Blind Physicians in Current Practice
Stanley K. Yarnell, MD
Optic neuritis rendered Stanley Yarnell blind in his left eye at age 21, but the visual disability didn't impede his academic progress. One year later he graduated cum laude with a degree in microbiology from Ohio State University, and then went on to graduate from OSU medical school and become a board certified specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Although he has since lost the majority of vision in his right eye as well, Dr. Yarnell is today the medical director of rehabilitation medicine services at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco, California. He is affiliated with numerous medical organizations and has served as president of the California Society of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Dr. Yarnell enjoys many honors, including the Jose Montero Excellence in Teaching Award from Stanford University, and Health Care Professional of the Year, awarded by the President of the United States for the President's Committee for Employment of People with Disabilities in 1990.
Despite his achievements, Dr. Yarnell says he has faced stereotyping and prejudice from some of his fellow physicians. "We have the 'doctor-as-deity' problem," he said. "There is a common misperception that we have to be all things to all people, and that anyone who falls short of perfection is somehow incomplete."
David W. Hartman, MD
Blind since the age of eight, Dr. David W. Hartman's efforts to overcome prejudice and misunderstanding and become a practicing psychiatrist were recreated in the two-hour television movie, "Journey from Darkness." He has also co-authored a book about his experiences, titled "White Coat, White Cane."
"What it took to get me through - into medical school as well as out of it - was not genius but 16 grinding hours a day to review on tape, or finger in Braille what sighted students could study in eight or ten," wrote the graduate of Temple University Medical School. "Saying that I "must be brilliant," saying that I am an exception, perpetuates the assumption that blind people are - and ought to be - helpless, hopeless, and pitiable, and incapable of higher training, such as medical school. That assumption is so deeply ingrained that it's coaxed blind people indeed to conform as helpless, hopeless, and self-pitying. A blind person who qualifies should not have to prove he or she is a genius to be given an opportunity for higher training."
Stanley Wainapel, MD
Choroideremia progressively narrowed Stanley Wainapel's visual field, leaving him blind at the age of eight. Nevertheless, he later completed undergraduate studies and medical school within six years at Boston University, and later returned to earn his Master's degree in public health.
Currently, Dr. Wainapel serves as Clinical Director of the Montefiore Medical Center's department of rehabilitation medicine in New York City's Bronx borough. He teaches medical students, both as an assistant clinical instructor with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and as an associate professor with Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. He has presented numerous papers and has published 45 Articles through 1999. In addition, Dr. Wainapel is an active clinician and certified Acupuncturist, seeing as many as 150 patients per month.
Dr. Wainapel professes difficulty comprehending the skepticism some have toward Educating blind physicians. "What's the first thing you do when listening to a very Soft heart murmur?" he asks. "You close your eyes."
Iliff C. Jeffery, DO
Iliff C. Jeffery, DO of Provo, Utah lost his vision in two separate accidents when he was six. He recalls the words of the man who encouraged him to become an osteopathic physician:
"He said: 'You have one thing that you can't get away from, and that's the fact that you can't see. So the important thing is that whatever you do, be the best you can be. If you're good, someone may not be able to remember your name or your address, but they'll say, "Go to Provo and ask for the doctor who's blind, and there will be no question as to who they're talking about. Many companies pay a lot of money to be recognized for their blue sign or their flying horse of what have you. You've got a marketing tool built in.' "
That advice was given more than 60 years ago. Dr. Jeffery graduated from Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (KCOM) in 1944 (only one textbook was available in Braille at the time), and has enjoyed a successful primary care practice for 56 years now. "I've had a wide variety of patients whom I've helped with manipulative care," he says, "And I'm sorry to say that many new graduates don't do manipulation. I believe that doctors who don't use their manipulative skills are depriving their patients of one of the finest modalities available to them as osteopathic physicians."
Dr. Jeffery has served as a preceptor for KCOM and WesternU's College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific.