Current Views On The New United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 Pass/fail Format: A Review Of The Literature

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Journal of Surgical Research


Introduction: Residency programs have historically used numerical Step 1 scores to screen applicants, making it a career-defining, high-stakes examination. Step 1 scores will be reported as pass/fail starting in January 2022, fundamentally reshaping the residency application review process. This review aimed to identify opinions of physicians and medical students about the new format, identify arguments in support of or against the change, and determine the implications of this change on the residency selection process. Methods: A comprehensive PubMed review was performed in May 2021 to identify articles that discussed the new Step 1 format. Non-English and duplicate articles were excluded. Data collected from each article included publication year, specialty, subjects, and key findings. Results: A total of 81 articles were included, 26 of which discussed the impact of the new format within surgical fields (32.1%). Remaining articles discussed the implications within the medical community as a whole (n = 33, 40.7%) and nonsurgical fields (n = 22, 27.2%). Studies suggest Program Directors will rely on Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK) scores, medical school reputation, applicant familiarity, Dean's letters, recommendation letters, and research in lieu of numerical Step 1 scores. In addition, concerns have been raised that the new format will disadvantage international, osteopathic, and minority applicants while increasing stress surrounding Step 2 CK. Conclusions: Within the medical community, there are concerns that Step 2 CK will be used to substitute Step 1 and that resident diversity will diminish due to the new Step 1 format. Holistic candidate consideration will be increasingly important.

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