A Novel USMLE® Step 1 Based Approach to Introducing Radiation Oncology to Second-Year Preclinical Medical Students

J Cancer Educ. 2024 Apr;39(2):168-173. doi: 10.1007/s13187-023-02390-w. Epub 2023 Dec 12.


There is a paucity of formalized exposure to Radiation Oncology (RO) for preclinical medical students across the United States as well as barriers to implementation within undergraduate medical education curriculum at many institutions. We present a novel approach to implementing an introductory RO didactic lecture to second-year medical students by interweaving associated oncological and ionizing radiation content represented on the United States Medical Licensing Exam® (USMLE®) Step 1 examination. Students had synchronous and asynchronous opportunities to engage with the 1.0-h didactic lecture administered by an attending Radiation Oncologist faculty member. Students were electronically invited to anonymously rank the effectiveness of the lecture materials on a 5-point Likert scale. Performance on standardized board-style questions regarding radiation biology and radiation side effects was recorded before and after the lecture and compared to the historic performance of previous institutional second-year medical student cohorts. The lecture material effectiveness received a mean score of 4.50 on a 5-point Likert scale. There was a statistically significant improvement in student performance on a board-style radiation side effect question from 39% on a pretest to 76% on a posttest. A USMLE® topic-based approach may be an effective way to implement a formalized introduction to RO to preclinical medical students while simultaneously improving performance on relevant standardized board-style questions. Providing evidence that RO topics appear on the USMLE® Step 1 examination curriculum was a powerful incentive for implementation when negotiating with curriculum offices.

Keywords: Radiation oncology; Undergraduate medical education; Standardized medical licensing examination; Preclinical medical students; USMLE Step 1.

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Humans
  • Radiation Oncology* / education
  • Students, Medical*
  • United States