EDI in Action: FIU Improving Access for Patients with Disabilities

Susan Solman, DPM, RPh, was 39 when she became paralyzed due to a spinal cord tumor. She soon learned how the healthcare industry is failing patients with disabilities.

Since that time Solman has not gotten a full physical exam on an examination table, has not been weighed at her primary care physician’s office, and has been denied echocardiographs, ultrasounds, and other diagnostic tests. Solman posits that such healthcare disparities exist for two main reasons: a lack of accessible medical and diagnostic equipment and a lack of medical education about people with disabilities.

With this in mind, after a long career in the medical field, Solman decided to continue her research and begin teaching at Florida International University’s PA program.

Solman began with an hour-long presentation on healthcare disparities for patients with paralysis. She brought in individuals with lived experiences that encapsulated the key issues that were most relevant to the medical community. These individuals spoke about illnesses that went undiagnosed because they were unable to get on exam tables or how they were given incorrect doses of medicines because the were unable to be weighed.

These stories foster an emotional connection that result in PA students feeling more comfortable treating and advocating for their patients with disabilities. Students reported increased confidence in communicating with patients with disabilities, in taking their history, performing examinations, and felt more prepared to identify their health concerns.

Seeing the success of these conversations, Solman expanded her work and was able to acquire height adjustable exam tables, patient transfer lifts, and accessible scales from a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Now, students at FIU’s PA program can gain hands-on experience working with real patients with disabilities on accessible equipment.

Knowing that other PA programs may not have the same access to patients with disabilities willing to share their stories or accessible equipment, Solman brings these presentations to PA programs across the country, made possible in part by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation. So far, Solman has shared her knowledge with more than 10 PA programs, medical schools, and hospitals.

Solman credits her leadership at FIU’s PA program, including Erica Radcliffe-Henry, EdD, MS, PA-C, the director of didactic education, and Richard D. Ball, DHSc, MPH, PA-C, program director, for their support of this work and their understanding of its necessity. Solman believes that there is an opportunity for PAs to transform healthcare by leading the charge on providing equitable and accessible care for people with disabilities to end these disparities for all. If you are interested in learning more from Solman and bringing this presentation to your program, please contact her at