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Breastfeeding mom can not have extra break time during exam

A new mother cannot have extra break time during her nine-hour medical licensing exam.

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

Judge Patrick Brady said Currier has other options, beyond asking the board to change its rules for her.

"The plaintiff may take the test and pass, notwithstanding what she considers to be unfavorable conditions. The plaintiff may delay the test, which is offered numerous times during the year, until she has finished her breast-feeding and the need to express milk," he said.

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 in November, but cannot accept it unless she passes the test. Her goal is a career in medical research.

Currier has taken the test once already, in April when she was 8 1/2 months pregnant, but she failed by a few points.

"The judge's conclusion that there is no harm to a woman to putting her career off for a year is the basis of discrimination," Currier said. "Men do not have to put off their careers because they are feeding a child."

Her lawyer, Christine Smith Collins, said she would ask the state Appeals Court to hear the case and issue a ruling before Currier takes the test again next week.

Currier has already received special accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

She has been granted permission to take the test over two days instead of one, but is seeking an additional 60-minute break on each day. She is scheduled to take the test Monday and Tuesday.

Federal anti-discrimination laws do not protect nursing mothers. The Breastfeeding Promotion Act, pending in Congress, would protect women from being fired or punished for pumping or nursing during breaks.

"Where she's disabled, we've addressed that under federal law, but this is something that is not a disability," said the board's attorney, Joseph Savage. "This means it will be somewhat more difficult for her to take the test, but there are a lot of people who face challenges in taking the test - childcare obligations, medical conditions that make it harder - and we just can't change the test for everybody who faces a challenge."

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