The US Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 Scoring Change: A Survey of Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Applicants From the 2019 to 2020 Match Cycle

J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2022 Jan 12. doi: 10.5435/JAAOS-D-21-00615. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: The USMLE Step 1 examination has been used as an objective measure for comparing residency applicants. Recently, the National Board of Medical Examiners and the Federation of State Medical Boards decided that the USMLE Step 1 examination will transition to a pass/fail result starting no earlier than 2022. The purpose of this study was to investigate the perspective of medical students who applied for orthopaedic surgery residency positions during the 2019 to 2020 interview cycle on the USMLE scoring change, and the potential effect this change may result in for future applicants and the residency selection process.

Methods: A 15-item anonymous web-based survey was sent to 1,090 orthopaedic surgery residency applicants from four regionally diverse residency programs. The survey elicited attitudes toward the transition of the Step 1 examination to pass/fail and perspectives this change may or may not have on the residency selection process.

Results: Responses were received from 356 applicants (32.7%). The majority (61.6%) disagreed with the change to pass/fail scoring, and 68.5% do not believe that the change will decrease stress levels in medical students. For interview invitations, respondents chose Step 2 clinical knowledge, letters of recommendation, and performance on away rotations as the most influential factors in the absence of a Step 1 score.

Conclusion: Most of the students surveyed who applied for an orthopaedic surgery residency position during the most recent application cycle disagreed with the National Board of Medical Examiner/Federation of State Medical Board decision to change Step 1 to pass/fail and feel that this change may have disadvantage in certain student groups while either increasing or having no effect on medical student stress.

Level of evidence: IV.