A Massachusetts court has ruled in favor of a Harvard medical student. Sophie Currier will be given addition time during her medical licensing exam in order to pump breast milk for her baby, according to the court ruling.
The school, which gives students 9 hours to complete the exam, will now have to give Currier an additional 60 minute break.
According to Currier, she faces medical risks if she is unable to nurse her baby or pump breast milk every 2 to 3 hours. She had sued , after the National Board of Medical Examiners denied her request for more than the standard 45 minutes of breaks during the exam.
In the ruling, the appeals court says Currier needs the additional break time to put her on "equal footing" with men and other women who are "non-lactating."
"Our overriding concerns are fairness to all examinees and the integrity of the exam, which serves as an important gateway to medical practice," Joseph F. Savage, Jr., attorney for the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), was quoted. "Our position remains that the exam's sponsors have in no way violated Ms. Currier's rights", he added.
The National Board of Medical Examiners had offered to let Currier pump while she took the test, but she said that would put her at a disadvantage during the exam, which she must pass to graduate and begin her residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"I now feel that I am able to take this test without putting my health or my child's health at risk," says Currier. "I hope this decision encourages moms to breast-feed and employers of moms to accommodate their needs."
Meanwhile Board attorney Joseph Savage says he would appeal the ruling, which he believes compromises the test's fairness and could force the board to grant extra time to other test-takers with distracting medical conditions, such as men with prostate problems.
Currier, who has a 4-month-old daughter, originally planned to take the exam this week, but postponed it until Oct. 4 in hope of winning her appeal. She has already received permission from the board to take the test over two days instead of the usual one, because she has dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
According to breast-feeding specialists, lactating women can experience pain and risk developing infection of their breasts if they don't express milk at least once every three hours. Some doctors and breast-feeding advocates have called the board's resistance to Currier's request ironic when mainstream medical organizations overwhelmingly endorse breast-feeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breast-fed during the first six months of life.
Nancy Terres, an assistant professor of nursing at Massachusetts General Hospital's Institute of Health Professions who is researching social support for breast-feeding, opines that the case reveals the stigma that breast-feeding still carries in today's society.