BOSTON (AP) – A Harvard student must be allowed extra break time during her nine-hour medical licensing exam so she can pump breast milk to feed her 4-month-old daughter, a Massachusetts appeals court judge ruled Wednesday.

Sophie Currier, 33, sued after the National Board of Medical Examiners turned down her request to take more than the standard 45 minutes in breaks during the exam.

Currier said she risks medical complications if she does not nurse her daughter, Lea, or pump breast milk every two to three hours.

A Superior Court judge last week rejected Currier’s request to order the board to give her an additional 60 minutes of break time. Appeals Court Judge Gary Katzmann overturned that ruling, finding that Currier needs the break time to put her on “equal footing” with the men and non-lactating women who take the exam.

“I think it’s a big step for women, all nursing and working moms,” Currier said.

The board had cited a need to be consistent in the amount of break time given and said other nursing mothers who have taken the exam found 45 minutes sufficient.

But Katzmann said that amount of break time was “insufficient” for Currier to nurse her baby, properly express breast milk, eat, drink and use the restroom over the course of the nine-hour exam.

Without extra time, Currier would have to choose between pumping breast milk and ignoring her bodily functions or foregoing pumping and causing herself significant pain, the judge said.

“Under either avenue, (Currier) is placed at significant disadvantage in comparison to her peers,” Katzmann wrote in his 26-page ruling.

The board plans to appeal, board attorney Joseph Savage said.

The board, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit corporation, is responsible for administering the test, which is used by boards of medicine across the country to license physicians.

“The board of medicine has to be able to rely on the results of these tests in determining whether someone is qualified to be a physician,” Savage said. “If the tests aren’t fair and comparable, the boards don’t have the information they need to only license doctors who are properly trained.”

Currier already has received special accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, including permission to take the test over two days instead of one. The board also offered her a separate testing room where she can express milk during the test or during break time, and the option to leave the test center to breast-feed during break times.

Currier has finished a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program at Harvard University while having two babies in the past two years. She has been offered a residency in clinical pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital beginning in November but cannot accept it unless she passes the test. Her goal is a career in medical research.

She took the exam in April when she was 81/2 months pregnant, but failed by a few points. She had planned to take the test again earlier this week, but put it off after Norfolk Superior Court Judge Patrick Brady ruled against her last week.

She now plans to retake it Oct. 4 and 5.

AP-ES-09-26-07 1735EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.