Public Health and Need for Consistent Standards Preclude Exception for Breastfeeding Mother in National Medical Licensing Test

Wednesday, September 12, 2007 General News
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PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 11 Responding to a lawsuit by anursing mother seeking a special accommodation for the national medicallicensing examination, the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) issuedthis statement:

The NBME understands the needs of breastfeeding mothers as well as otherindividuals with conditions that may complicate test-taking. However, thefirst priority for this test, accepted as evidence of competence for newphysicians by virtually all licensing boards in the U.S., must remain ensuringrigorous and consistent standards for assessing competence of physicians whowill be responsible for patient safety.

NBME spokesperson, Dr. Ruth Hoppe, said, "While the Board does not disputethe merits of breastfeeding, we believe the stakes for the American public aretoo high here to grant ad hoc exceptions. Our priority must be the Americanpublic's health, which is safeguarded by maintaining the integrity of thisexamination through uniform testing conditions."

Dr. Hoppe, who is chair of the governing body of the U.S. MedicalLicensing Examination and an emeritus associate dean of Michigan StateUniversity's School of Medicine, added, "We sympathize with nursing mothersand others with medical conditions that do not rise to the level ofdisabilities in taking this exam. While we cannot grant them extra time, wetry to address their needs in an appropriate alternative manner. USMLEgovernance is reviewing its policy -- which it does regularly -- consistentwith maintaining fairness to all individuals taking the test and the higheststandards of medical practice."

The USMLE is given more than 100,000 times annually. The Step 2 ClinicalKnowledge exam is administered at testing centers in the U.S. and abroad fiveor six days a week throughout the year. Because it is given so often, mostpeople are able to take their exams on a schedule convenient to them.

Existing USMLE policy allows accommodations such as more testing or breaktime only for physical or mental impairments that substantially limit a majorlife activity, as set out in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Suchdisabilities may include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, LearningDisorders, Multiple Sclerosis, and chronic pain conditions. The NBME receivesand evaluates numerous such requests and grants many of them.

In response to the legal suit of Sophie C. Currier and her infant, Lea M.Gallien-Currier, the NBME is taking all legal steps to defend its position asexplained above.

The National Board of Medical Examiners and the Federation of StateMedical Boards, both nonprofit organizations, jointly sponsor the exam. TheUSMLE Composite Committee establishes policies governing its administration.That committee comprises representatives from the two sponsors, NBME and theFSMB, and from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, whichcertifies the readiness of international medical graduates for medicalresidencies and fellowships in this country.

SOURCE National Board of Medical Examiners

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