He was given leeway in the exam. A federal judge said that medical residency programs should not be told that.
By Joseph A. Slobodzian
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
A federal judge yesterday barred the national board that tests prospective doctors from divulging to hospital residency programs the special accommodations it permitted a medical student with multiple sclerosis. U.S. Magistrate Judge M. Faith Angell issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Philadelphia-based National Board of Medical Examiners from "flagging" the medical licensing test scores of the student, who is identified as "John Doe."
The judge wrote that annotating Doe's test results to show that he was granted more time, or other accommodations, would identify him as being disabled, hurt his chances in the competitive residency application process, and violate his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Angell's 29-page opinion noted that it would be illegal under federal law for a retail store to require a credit-card applicant to divulge whether he or she has epilepsy, mental illness, or some other disabling ailment.
"Doe has established that once identified as a disabled person to the residency and internship programs, his application may be viewed differently than it would be without the annotated score," the judge wrote, adding that the National Board of Medical Examiners did not prove that "the integrity of its testing service will be harmed."
Gabriel L.I. Bevilacqua, the lawyer for the National Board, said that he and board officials were studying the opinion to decide whether to appeal.
Lawyers for Doe, described in court papers as a Richmond, Va., resident in his fourth year at the Medical College of Virginia, yesterday called the case "an important victory for the disabled" and noted that it was a "case of first impression" in the federal courts nationwide.
"Just think of the number of people in the country who use wheelchairs," said Roderic N.V. Boggs of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, one of the lawyers who represented Doe.
According to court documents, Doe ranked in the top fifth of his medical school class, graduated from Harvard in 1988 and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and worked as a lawyer for five years before deciding to go into medicine.
E. Elaine Gardner, another lawyer with the Washington Lawyers' Committee, said Doe had applied to about 20 residency programs and wanted to practice physical and rehabilitation medicine.
Doe's lawsuit said that his multiple sclerosis, a degenerative nerve disorder diagnosed in 1987, now causes Doe to have muscular spasms and some motor problems, and a frequent and urgent need to use the bathroom.
Doe's lawsuit said that he requested and was granted by the National Board several accommodations when he took the first two of three parts of the licensing exam: up to twice the normal time to take the exam and special seating near a restroom.
The board refused, however, to grant Doe's request that his test scores not disclose that he was granted accommodations or that he is physically disabled.
Bevilacqua said board officials do not believe disclosing an "accommodation" in taking the licensing tests hurts the test-taker's chances.
"We are not disclosing that someone is disabled," Bevilacqua said, adding that the notation on the scores simply informs residency program officials that the test-taker did not take the exam under the same conditions as most students.
But Angell noted that her order prevents disability-based discrimination only against Doe based on paper records, before a residency program offers him an interview.