Study of Selected Outcomes of Medical Students Who Fail USMLE Step 1

Med Educ Online. 2006 Dec;11(1):4589. doi: 10.3402/meo.v11i.4589.


Purpose: Passage of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) is required to obtain a medical license in the United States. Currently the majority of US medical schools require passage of USMLE Step 1 for either promotion to the third year or graduation from medical school. Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine (VCUSOM) requires that students take the USMLE but does not require passing of USMLE Step 1 for promotion or graduation. This policy enabled the authors to analyze performance outcomes during clinical rotations and monitor the residency match for a group of students who failed USMLE Step 1 on the first attempt.

Methods: Third year clerkship grades and residency match results were reviewed for 64 students of the graduating classes of 1999-2005 who failed Step 1 on the first attempt. An equal number of students who passed Step 1 were randomly selected from each class as a comparison group. Average clinical performance ratings, NBME subject exam scores and final third year clerkship grades for the two groups were compared. Residency match rates and specialty certification were also compared.

Results: The USMLE Fail Group had more Pass and fewer Honors clerkship grades than the comparison group. Subject exam scores were significantly lower in the USMLE Fail Group in all clerkships. Clinical performance ratings were significantly lower in the Fail group in three out of six clerkships: Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry. However, 82% of the USMLE Fail Group later passed USMLE Step 1 and 2. Fifty-nine of the 64 students in the USMLE Fail Group matched for a residency, whereas all of the students in the Pass Group matched for a residency.

Conclusion: Students who fail USMLE Step 1 have lower final clerkship grades due in part to lower NBME subject exam scores. The majority of these students, however, successfully pass USMLE Step 1 prior to graduation, go on to graduate medical training, and become board certified in their specialty.