Chronic and ongoing medical conditions

This resource offers tips and advice if you are studying with a chronic or ongoing medical condition.

The following information is designed to support you if you are studying with a medical condition, such as:

  • arthritis
  • cancer
  • chemical sensitivity
  • chronic asthma
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • chronic pain
  • diabetes
  • epilepsy
  • glandular fever
  • lupus.

Strategies for successful study

Tertiary study is challenging and it is important to undertake a realistic study load. If you need ongoing support, you should consider discussing your needs with Student Equity and Disability Support, as we may be able to provide services to assist with your studies. You can maximise your chances of success by using the various services available to you and developing a range of study strategies.

You might find it useful to explain to others the effects of your condition and the possible impact on study. For example:

  • more difficulty completing tasks on time
  • more difficulty participating in academic and social activities
  • fluctuations in concentration and memory
  • unpredictable illness episodes resulting in reduced study time
  • low energy periods/overwhelming fatigue
  • reduced tolerance for stress
  • anxiety about losing control (fainting, epileptic episodes, chemical/food reactions)
  • adverse medication side-effects
  • reduced mobility
  • chronic and intermittent pain.

Preparing for study

There are a number of options you can consider to help you prepare for study.

  • Identify the essential components of the course that must be completed.
  • Consider how to manage challenges and address assumptions about what can and can’t be achieved.
  • Contact a Student Equity Adviser before the course begins to discuss special arrangements including alternative format requirements.
  • Organise a quiet, interruption-free study zone.
  • Explore the available adaptive technology in the library and through Student Equity and Disability Support. Investigate funding for equipment.
  • Investigate software: Endnote can simplify tasks like referencing; Dragon and other voice recognition software can help reduce fatigue associated with writing.
  • Using interlaced monitors or anti-glare screens can be beneficial.
  • Create a timetable to map out assessment tasks and exams dates as well as personal and medical requirements.
  • Get course outlines and book lists before semester begins and start any reading.
  • Start assessment tasks early to have some contingency for periods of ill-health.
  • Plan for study using SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time frame.
  • Make arrangements for any alternative assessments through a Student Equity Adviser at least five weeks before exams.
  • Know the side-effects of any medications and look at ways to overcome them.
  • If you need time off from your studies to manage your health, you must inform the University to maintain your place in the course. Check timelines for refunds or deferral, or request ‘Leave of Absence’ until able to confirm arrangements.
  • Maintain a life balance: the capacity to study is enhanced by self-care.

Study techniques and tips

  • Lectures and tutorials

    • Always attend the first tutorial, lecture or laboratory class. This is when most of the important information is given about your course or subject.
    • Find out what was covered in any sessions missed. Speak to your lecturer or tutor about downloading lectures and handouts.
    • If writing is difficult or painful, explore support options through a Student Equity Adviser.
    • If sitting through a whole lecture is difficult, try other seating/standing arrangements.
    • Sit at the front to maximise concentration or sit at the back if movement or breaks are necessary.
    • Using a laptop may make note-taking easier.

  • Reading

    • Read selectively and ask your lecturers to indicate important texts.
    • Decide what is important, mark appropriate sections and always take notes at the same time.
    • Share reading lists with others to cut down on reading.
    • Increase the size of text on screen or read large print to reduce eye strain and fatigue.
    • Speak to a Student Equity Adviser to learn more about accessible and alternative formats. Many materials are available in a digital format and may be accessible with voice applications.

  • Memory and concentration

    • Make arrangements for any alternative assessments through a Student Equity Adviser at least five weeks before exams.
    • Early and regular revision is the most important factor in exam preparation.
    • Select relevant material and gear revision to suit the exam style. Seek explanations for anything that you do not clearly understand.
    • Space study sessions and limit information intake.
    • Find different ways to understand, organise and remember material. Explore memory enhancement techniques such as Mind Tools.
    • Write down names, dates, formulas etc. at the start of an exam so you do not forget.
    • Follow up lost marks or lower-than-expected results with lecturers to improve future performance.

  • Dealing with stress

    • Pace activities and expect some tasks to take longer.
    • Consider online subject delivery modes and part-time study.
    • Identify and try to reduce environmental stress triggers such as chemicals, noise and bright light.
    • Find ways to calm down and practise often.
    • Take time off when you're feeling especially vulnerable.

Information and resources

The University of Melbourne offers student support services as well as opportunities for extra-curricular and social activities. It is the student’s responsibility to make enquiries and follow up any issues.

  • Study adjustments

    You should initiate any enquiries about study adjustments with a Student Equity Adviser before you commence your studies. Possible adjustments include:

    • assignment extensions
    • alternative course tasks or assessments
    • additional exam time, rest or meal breaks or alternative location
    • provision of note-takers
    • special desks, ergonomic chairs, reading stands for books, stools for laboratory sessions
    • lockers for storing heavy items
    • rest areas or safe insulin injecting areas
    • specialist software or hardware
    • change of lecture or tutorial locations
    • assistance in the library.

  • Discussing your condition

    Some strategies can be implemented without discussing your condition. However, to provide ongoing support and specific study adjustments, the University needs relevant information regarding your requirements. You can contact a Student Equity Adviser to discuss appropriate adjustments while maintaining confidentiality.

    Advantages of discussing your chronic/ongoing medical conditions with a Student Equity Adviser include:

    • access to facilities and services including adjustments
    • better understanding from academic staff
    • greater emotional support
    • advocacy support or support for self-advocacy.

  • Student rights

    Students with a disability have rights under the Disability Discrimination Act. If you feel your needs are not being met, you should discuss this with your lecturers or a Student Equity Adviser. If you are dissatisfied, complaints can be lodged through the University’s Complaints and Grievances procedure. If you are still dissatisfied, you can contact the Australian Human Rights Commission.

  • Resources

    Online resources are very useful and easy to access. Stop 1 and library staff can suggest and help source study-related information and references. You may also refer lecturers and tutors to a Student Equity Adviser for further information and advice.

    For a list of peak bodies and support groups, please visit preparing for study and community organisations.

Adapted from the original publication (the University of Melbourne and Australian Catholic University collaboration) funded by the Commonwealth Department of Education Employment Training and Youth Affairs under the Victorian Co-operative Projects for Higher Education Students with a Disability Committee, 1997. 
Written by Reem Al-Mahmoud, Patricia McLean, Elizabeth Powell, Janette Ryan. 
Revised version funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations under the National Disability Coordination Officer Program, 2009.