Bridging The Gap Between Professors And Students With Crohn’s

Lately, I have been receiving a lot of e-mails  asking how you can explain to your professor that you have Crohn’s Disease. The embarrassing symptoms and the fact that a lot of people have no clue what Crohn’s Disease is make it hard to talk about, especially to some grumpy college professor. However, it is super important that you communicate with your professor early in the semester about your disability so they can help you, or at least refrain from flunking you for missing assignments or classes.

That said, the question still lingers. How do you tell your teachers you have Crohn’s Disease? From my experience, there are two ways to do this.

1. E-mail

E-mail is nice because you don’t have to deal with the potential weird looks and eye rolling. There is also the added bonus of a “paper” trail just in case you run into complications obtaining accommodations. The con is that e-mails can easily be ignored or overlooked. I have provided a sample  message you can adapt and  e-mail to your professors at the beginning of the semester.  Just make sure you remember to replace all the names and dates with your personal data.

Dear Professor Hamilton,

My name is Tony Gumbo, and I am enrolled in your ECON 130 class at 10:00 a.m. on MWF this semester. I am writing to let you know that I am a student with a registered disability called Crohn’s Disease, and that I may need certain accommodations during the semester. I wanted to contact you and let you know about this as early in the semester as possible to ensure I can start off the semester in the best possible way.

In case you don’t know what Crohn’s Disease is, it’s a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It can sometimes flare up causing severe pain and some other rather embarrassing symptoms. Here is a link to a Crohn’s website that will provide a complete description of the disease and its symptoms:

During a flare-up I will sometimes be unable to attend class. For this reason I am requesting an attendance accommodation and some possible flexibility in terms of assignment dates. I am also requesting the assistance of a note taker for days that I am unable to attend class. I realize there are limits to how much flexibility is permissible, and I understand that I will still be responsible for completing all assignments, tests, and quizzes.

I have already registered with Student Disability Services and have been approved for these accommodations. If you have not yet, you should soon  receive an e-mail verifying my status with them and the accommodations that  have been approved for me. 

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about my disability or my accommodations. I am really excited to be in your class, and will work very hard throughout the semester. I appreciate your understanding and support, and look forward to learning a great deal from you!


Tony Gumbo

2. In Person

Talking to your professors in person shows that you are the type of person that takes initiative. It does take some courage, however, to plead your case to someone with the power to make your life difficult. On the positive side, professors usually respect  students with the courage to come up to them and talk after class. It shows that you care about your studies and are willing to come to class when you are able.

As a rule of thumb, whenever you approach your professors to talk about anything it is a good idea to ask if they have a moment to speak with you. You don’t want to be standing there poring out your personal details while he is eying is watch because he is late for a meeting with the dean. Professors have lives too. Just because your health is the most important thing in your life, don’t expect your professor to drop everything just to listen to your plight.  If there are other students around, or you are embarrassed, it might be a good idea to ask if you can speak in private . If your prof doesn’t have time to speak after class ask when you can set up an appointment.  Also, many professors have regular office hours when students are encouraged to stop by for face-to-face conversation, Show that you respect the professor’s time by meeting with him during his office hours,

When you meet with your professor, bring a brochure or some other literature that describes Crohn’s and any disability status identification you have. Then ask him what he’d like you to do if you are going to have to miss class or have trouble meeting an assignment deadline. Be prepared to tell him what you would like him to do to help you, For example, is it OK to have a friend record lectures? Do you have a calendar with regularly scheduled treatments that you know will interfere with your professor’s posted test dates or other deadlines? If so, can you reschedule?

So which way is best?!

Both! Start with the e-mail approach, After you send the e-mail, go up to the professor after your first class and introduce yourself. This way the professor can put a name with the e-mail, and the e-mail can’t be ignored. This also ensures that the professor knows that you are serious about your studies. Look presentable that first day so you make a good impression. Remember, they hold all the cards. If they think you are just using your disability as a way to get out of things they don’t have to help you.

Your turn! Do you have any additional tips for discussing Crohn’s Disease with your professors? How have your professors helped you? Share them in the comments section below!

6 Responses to “Bridging The Gap Between Professors And Students With Crohn’s”

  1. I never felt more supported by my college than when I had to talk to my professors about my ulcerative colitis. One of my classes was taught by the education department chair, and he allowed me to finish the semester by e-mail so I could have enough flexibility to maintain my full schedule for the remainder of the semester. Another professor allowed me to attend his (full) 12:15 class, when needed, because it was difficult for me to choke down my medication in time for his 8:00 am class.

    Not one person gave me a hard time. I realize I’m pretty fortunate, but I also think it’s because I addressed it immediately and was honest about it. I also happened to go to a very small college where my professors knew me and my work ethic ahead of time. I think that helped, too.

    • Tim says:


      You are indeed very fortunate. I was actually given an F because I missed a final due to being stuck in the bathroom. My stuff was even in the room! I just couldn’t get out of the bathroom. I agree, explaining things right away is crucial.

  2. Mark Warner says:

    Speaking as an older student who has recently returned to school (I’m 34, 31 when I went back), I think it’s best to tell them in person if you can manage it. I have the luxury of attending a small community college with small classes and accessible professors, though.

    While it may be necessary to invoke the “registered disability” angle at times, I’ve never had to do it. I’ve simply walked up to them after a class and explained I have Crohn’s, so I may leave a lecture or exam suddenly and without preamble because of it. Exams are particularly sensitive with professors and I like to have this conversation in person so that he or she can see my sincerity and understand that i’m not trying to lay the groundwork for cheating. I also explain that I may have absences but that I will always make sure to get a copy of the notes and to quickly make up for lost time.

    Just my two cents. To put it simply: I recommend against the “form letter” approach unless you really intuit a strong need to be formal with a particular prof.


    • Tim says:

      I agree, Mark.

      Sending an e-mail and then expecting to have your needs met probably isn’t the best idea. However, an e-mail can be a helpful complement, thats why I strongly suggest doing both. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Andrea says:

    If your school has a Student Disability Center or something similar, make an appointment with them and see what sort of accommodations you can arrange. They usually need a note from your gastroenterologist. I was so happy when I found out about this!

    I once had to rush out of a midterm, and fortunately my professor was understanding when I emailed him to say that my unexpected “break” was due to a medical condition. Since then, I arrange with my counselor at the Disability Center to have extended time on exams, occasional absences in case of a flare, and seating near an exit or bathroom. The school emails professors to notify them of your accommodations as soon as classes begin, so it’s agreed upon before you even need to miss class. I have extra time on tests now in case I have to run to the bathroom, which is great not only for the actual time missed but also for the stress factor.. not worrying about missing part of a test because I’m stuck in the toilet is a HUGE relief (pun..?).
    My professors are usually very gracious in arranging extended time – I usually take my tests with a few other students, since I’m at a fairly large school and there are quite a few of us who have special needs for one reason or another. Also, professors can’t ask why you need the extra time, which avoids some awkward demands.

    Hope this helps someone!

  4. Chantelle says:

    I stumbled onto this blog by accident by searching for information on how to approach teachers about medical problems. I don’t have Crohn’s disease, but I do have chronic migraine headaches that cause me to miss class or leave in the middle because I get sick. Just wanted to let you know that this is great advice for any chronic medical issue! Thanks so much

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