NYMC Faculty Publications

The USMLE Step 1 Pass/Fail Reporting Proposal: The APDR Position

Journal Title

Academic Radiology

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Publication Date

October 2019




BACKGROUND: The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) has convened a conference of "key stakeholders" on March 11-12, 2019 to consider reporting the results of the USMLE Step 1 as pass/fail. DISCUSSION: While the original purpose of the USMLE Step 1 was to provide an objective basis for medical licensing, the score is increasingly used in residency applicant screening and selection because it is an objective, nationally recognized metric allowing comparison across medical schools in and outside the United States. Excessive reliance on the Step 1 score in the matching process has led to "Step 1 Culture" that drives medical schools to "teach to the test," increases medical student anxiety, and disadvantages minorities that have been shown to score lower on the USMLE Step 1 examination. The outsize role of the USMLE Step 1 score in resident selection is due to lack of standardization in medical school transcripts, grade inflation, and the lack of class standing in many summative assessments. Furthermore, the numeric score allows initial Electronic Residency Application Service filtering, commonly used by programs to limit the number of residency applications to review. CONCLUSION: The Association of Program Directors in Radiology (APDR) is concerned that pass/fail reporting of the USMLE Step 1 score would take away an objective measure of medical student's knowledge and the incentive to acquire as much of it as possible. Although the APDR is not in favor of the Step 1 exam being used as a screening tool, in the absence of an equal or better metric for applicant comparison the APDR opposes the change in Step 1 reporting from the numeric score to pass/fail.