COVID-19 and the USMLE Scramble

May 1, 2020


Among the countless ways the COVID-19 / Coronavirus pandemic has upended life for millions of Americans is the wrench it’s thrown into medical school testing, including the

United States Medical Licensing Examination, better known as the USMLE. This three-step examination, sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), is required for medical licensure and students must pass all three steps before being permitted to practice medicine. But widespread closures, whether mandated or voluntary, of businesses deemed “non-essential” has caused significant disruption and left thousands of students in limbo.

Following recommendations by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Prometric, the global testing services provider that administers the USMLE, announced on April 10 that test centers in the United States and Canada would remain closed until May 1. However because compliance with social distancing guidelines means fewer people allowed in now-open testing centers at one time, additional testing dates are necessary. While reopening is welcome news, scheduling is proving stressful for students.

“My original scheduled test date was going to be May 8,” Natasha McGlaun, a second-year medical student at the University of Nevada,?Reno School of Medicine recently told Medscape. “Then it got pushed back to May 15. Then May 20. Now I’m scheduled for some time in the second week of June. They haven’t confirmed my date yet. It’s been hard trying to be in a mind-set of ‘you still need to be studying and focused, but you also need to use your resources wisely and try to relax.’”

Testing and school administrators urge students to remain flexible and take advantage of the extra study time while also being mindful of study fatigue. Meanwhile…

“Finding safe solutions to accommodate examinees’ testing needs has been our main focus and highest priority over the past few months,” the NBME said in a recent release. “Due to increasing uncertainty around having wider availability of in-person testing at Prometric test centers, the USMLE program has identified several alternate test delivery methods for Step 1, Step 2 CK, and Step 3 and has begun aggressively pursuing them.” 

Options could include remote test-taking. Aware that limitations on exams can impact students’ progression toward graduation and securing residencies, many schools are reevaluating timing of the Step exams and the?Coalition for Physician Accountability launched workgroups to consider downstream implications of educational disruptions related to COVID-19. One of those groups will address how the residency selection process for the class of 2021 needs to adapt. 

Through it all, industry leaders are urging students to stay focused on their career goals and not get discouraged.

“Lots of people feel that helplessness because of how their lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19,” said Christopher Cimino, MD, chief medical officer at Kaplan Medical. “But we need doctors. We need doctors to graduate, to enter the system. We have doctors who are retiring, at the other end of their career, and there need to be doctors who pick up that work. That is going to remain true. As long as there is a delay, there will be large pressure to find a way to shorten that delay. It’s in society’s best interest that students make progress.”

If you’re a medical student or planning to enter medical school, WOLFPACC can teach you how to maximize your experience and ultimate success with an innovative approach to the study and practice of medicine. We offer USMLE and COMLEX review courses proven to boost chances you’ll pass your exams on the first try. Call 904-209-3140 to learn more.