Monday, June 25, 2007

National Board of Medical Examiners Refuse to Allow Breastfeeding Mom to Take Pumping Breaks

Sophie Currier completed a joint M.D-PhD. from Harvard and the only hurdle left before she can begin her medical residency this fall at Massachusetts General is passing a 9 hour exam run by the National Board of Medical Examiners. Dr. Currier is also mom to a 7 week old daughter Lea, whom she is breastfeeding as recommended by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and many other health experts. Dr. Currier has asked the NBME for permission to take a 20 minute break every 3 hours in order to pump breastmilk. However, last week the board denied her request on the grounds that only disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act qualify for special test accommodations.

In a statement faxed to the Boston Globe, Catherine Farmer, the board's manager of disability services, wrote that the disabilities act:
"does not cover temporary conditions, such as pregnancy. . . . Furthermore, lactation, breast-feeding and breast pumping are not disabilities as defined by the ADA."
Dr. Currier agrees that breastfeeding is not a disability, but points out that if she fails to pump every few hours, she risks developing mastitis. Having experienced mastitis myself, let me assure you that it is a particularly nasty infection with a quick onset, and it can often require surgical draining.

Breastfeeding advocates condemned the decision as inhumane and insensitive. Dr. Ruth Lawrence, chairwoman of the AAP's breastfeeding section, told the Globe:
"Few women are likely to request such extra time, and breast-feeding is a physical need that should be filled just as the need to eat should be. One would hope [the board] would accommodate this particular physiological need not just for the individual being examined, but for her child"
My heart goes out to Dr. Currier and I pray the board will reconsider its decision! As doctors, they should be fully aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and should provide reasonable accommodation to nursing moms. Dr. Currier's request for a little extra time between sections of the exam to go pump in private is not an unreasonable one. She's got a legitimate special need, even if it does not meet the ADA criteria of a disability. It's absolutely outrageous that she has to put her own health at risk just because some committee is being overly strict in their view of what constitutes a valid reason for special test accommodations.


Matilda said...

Mastitis is very painful and so is just plain old engorgement. I can't believe it, no wait... I think I can.

Common sense is what we need a bit more of these days, I am sure of it!

Sara said...

Not like she's going to be getting extra study time she's just going to pump & get back to the exam!!