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Turbans No Longer Banned at Medical College Exams

India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji Posted: Oct 31, 2008

In its letter to a Sikh professional organization dated Oct. 2, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced it would no longer ban turbans at MCAT exam sites.

The MCAT the Medical College Admissions Test is an exam required for admission to U.S. medical schools. The AAMC, which administers the test through Thomson Prometrics, previously had a policy stating that anyone wearing a head covering could be asked to remove it at the MCAT examination room.

"The prohibition was not specifically directed at turbans," Joseph Keyes Jr., chief legal officer for the AAMC, told India-West. "It also applied to jackets, hats and baseball caps," he said.

Keyes, who wrote a letter to the North American Sikh Medical and Dental Association this month explaining the AAMC's revised policies, said examiners would now be able to visually inspect head coverings for hidden wires or notes. Test-takers would not be asked to remove their headwear for inspection, he said.

AAMC's new policy applies to all head coverings worn for religious purposes, including yarmulkes, turbans and scarves. Keyes said revised testing instructions would be sent to Thomson Prometrics.

NASMDA and the Sikh Coalition along with Dr. Jasjit Ahluwalia, associate dean of clinical research at the University of Minnesota medical school took up the issue with the AAMC last year when Angad Singh, a pre-medical student from Ohio, was told by an examiner to remove his turban for a search, or face being banned from taking the MCAT.

After some discussion, Singh agreed to remove his turban, and was then taken to a bathroom, where the turban was inspected. He was then allowed to retie it and take the test.

"It was a pretty unnerving incident," Singh told India-West. "The MCAT is a test that affects your entire future," he said, adding that he'd scored "pretty well" on the exam, but might have aced the test had he not been subjected to a search. Singh's parents contacted the Coalition after he took the test.

"Being singled out for a search is a pretty common occurrence if you wear a turban," said Singh, currently a consultant with McKinsey in New York. "But the timing of it made it worse," he said.

Neha Singh, western region director of the Sikh Coalition, told India-West that if the AAMC's old policy had been designed to thwart cheating, shoes and pockets should also have been routinely checked for all test-takers. "A turban is wound pretty tightly. It's pretty difficult to fit anything inside," she said.

"For a Sikh, covering the head is as important as putting on pants," said Singh, adding, "A lot of people assume its optional, but it's not."

Dr. Baljit Singh Sidhu, president of NASMDA, told India-West his son and his friends took the MCAT last year, and while his son was not asked to remove his turban before taking the test, several of his friends were. Sidhu said a similar policy was occasionally being applied with the Graduate Record Examination the GRE and even with high school students taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test SATs.

"You can hide test materials in your turban, but you can also hide them in your bra, your underwear or your baggy pants," said Sidhu. "It's discriminatory to only search people wearing turbans," he said.

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