January 30, 2009 (Philadelphia, PA) – The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) has agreed not to ask Sikh examinees to remove their turbans for security screenings at test centers. The Sikh Coalition applauds the NBME for understanding and responding to the concerns of the Sikh American community.
Medical Student Speaks Out
The Coalition first heard about this incident last year, when Kiranpreet Kaur Khurana, a medical student, told us her story.
In August 2007, Kiranpreet arrived at a testing center in New Jersey for her medical board exam – the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Having signed in, the administrator told Kiranpreet that her turban “had to” be searched. Flustered and surprised by the demand, Kiranpreet followed the administrator into the ladies’ restroom, where the administrator asked her to remove her turban and “shake it.” When she returned to the testing area after this embarrassing experience, Kiranpreet noticed that no other examinee’s clothing or pockets were being checked for any manner of contraband. Kiranpreet was the only examinee who was searched.
Coalition Takes Action
The Sikh Coalition reached out to the NBME, the organization that administers the exam, in early 2008. We were told that the USMLE considers turbans “an unauthorized personal item” in the exam room and turbans could therefore only be worn into the exam room if they were first searched. The NBME initially refused to change this policy.
Since then, the Coalition worked to convince the NBME to adopt an objectively neutral search policy. Our goal was to ensure that Sikhs are not singled out for searches when others who could be carrying small contraband in their clothing are not searched.
After nearly one year of advocacy on this matter, the NBME this month agreed to change its policy. Dr. Gerard Dillon, Vice President of the USMLE, wrote to the Sikh Coalition to say “Our procedure will allow the wearing of head coverings for religious reasons, as declared by the candidate. Test administration staff will be asked to visually inspect the head covering but the examinee will not be asked to remove it.”
The policy change is expected to go into effect by early February 2009.
“What a great feeling that people are finally starting to understand the importance of the turban for us and how it’s a part of us and our daily lives,” said Kiranpreet on the day the policy change was announced. “Credit goes to Sikh Coalition for fighting persistently and bringing a much-needed change in the NBME policy.”
In 2008, the Sikh Coalition worked with the North American Sikh Medical Dental Association (NASMDA) to change a similar policy for MCAT examinees.
The Sikh Coalition urges all Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly. If someone tells you to remove your articles of faith, please report the incident.