Austin sent me this story two days ago, and it’s still ticking me off:
In 2007, Sophie Currier of Brookline, holder of M.D. and PhD degrees from Harvard, asked for extra time to take an all-day medical board exam. Her daughter was four months old at the time and exclusively breast-fed, and she needed more than the standard 45 minutes of total break time to pump her breast milk. The test’s overseers, the National Board of Medical Examiners, said no.
The conflict has wended its way through the legal system since then, and late last week reached the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. (Here’s my original front-page story back when I was at the Globe, the New York Times version and an update when Dr. Currier brought suit.)
So a physician, who was also a new mother, needed some time to pump her breastmilk during the all-day board exams. She’s not asking for more time to study, or for an easier test. She’s asking for time to pump the milk out of her breasts. As physicians, you’d think this would be a no-brainer. You’d think we’d understand the physiology at work here. Evidently not.
Look, I don’t even want to hear the slippery slope argument. She wanted some extra time to pump. Her need is obvious. I can’t even figure out what the benefit would be to her to claim the extra break time. We should be able to differentiate between actual medical need and frivolous requests. We’re doctors.
If I’m being honest, I often think these tests are crap anyway. I don’t know of any link between test scores and performance as a physician. Some studies can show a correlation between scores on exams and performance in residency, but almost no data exist correlating scores and how you will function as a practicing clinician.
So what does the profession gain here? We tell women as a group that that if they think about being pregnant or nursing while they need to take boards, they will be penalized, because this test is so holy and sacrosanct that we can’t possibly interfere with its process in any way to accommodate their needs. Once again, we confirm that it’s somehow important to medicine to teach physicians not to care, to martyr themselves, and to be miserable and unhappy. Evidently, showing motherhood any accommodation, any compassion, or any humanity might negatively impact the quality of the doctors we train.*
*Yes, this is hyperbole. I’m annoyed.