“The standard has to be reasonable”
There are concerns about the availability of fellowship slots and other issues, but the 4-year rule – instead of averaging clinical hours over 4 or 5 years, for instance – is the main sticking point. It’s a gender issue because “women take maternity; women move with their spouse; women take care of elders; women tend to be in these roles that require time off” more than men do, Dr. Fromme said.
Until the board releases its data, the gender breakdown of the denials and the degree to which practice gaps due to such issues led to them is unknown. There’s concern that women have been unfairly penalized.
The storm was set off on the discussion board this summer by stories from physicians such as, a pediatric hospitalist currently working in the neonatal ICU at Stanford (Calif.) University. She was denied a seat at the table in November, appealed, and was denied again.
She was a full-time pediatric hospitalist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, from 2014, when she graduated residency, until Oct. 2018, when her husband, also a doctor, was offered a promising research position in California, and “we decided to take it,” Dr. DeZure said.
They moved to California with their young son in November. Dr. DeZure got her California medical license in 6 weeks, was hired by Stanford in January, and started her new postion in mid-April.
Because of the move, she worked only 3.5 years in the board’s 4 year practice window, but, as is common with young physicians, that time was spent in direct patient care, for a total of over 6,000 hours.
“How is that not good enough? How is a person that worked 500 hours with patients for 4 years” – for a total of 2,000 hours – “better qualified than someone who worked 100% for 3 and a half years? Nobody is saying there shouldn’t be a standard, but the standard has to be reasonable,” Dr. DeZure said.
“Illegal regardless of intent”
It’s situations like Dr. DeZure’s that led to the petition. One of demands is that ABP “revise the practice pathway criteria to be more inclusive of applicants with interrupted practice and varied clinical experience, to include clear-cut parameters rather than considering these applications on a closed-door ‘case-by-case basis...at the discretion of the ABP.’ ” Also, the petition asks the board to “clarify the appeals process and improve responsiveness to appeals and inquiries regarding denials.”
As ABP noted in its statement, however, the major demand is that the board “facilitate a timely analysis to determine if gender bias is present.” The petition noted that signers “do not suspect intentional bias on the part of the ABP; however, if gender bias is present it is unethical and potentially illegal regardless of intent.”
For now, the perception is that the board has “a hard 48-month rule” with not many exceptions; there are people who are “very concerned that, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t have children for 4 years because I won’t be able to sit for the boards.’ No one should ever have to have that in their head,” Dr. Fromme said. At this point, it seems that 3 months off for maternity is being grandfathered in, but perhaps not 6 months for a second child; no one knows for sure.
Dr. DeZure, meanwhile, continues to study for the board exam, just in case.
Looking back over the past year, she said “I could have somehow picked up one shift a week moonlighting that would have kept me eligible, but the [board] didn’t respond to me” when contacted about her situation during the California move.
“The other option was for me was to live cross country from my husband with a small child,” she said.