Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sophie Currier: following the story

In brief,

Her appeal is to be heard at 9 am on Tuesday: see here for details.

Opinions about her continue to be mixed, except on her blog which has become a dumping ground for vicious comments. She closed the blog, making it accessible by invitation only. Meanwhile, here are some other perspectives:
DollyMix - Natalie blames Currier's situation on poor gadgetry, which is only slightly missing the point. Her conclusion, " You never stop being a mum but unless you have a kid that's asking for "Bitty" when he's in his twenties, you do stop breastfeeding and you do reduce your amount of feeds with the introduction of solids ...." is a bit impenetrable. Whazzat? And how does that relate to a 4 month old infant and nursing mother dyad?

Breastfeeding Symbol - MamaBear is patient, if frustrated. "It is discriminatory (and hypocritical, considering the institution which this test is for) to not allow pumping breaks. Full stop." Well, considering that I wrote a nearly parallel post here, I'm disinclined to argue. Our stats even matched. Too cute!

Economics for What Ales You: ignoring the breastfeeding issue, the blogger asks: would you want someone with dyslexia/ADHD as a doc? Um, thanks. I certainly wouldn't want you on the job...your analytical skills seem a touch unsteady.

Sexing the Cherry - Zahra is flat out furious: "The decision comes down to this: don't feed your child or don't become a doctor." She argues that women can have it all - after all, men can! I'm dubious (men have different post-partum biochemistry than we do), but I appreciate the vote of support.

CMCCurry - is scratching his head a bit. He asks, "Why not put off having a kid until you get your PhD?" Oh, where to start, where to start.

And Notes of an Anesthesioboist is sincere, thoughtful and has the most mature commentators I've seen yet. On this subject, that is.

I think the word I'm looking for here is sigh. Currier is too human, too imperfect to be a good spokesperson. Her ADHD and dyslexia make her the target for people who say that she is a whiner and always looking for accomodations. It's impossible to say if this is true or not. Women who've been there and survived are writing in saying that their experience was that they didn't need X minutes to pump, they didn't pump during the exam - and their experience is surely definitive. It's not. In this case, as in the LD, the neurochemistry, the history of mastitis - the devil (or should I say plugged duct?) is in the details.

And then there are the medical students, writing crass things about Currier needing to keep her legs crossed, or to use her 'funbags' [sic] for better purposes. Lovely.

What do I think? I think that if this was a purely medical decision and it was made by an educated medical professional, Currier would be given the time she needs to pump. But it's not being done that way. Instead, this is a legal matter in the hands of an under-educated legal system (where breastfeeding is concerned) whose legislature does not support nursing mothers. See Carolyn Mahoney (NY) for exceptions. And frustrations.

I think I wish Currier well. She's fighting a good fight, and I can only hope she's doing it for the right and legitimate reasons. I think she might be, which relieves me - because if she's not, then she's only proving some nasty-minded folks true, and we've now got a judge telling nursing mothers to stay home. Just what we needed.

If there's a revolution coming, bringing respect for the woman and mother, well, it's taking its sweet time getting here...

coming up: nothing to do with milk ducts!

Instead, a review of the early days at kindergarten, and a new gluten-free (vegan, nut-free, etc, etc, etc) bread that actually came out of the machine at 4 inches high. Holy moly.


Zahra said...

Thanks for the link and for covering the story!

Anonymous said...

After following this issue since it first came up, I'm appalled. In one of the Boston Herald's previous articles, she admits that she primarily made it through MIT because students were paid to read her assignments to her and share their notes, and that because of her ADHD, she's so scatterbrained that she has to keep constant records just to be able to function. She's already failed the exam once. Harvard's written her special rules for the exam to accommodate her learning disabilities. And yet it's not enough. She has to find more excuses and ask for more special treatment, which is what I think this whole matter is about. It's not the breastfeeding issue, because if it was, she would be asking that all breastfeeding mothers be allowed extra time. It's that she expects everyone to cater specifically to her. I'm not usually one to wish ill on others, but the little part of me that's rather schadenfreude inclined hopes she fails the exam this time too.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think the ADHD and dyslexia issue is a valid point. If your disability prevents you from meeting the job requirements, special accomodations on the licensing exam are dangerous to potential patients. People with uncontrolled epilepsy are not allowed to drive, but few consider this "discrimination"! If her disorders interfere with her ability to pass the exam, they certainly interfere with her ability to be a doctor.

gabe said...

Shame on her for using the system in this way. Hundreds of nursing mothers takes exams every year. They manage to store milk ahead of time so they do not have to actually breast feed that day and then use break time if they need to express. She is a whiner beyond belief. I have breast feed 2 children through school, work, ballgames, trips etc. She is full of it. And it amazes me as the mother of an ADD child the accommodations she has received at school. Her disability is SO amazing and more difficult then anyone else's it astounds me! I hope MY child is accomodated when he heads to college in a year to the extant she has been.

She should be a lawyer not a doctor she is so good at using the system in way no one else has ever thought of. But wait, I married a lawyer and he is not a whiner so that is an insult to him. She has a good deal going and is going to milk it to the end so to speak. But shame shame shame.

And pity the company that hires her because how can she POSSIBLY do research or work if she cannot concentrate, cannot read, cannot organize, needs extra time, cannot remember things, has babies to breast feed etc. She has given out interviews everywhere about her ADHD and other disabilities and I don't know how she even gets through the day! Good luck with that.

Zahra said...

In case you were wondering, Sophie won her appeal. Justice prevails.

Cameron said...

"Oh, where to start, where to start."

By clearing a few things up.

First off, I'm male. Not sure how you concluded I was a woman, but it's not like I'm overly offended.

Second, I did invite you to read my latest entry on the issue over at my Livejournal. The invitation stands.

Third, the question is valid. There is nothing amoral about postponing having children while you are earning your degree.

Nick said...

“Actually, I think the ADHD and dyslexia issue is a valid point. If your disability prevents you from meeting the job requirements, special accomodations on the licensing exam are dangerous to potential patients. People with uncontrolled epilepsy are not allowed to drive, but few consider this "discrimination"! If her disorders interfere with her ability to pass the exam, they certainly interfere with her ability to be a doctor.”

That makes two bad assumptions: 1) the same skills inherent in passing an exam are crucial to being a good doctor, and 2) ADHD and dyslexia make one a bad physician.

The first is quite wrong: patients don’t come as multiple choice questions. They are puzzles of pattern recognition, integration of disparate data, and sometimes a study in pokerfaces. And in my experience as a physician I know many people who scored well on multiple-guess exams that I would not trust to take care of my cat, much less a human being.

The second assumption is wrong as well. Helen Taussig who like Currier studied medicine at Harvard (but in the 1920s) is considered the mother of pediatric cardiology. She had dyslexia. Delos Cosgrove is a cardiothoracic surgeon, currently the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, and has dyslexia. Harvey Cushing - the man regarded as the greatest neurosurgeon of the 20th century also had dyslexia too. It’s a bit harder to get at historical physicians who had ADHD because its largely speculative since this diagnosis is relatively modern. However Louis Pasteur (not a physician, but a medical researcher who brought us pasteurization and many advances in vaccination) is thought to have had ADHD.

And while I am far from famous, I also have ADHD. It certainly made my medical education somewhat harder, but I was willing to do the work. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to finish medical school with ADHD *and* dyslexia *and* be a new mother at the same time. However, my congratulations go out to Dr Currier for succeeding despite her disability and for not being willing to roll over and play dead when told that you can’t be disabled, a mom, and a doctor.

Anonymous said...

Some facts:

1) She failed the same test in April.

2) The NBME already went out of their way to accommodate her. They are giving her twice the time to complete the test and a private testing room. Try taking a 9-hour intense exam with other people taking typing tests around you like the other 3000 of us did.

3) The USMLE is a STANDARDIZED test to assess a minimum competency to assure that you have enough base knowledge to practice medicine and not harm your patients. If you don't pass, then the exam is doing what it was intended to. Preventing somebody without a core knowledge of medicine to practice medicine on people who’s lives depend on your knowledge.

4) This test can be taken anytime during your 3rd and 4th year of medical school. You schedule when you take the test. Students have 2 years to schedule it and fit it into their "mom" schedule. She chose to procrastinate until it left her in this predicament. Most students take it during the end of their 3rd year to avoid this exact problem. Failing and not being able to start a residency in July. Yes, most residency programs start in July, not November. Did MGH already accommodate her by pushing her start date back by 4 months?

So when the surgeon can't get a pathology report on the margins of a cancer they are resecting and the patient dies on the table, who is going to be supporting her when her excuse is "I needed to breast feed at that moment, otherwise my engorged breast would hurt and I could get mastitis."

mama o' the matrices said...

Cameron, my apologies. How ovary-centric of me - I've corrected the relevant pronouns. Thanks for the invitation, now I understand what it meant! I'm a LiveJournal novice (a friend set up the account for me, because she was having trouble getting RSS feeds for this blog). I'll go wander over soon.

Yes, it's a valid question, and I can only answer it from the humanities perspective. For me, I looked at my colleagues graduating from Big Famous School with killer cvs and failing to get jobs, and I said to myself: okay, so this academe thing is an enormous leap of faith. How much do I want to put all of my life on hold for a so-so chance at getting a job? The Man and I debated it back and forth, and we decided that during grad school was much better than after, and we went for it. And grad school went splat when the product needed to spend about 18-20 months popping in and out of the hospital. Whoopsie.

But that's me, and I can answer for me - not Sophie. Since I had the Eldest, a number of women in my program have jumped on the opportunity and had children. Most are finishing their degrees, all are honest about their chances for jobs (with varying degrees of calm, acceptance of the implications of their choices, bitterness, etc). I think Sophie stacked the decks against her with this baby, but I also understand why she chose to have it now - later was not much of an option.

Gabe, I'm dyslexic, and I'm blown away by the accommodations that Currier got. I never thought of MIT as being that generous, frankly. Makes you wonder at the case she built for them. All LDs/BDs are not the same, as you and I both know, so what exactly is Sophie's wiring like? Ya got me.

Nick, I agree: dyslexia, ADHD affect a person in manageable ways. They hit you hardest when trying to accomplish a task exactly like other people (standardized testing), but given opportunity and support, the brain is marvellously capable. Love, love, love your examples!

Anon, the point of the standardized test is to make sure you know the material. Making everybody take it in the exact same way is not a guarantee that you've correctly assessed their knowledge, so much as their ability to take the exam in exactly the same way. Having said that, within the bounds of what is fair and reasonable, there's much to be said for standardized testing...And yes, I'd wondered about the start date of her residency, too.