chronic illness and disability with a focus on critical theory, notably at the intersection of disability studies and critical psychology. Particular topics of interest include the politics of knowledge production and epistemic injustice, intersectional oppression and resistance, and politically cognisant approaches to healthcare.

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