Step Siblings: a Novel Peer-Mentorship Program for Medical Student Wellness During USMLE Step 1 Preparation

Med Sci Educ. 2022 Jun 13;32(4):803-810. doi: 10.1007/s40670-022-01571-4. eCollection 2022 Aug.


Introduction: The US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 exam has proven a difficult stressor for medical students during their training, even with the advent of pass-fail scoring. The preparation period before the exam places students at high risk for burnout and depression, leading to impaired exam performance and other serious consequences including suicide. Many medical schools already provide academic support for students during USMLE Step 1 preparation, yet to date, there are no published programs specifically geared towards mental health support during this time.

Methods: Students from the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont developed the "Step-Siblings" program to partner pre-clinical level students preparing for Step 1 (Little Sibs) with clinical-level students (Big Sibs) in an effort to promote near-peer mentorship and support for those studying. Big Sibs were trained to offer emotional support and wellness advice, but specifically not to provide academic counselling. The pilot program was evaluated by student surveys.

Results: Our program successfully paired Little Sibs (n = 125) with Big Sibs (n = 75) several months preceding the Step 1 dedicated study period, achieving the intended effect of reducing burnout and fostering a supportive community during a notoriously isolating and emotionally challenging time. Survey results indicated that a majority of Little and Big Sibs found the program helpful.

Conclusions: This student-driven mentorship model is simple to implement, easily generalizable to other medical schools and other board exams, and bears the lasting benefit of combatting the stress and burnout so prevalent in medical education.

Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s40670-022-01571-4.

Keywords: Burnout; Peer mentoring; Step 1; USMLE; Wellness program.