Nursing Mom Sues for Extra Exam Time

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 12, 2007; 4:51 AM

NEW YORK -- A new mother who wants extra breaks so she can pump milk during a nine-hour medical licensing exam has asked a judge to settle her dispute with the board that administers the test.

Sophie Currier, 33, requested additional break time during the test, saying that if she does not nurse her 4-month-old daughter, Lea, or pump breast milk every two to three hours, she risks medical complications.

The exam allows a total of just 45 minutes in breaks, and the National Board of Medical Examiners has refused to give Currier the extra time she says she needs.

"If we are variable in the time that's allotted to trainees, we alter the performance of the examination," board spokeswoman Dr. Ruth Hoppe said.

Currier has completed a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program at Harvard University while having two babies in the last two years. Her goal is a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and a career in medical research.

She has been offered a residency in clinical pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital in November, but cannot accept it unless she passes the test, which she plans to take on Sept. 15.

"The one requirement is to pass this exam," she said Tuesday.

Currier asked the state Superior Court in Massachusetts to intervene and grant her the extra time during the test, which she plans to take Sept. 15.

A hearing had been scheduled for Wednesday, but board attorney Joe Savage filed papers to have the case removed to federal court. Currier's attorney, Christine Collins, said she didn't know when the next hearing would be.

Currier, who lives Brookline, Mass., also has a 22-month-old son, Theo, and has already received special accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

She has been granted permission to take the test over two days instead of one, but is seeking an additional 60-minute break on each day.

Hoppe said other nursing mothers who have taken the exam have found the 45 minutes of permitted break time sufficient.

But Dr. Ruth Lawrence, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics' breast-feeding section, called the medical examining board's position too rigid.

"It's a classic institutional response," said Lawrence, a professor of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester. "You would hope that everyone in the medical profession had an appreciation for the tremendous importance of breast-feeding one's infant."

Currier is feeling added pressure because she already took the test in April, when she was 8 1/2 months pregnant, and failed by a few points.

Federal anti-discrimination laws do not protect nursing mothers. The Breastfeeding Promotion Act, pending in Congress, would protect women from being fired or punished for pumping or nursing during breaks.

© 2007 The Associated Press