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

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- Responding to a lawsuit by a nursing mother seeking a special accommodation for the national medical licensing examination, the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) issued this statement:

The NBME understands the needs of breastfeeding mothers as well as other individuals with conditions that may complicate test-taking. However, the first priority for this test, accepted as evidence of competence for new physicians by virtually all licensing boards in the U.S., must remain ensuring rigorous and consistent standards for assessing competence of physicians who will be responsible for patient safety.

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

Dr. Hoppe, who is chair of the governing body of the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination and an emeritus associate dean of Michigan State University's School of Medicine, added, "We sympathize with nursing mothers and others with medical conditions that do not rise to the level of disabilities in taking this exam. While we cannot grant them extra time, we try to address their needs in an appropriate alternative manner. USMLE governance is reviewing its policy -- which it does regularly -- consistent with maintaining fairness to all individuals taking the test and the highest standards of medical practice."

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

Existing USMLE policy allows accommodations such as more testing or break time only for physical or mental impairments that substantially limit a major life activity, as set out in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Such disabilities may include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Learning Disorders, Multiple Sclerosis, and chronic pain conditions. The NBME receives and 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 as explained above.

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

SOURCE National Board of Medical Examiners
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