To aspire for that MD to come after your surname is all but a pipe dream – well, until it’s not. While the road to becoming a medical doctor is certainly long and winding, it is not impossible. Like every grand quest, the path of a would-be medical professional has its own challenges but all you’ve got to do is tough it out until the very end. After all, in this industry, hard work doesn’t go by unnoticed. Surely, it will be greener on the other side. All your experiences pre-graduation are what will mold you into becoming the health ally you aspire to be.
Amidst all the hardships and obstacles that plague the jungle we call “medical industry,” one particular test series seem to be universally feared by all: The USMLE. The United States Medical Licensure Examination is a three-part test series that is taken at different intervals during your time in medical school. As if the stress and pressure of studying medicine isn’t enough to make you cry in the first place. Anyhow, the USMLE is a prerequisite to applying for residency at any hospital. In other words, even if you get a degree in medicine, your title will still not be recognized by National Authorities (including hospitals) as long as you have not yet taken or passed the USMLE. Talk about uptight, right?
But you should know that these examinations are put in place for good reason.
First off, when you aspire to become a medical professional, you should be clear on what exactly the role means. Being a doctor is more than just wearing an elegant white coat or stringing a stethoscope all convincingly on your neck. It’s also more than just receiving hefty pay checks. Being a doctor is becoming responsible for the lives of patients; it’s about helping others out so that they can afford themselves to dream of a future. The prestige and benefits that comes with the role are all but extras. They’re nothing but perks of the profession. What really matters is the fulfilment and meaning that comes with what you do, with who you help.
Given that fairly dramatic and pivotal role, it is only reasonable that concerned authorities are uptight about the whole education system. Once they allow a person to practice medicine in the real world, there’s no turning back. You can’t undo consequences that come from erroneous and uninformed medical decisions. If you are to become a doctor, you will be dealing with real and precious life. There are no do-overs and definitely no “respawns.” A careless mistake can lead to the eradication of a future. So instead of wondering why the medical industry is so uptight about evaluative tests and comprehensive examinations, ask yourself why they’re doing it.
Maintaining public safety and preserving human welfare always comes first. As an aspiring medical professional, you should know that yourself. These tests are administered to make sure that each and every learning student only gets the best education. After all, medicine is not something you can perfect. Not all conditions are easy to decipher; not all of them go by the textbook symptoms. This is why our young professionals are exceptionally honed to be ready for all types of scenarios. After all, while practice does not make perfect, it does make permanent.
Now that you understand the importance of the USMLE test series and the role it plays in every medical professional’s growth. Let’s explain in greater detail what these tests actually are. Let’s discuss all the important things that you should anticipate when you plan to go to medical school.
As we mentioned earlier, the USMLE is a three-part test series that are administered in intervals throughout your time in med school. Each part is referred to as a “step” so basically you have USMLE Step 1, 2 and 3 to worry about. Technically speaking, there would be four exams in total since Step 2 is divided into two parts: 2-CK for Clinical Knowledge and 2-CS for Clinical Skills. Both of which are very important of course.
While all three tests are undoubtedly important, the first one holds the most weight of them all. After all, it is what hospitals and medical centers require when you apply for residency after graduation. In fact, students can already start applying to institutions of their choice as soon as the results of Step 1 roll in. However, because this part is the most crucial, students are expected to perform their best on the very first exam. A high score in USMLE Step 1 can easily get you through the door of your first choice hospital later on.
First things first, let’s discuss what you should expect of USMLE Step 1.
Step 1 has the most weight out of the three parts of the USMLE. After you have passed Step 1, you can start handing in your applications for residency already. A good score on this test can guarantee you a chance in having a future in the medical field. But what is it really?
Although just thinking about the exam can be quite daunting, Step 1 is basically a knowledge test consisting of 280 questions that are further divided into 7 segments of more or less 40 items. Each segment or “block” should be answered within 60 minutes. This means that the test runs for 7 hours, well, 8 if you count the short breaks in between. This exam is administered after two years of medical school and covers the basic sciences plus all the subjects that a regular student would have taken up in the first few years of post-graduate studies.
Other than the extensive study load, one major fear students have about Step 1 is time. You are given roughly a minute and a half for each question so that doesn’t give you much time to think critically. But if you think about it, your future profession requires you to think on your feet so this test is actually good practice for that.
Out of all the tests, it is important that you ace the USMLE Step 1, which you can do so with the help of professional review centers and tutors – of course!
Climbing the hurdle that is Step 1 can be a very daunting challenge. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Just after a year of taking Step 1, you can already start preparing for Step 2-CK and CS. The second part of the USMLE test series is divided into two further categories: Clinical Knowledge and Clinical Skills.
2-CS can help you recover from a bad (but passing) score in Step 1. It is a Clinical Knowledge test comprised of questions not exceeding 318. Just like the first part, it is further divided into 60-minute blocks with no more than 40 questions each. This test is a little longer as it can last up to 9 hours, including in-between breaks. Again, it’s a multiple choice questionnaire but the challenge is that you also have to race the clock with this many items.
Now, if you’re not too sure about how your results are going to play out in Step 2, and your score is already satisfactory on Step 1, many professionals advise that you should send applications for residency before you even take 2-CK. It is already enough to just present your Step 1 exam results in most cases, after all. There is a possibility for your 2-CK score to affect your Step 1 score so unless you’re trying to redeem your score from the first exam, it would be better to take 2-CK at a much later time – or at least after you’ve handed in your residency applications.
The last part of the USMLE test series is a two-day examination and is usually taken upon the completion of one postgraduate training year. While 75% of the exam consists of multiple choice questions, the remaining 25% is comprised of clinical or patient case simulations. In other words, it is a combination of Knowledge and Practical Application. One good thing about Step 3 is that you don’t have to take the exam in two consecutive days. You can take Day 1 this week and take Day 2 the next so it’s really up to how lenient your training schedule is.
The first day would include a 233-item multiple choice questionnaire divided into 6 segments of around 40 questions. Other than the number of items, other details are technically the same as with the other exams. You get 60 minutes for each block which means that the exams would run for at least 7-8 hours on Day 1. As for Day 2, you will have to focus more on patient cases and medical simulations. Step 3 is an examination that determines whether you are ready to practice professionally and on your own. It determines whether you are ready to make your own calls on the hospital floor and whether you can take responsibility for your own actions. A medical professional cannot independently practice his or her profession without passing this exam.
Luckily, all you have to do is to pass this test. There is really no score requirement. You just need to get above the median score and pass. And since this exam will not affect your residency in any way, you can focus your efforts more on actually learning more about medical processes rather than just studying desperately to get a higher mark.
Once you’ve been accepted or considered by a reputable establishment, you just need to pass the 2-CK exam, no need to drive yourself crazy trying to aim for ridiculously high marks. But of course, if you can, you can try acing all of the tests too. Doing so would make your professional profile look like eye-candy to hospitals and medical companies in the future.
Anyway, after 2-CK there is 2-CS. Part two of Step 2 focuses more on Clinical Skills so this means that you have to familiarize yourself with the actual application of medical techniques and knowledge. These practical tests would gauge your ability to perform medical skills such as administering medical tests to patients, collecting and analysing patient data, communicating results or building rapport with patients, as well as other practical skills necessary for a medical professional. 2-CS is basically just a pass or fail test and you can take it on a different day or week than 2-CK to give you ample time to recharge as well. Once you pass, you can already proceed to the final Step.
Some people prefer to self-review for these examinations. But that’s also why some people fail on their first try. Aside from the heavy study load, many factors influence the results of the USMLE examinations – how fast you can read each question item, how fast you can decipher the right answer from the choices, etc. Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that this test series is more than just memorizing mnemonics or reading lots and lots of material. It also requires heavy practice. After all, you can be really good but still very slow. And that wouldn’t help you pass any of the exams.
A USMLE Tutor can help you refine your examination skills as well as enrich your medical knowledge. You will also gain access to better study materials that conveniently highlight subjects that are most likely to come out on the actual test. Mock examinations are also practiced during professional reviews so that you can get a solid feel of how the test runs and therefore, better manage your time. There are many benefits to hiring a USMLE tutor but you also have to make sure that you hire the right one.
Get yourself a competent USMLE tutor and put all your exam worries to rest. You can never be too prepared when it comes to situations like these so best make sure that you’ve done everything you can to turn the tides in your favour!