HMS Mother Wins Extra Test Time

The highest court in Massachusetts handed a Harvard medical student victory late Tuesday in her battle for extra break time to pump breast milk during a medial certification exam.

The state Supreme Judicial Court’s decision came the night before Sophie C. Currier, an MD-PhD student at Harvard Medical School, began taking the test and ensured she would receive one hour of additional break time per day on top of the 45 minutes students typically have for the entire exam.

Currier cannot graduate from the Medical School or begin her scheduled residency until she passes the eight-hour licensing exam.

The case has gone through seven appeals since Currier first filed suit Sept. 6 against the National Board of Medial Examiners (NBME), which sets the rules for the exam.

While the court order applies only to Currier, NBME spokesman Ken Cotton said that the organization would study their policy on time allowance for breast-feeding in light of the ruling and that the committee that sets testing rules “will make addressing the issue on break time a priority.”

Cotton added that the committee would likely not take the matter into consideration until its next scheduled meeting, though he did not rule out the possibility of an emergency session.

Attorney Christine Collins, who represented Currier, said she thought the legal victory would extend beyond Currier’s the specific case.

“It’s up to them really,” Collins said, “However, the board has been quite clear in its arguments that the appeals court orders have far reaching implications for it with regard to other candidates sitting for their exams.”

The board appealed the ruling granting extra break time because it said the accommodation would compromise the integrity of the exam, according to Cotton.

Gary S. Katzmann, the state judge whose decision the supreme judicial court let stand, rejected the board’s argument, citing the potential for pain or medical injury if Currier were not given the extra time.

Failure to express milk every two to three hours can lead to medical complications, such as breast engorgement, fever, or infection.

The Board of Medical Examiners had already agreed to grant Currier a second day of test time because she has dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Currier could not be reached for comment last night.

—Staff writer Clifford M. Marks can be reached at cmarks@fas.harvard.edu.

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