The New USMLE Step 1 Paradigm: An Opportunity to Cultivate Diversity of Excellence

Acad Med. 2020 Sep;95(9):1325-1328. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003512.


The February 2020 announcement that United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 results will be reported as pass/fail instead of numerical scores has been controversial. Step 1 scores have played a key role in residency selection, including screening for interviews. Although Step 1 scores are viewed as an objective criterion, they have been shown to disadvantage female and underrepresented minority applicants, cause student anxiety and financial burden, and affect student well-being. Furthermore, Step 1 scores incompletely predict applicants' overall residency performance. With this paradigm shift in Step 1 score reporting, residency programs will have fewer objective, standardized metrics for selection decisions, which may lead to greater emphasis on USMLE Step 2 Clinical Knowledge scores or yield unintended consequences, including shifting weight to metrics such as medical school reputation.Yet, greater breadth in residency selection metrics will better serve both applicants and programs. Some students excel in coursework, others in research or leadership. All factors should be recognized, and broader metrics should be implemented to promote and recognize diversity of excellence. Given the need for metrics for residency selection as well as for a more holistic approach to evaluating residency applicants, assessment during medical school should be revisited and made more meaningful. Another opportunity may involve use of situational judgment tests to predict professionalism and performance on other competencies. It will be important to evaluate the impact of the new Step 1 paradigm and related initiatives going forward. Residency application overload must also be addressed.

MeSH terms

  • Competency-Based Education
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate* / methods
  • Educational Measurement / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Licensure, Medical*
  • Male
  • Minority Groups
  • Sex Factors
  • United States