When I first read the headline of this story, I thought, “Well of course she should have extra breaks during the test to express breast milk.” I’ve never nursed, but my mother grew up on a dairy farm, and from what I’ve heard over the years, it is my understanding that full udders of any sort are painful in the extreme.
She asked for a lousy 60 extra minutes over 2 days, the computer-based testing makes it impossible to go back and change answers, and there should be no way she could benefit from the extra time, other than to not have to try to ignore a biological urge. Truly, the issue should’ve never come up. Doctors across the board recommend that breastfeeding is better for children, so for doctors to tell a woman she shouldn’t express breast milk is bizarre. “Yes, of course it’s the right thing to do…unless there’s a test to take.”
I was on her side right up until the end. And then, I had my doubts. It is not until the last couple of sentences of the article that we learn that this would not be the first accommodation the board has made for this student. Because this student is dyslexic and has ADD, they already extended the test, which normally is taken in a single day, to two days.
Now, I’m all for giving her time off for expressing milk, because it’s physically necessary and a temporary situation; she will not be nursing the rest of her life. However, I am none too impressed with the idea of a dyslexic and ADD medical professional. An inability to remained focused and a potential for (depending on how her dyslexia manifests) mortally mistaken prescriptions, among other problems, are not qualities that I’m looking for in a doctor.
Given the current state of medicine, where ERs are swamped and doctors barely have time to spend with patients as it is, mistakes cause the loss of life every day. Can a system already so beleaguered take on a known risk like this? And if I’m in the ER for an aneurysm or a burst appendix, and she ends up being my doc, does she get an extra day to decide what to do about it?
There are few things in this life that are for everyone, and that’s particularly true of professions. Just because you want to do something doesn’t mean the world owes it to you to enable you to do it, however poorly. It is one thing to overcome a handicap and accomplish whatever it is you set out to accomplish. It is another thing for everyone to turn a blind eye to your handicap, push you along, and then suffer when your performance is subpar.
Speaking of blind eyes, there are many things I cannot do, or cannot do well at least, because of my vision deficiency. I can’t be a pilot. An Army recruiter told me that my vision problem would preclude me from officer candidacy, but I was welcome to enlist. I shouldn’t be a surgeon—you don’t want people without depth perception cutting into you.
Also, because I have a highly sensitive eye-inner ear-stomach connection, I should not be an astronaut. Or a fighter pilot, which is what I really wanted to do after I saw Top Gun. I get motion sick watching trains pass; I’d never survive weightlessness.
I am not tall or athletic enough to be in the WNBA. My wrist and hands are not sturdy enough for me to be a massage therapist or an EMT who has to lift people. I get heat stroke fairly easily, so my oft-considered dreams of walking away from my cubicle to be a professional yard-cleaner-upper in Arizona must come to nothing. Firefighting is out, too.
These are just facts of my particular life, and while sometimes I’m bummed about the limitations my physical reality, it has never occurred to me that the world should do what it takes, including lowering standards, to allow me to do any or all of them. And it is probably better for the world at large that I do not. I don’t see it as a problem, really. I am not without other skills. It seems to me that everyone can find their niche based on abilities, skills, and interests, but if you don’t have all 3, forcing your way into a niche with your lawyer behind you is probably not the way to go about it. And yet I see it happen every day, people insisting that they should do things that they have proven zero aptitude for and really have no business doing. The question really comes down to ability. Discrimination based on any particular demographic quality is ignorant and unacceptable. Discrimination, in the most basic sense of the word, based on whether a person possess the aptitude for the task at hand is sane and necessary; separating wheat from chaff is sensible, and that’s what I’m advocating here.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t push ourselves beyond our current limits; we all have a little room to move beyond our comfortable ruts. However, there is a point where gumption and persistence are not enough. Wanting it bad enough will not give me perfect binocular vision. I can practice seeing out my left eye for the rest of my life, and even if trauma to my right eye forces my brain to create brand-new neural pathways to allow that eye to see better, I will be no better off than I am now.
And so it is with most other things. The self-help and motivational industry, not to mention a deeply ingrained American can-do attitude has told us that there’s nothing we can’t do if we put our minds to it; nothing exceeds our grasp. And if you consider that most people, busy living lives of quiet desperation, assume that their limits are far closer and stricter than they actually are, such messages are effective in getting people to question their inertia, apathy, and fear and get them off their collective ass. But I don’t care what your Successories posters tell you; there ARE, eventually, some limitations on all of us. No amount of study, preparation, and desire will allow Scott to carry a child in his own womb, regardless of the fact that he regularly talks about his non-existent cervix. And that fact doesn’t make him a failure. It just means he should probably stop trying on my elastic-waist pants with pillows and find something more in line with his interests and abilities.
And that’s all I’m saying here. Just because you can attempt a thing doesn’t mean that it is good for you, or good for those who would be the recipients of your efforts there. There is a reason I have yet to attempt to inlay an actual guitar neck; I wouldn’t put an innocent guitar through that kind of surgery until I was sure I could do it properly. Furthermore, there’s a reason I don’t cut Scott’s hair (anymore).
I think expecting professional competence is fair, even if you are destined to be frequently disappointed. However, I think the level of competence expected from those in life-and-death professions should be considerably higher. If I have a bad day at work, a bug gets through, annoys a few clients, and we fix it as soon as we can. No real harm done. But a police officer who is a bad shot is a public menace, as is a firefighter with acute asthma, as is a dyslexic/ADD doctor. Their colleagues and the people they are supposedly there to help cannot count on them. There is plenty room enough for error in all of these endeavors, even when there’s no reason to assume the professional’s skills are compromised. However, when the problems are known, not steering clear of them seems fool-hardy.
I do not believe learning and other disabilities necessarily preclude folks from doing great and complex things. I know better. However, if while you’re attempting to do those great and complex things, you’re already asking for special dispensations, I think you’re already at a disadvantage that cannot be ignored. This med student claims that her disabilities (not counting her breast milk expressing) should give her an extra day that other students do not get to complete her test, and this is all conceptual stuff. Without passing this test, she cannot start her residency and be working with real patients. If it were me, I’d take that as a sign that perhaps this is not the profession for me.
It is one thing to provide accommodations to children in schools; they are children. But life does not make accommodations, for the most part. It goes on apace regardless of our readiness, and we can accommodate ourselves to function within it, with a reasonable amount of assistance from the rest of humanity, or not. It is reasonable for a wheelchair-bound person to expect curb cuts and sidewalks in their city; this allows them to be more independent, and it’s good for the rest of us, too. It is unreasonable for a wheelchair-bound person to be a fire fighter, or to sue to make it possible.
Problem is, “reasonable” is such an unpopular concept these days.