For Priya Chandan, MD, MPH, creating an inclusive world for individuals with intellectual disability is a life mission. Inspired by her older brother, who has Down syndrome, Chandan is leading efforts to ensure all health care professionals are trained to treat adults with intellectual disabilities.
The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) has presented Chandan the Distinguished Public Service Award at the organization’s annual assembly in San Antonio, Texas. Chandan, assistant professor in the University of Louisville’s Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) and the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, was selected thanks to her efforts at ensuring inclusive health through innovations in medical education and her work with Special Olympics.
In a ceremony last month, Chandan received the award, established to honor individuals who, in the course of public service activities, have significantly contributed to the growth and development of services that directly impact the specialty of PM&R. Previous winners of the award include Michelle Obama, Judith E. Heumann, an international disability rights activist, and numerous members of Congress.
Chandan is committed to inclusive health, the intentional inclusion of all people, including people with intellectual disabilities, in mainstream health services, training programs, research, funding streams, policies and laws.
“Intentional inclusion of people with disabilities in the spaces physicians occupy — clinical, research and teaching environments — is critical for repairing trust with marginalized communities, including the one-in-four American adults with a disability,” Chandan said. “Historically, medicine has been part of the problem, which means we have a responsibility to be part of the solution moving forward by engaging in advocacy efforts together with the patients we serve.”
Chandan’s personal experience with her brother has given her a personal understanding of the need for physicians who can provide equitable care for people with ID. She led AAPM&R’s Inclusive Health Innovation grant from the Special Olympics, which involved policy, education and advocacy activities, including the creation of an AAPM&R Intellectual Disability Member Community.
“Dr. Chandan is taking her personal experience and has turned it into a passion that she uses every day in her career,” said Darryl Kaelin, MD, chief of the UofL Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “She is making better care for individuals with intellectual disability a local and national goal. She represents the University of Louisville well.”
Chandan directs the National Curriculum Initiative in Developmental Medicine, a partnership between Special Olympics International and the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry to ensure future physicians receive training to care for individuals with ID across their lifespan. For this program, she oversees inclusive medical education efforts at 18 medical schools nationwide and led UofL’s participation in the program, partnering with Special Olympics Kentucky and Lee Specialty Clinic.
Chandan also received funding from WITH Foundation to further develop medical education in the form of a standardized patient experience for PM&R residents using actors from Down Syndrome of Louisville.
Chandan is involved in Special Olympics International’s Inclusive Health movement, where she serves as a content expert for the Center for Inclusive Health, an online resource for health care providers and other audiences for ways to intentionally include people with intellectual disability in mainstream health care services, training programs and research. She also is a global clinical advisor for MedFest, the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program that provides free pre-participation sports physical exams to athletes with ID. She has engaged residents and faculty in MedFest efforts in Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky.
Chandan was a member of the 2018-19 cohort of the faculty leadership program at UofL, Leadership and Innovation in Academic Medicine (LIAM). As part of the year-long leadership curriculum, she and her group colleagues piloted interactive, online topic tournaments to increase active, self-directed learning opportunities in the medical school curriculum.