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Do doctors have rights against gender-biased board certification?

For physicians, achieving a board certification in their medical specialty often isn’t the result of additional training undertaken to bring prestige to their practices. In many areas, board certification is either required to practice at all, or in order to achieve affordable malpractice insurance. For dermatologists, apparently, certification is the final exam, so to speak, just as bar membership is for practicing attorneys. When dermatologists fail the certification exam — or are later expelled by the board — they must repeat their medical residencies, according to a recent federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that the American Association of Physician Specialists, the agency responsible for administering board certifications for doctors, is biased against women, and possibly minorities as well. A female dermatologist from California claims that she was stripped of her certification in retaliation for criticizing the AAPS’s CEO, who had allegedly admitted to discriminatory behavior in a 2011 lawsuit. Furthermore, she says, the group engages in a practice of racial- and gender-bias, including manipulating its certification exams so that female doctors will repeatedly fail.

According to the lawsuit, in 2011 the AAPS’s former director of certification sued its CEO for egregious verbal and physical abuse and for exposing her to pornographic and racially biased emails. After the CEO allegedly admitted at least some of that misconduct, the case was settled but, according to the dermatologist, he was not punished and no corrective policy changes were made.

Three male doctors asked for an investigation into those claims and were suspended from their specialties in retaliation. The dermatologist publicly posted her objection to the suspensions on the AAPS’s LinkedIn page. The group pulled down her criticism and threatened to sue her and revoke her certification, she claims. The three male doctors sued the association, which responded with a defamation suit — against those three and the dermatologist.

Sure enough, the dermatologist’s certification was revoked, allegedly in retaliation for her complaint about the board’s discriminatory practices. She has now expanded her own claim to a larger issue — she says the association provides residency trainers to help male applicants prepare for the dermatology exam — even to the point of giving them advance copies of the exact test questions. Women, and perhaps minorities, are left defenseless against an exam focusing on arcane materials unrelated to the subject matter reasonably expected of a practicing dermatologist. And, should they pass, their applications are often unfairly delayed.

She is suing the AAPS, its CEO and several other officers for discrimination, civil rights violations, defamation, unfair business practices and other abuses. She is seeking $5 million in damages.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Female Doctor Slams Specialization Board,” Matt Reynolds, Aug. 22, 2013