Hundreds of medical students from the University of Maryland, Georgetown University, George Washington University, and Johns Hopkins University are participating in a nationwide campaign to eliminate a standardized licensing test they consider redundant and financially debilitating.
Just to sit for the Step 2 Clinical Skills exam, students are required to pay a $1,275 registration fee. Furthermore, because the exam is only offered in five U.S. cities, students must also deal with the rising costs of travel and hotel accommodations. These students are in their fourth year of medical school, which means that they are also in the midst of interviewing for residency programs, which requires them to travel all across the country. The costs, they say, are just unmanageable.
“A thousand dollars for a medical student, especially one dependent on financial aid, is a lot of money,” said Johns Hopkins student Sbaa Syeda. “If the school is able to offer us an identical exam, still test those skills and certify that we are able to be competent physicians, then there is no need for a second standardized exam.”
More than 16,500 students, residents, and physicians from more than 130 medical schools have joined the cause. They argue that the test, which measures bedside manner and real-world problem solving, should be replaced with an alternative exam that medical schools could administer at no cost to the students.
The campaign also touches on a much larger debate — the astronomical cost of medical school. While the average U.S. household with debt carries about $47,712 in student loan debt, medical students who graduated in 2014 had a median debt of $180,000.
Students are saying that the Step 2 exam only adds to the mounting load of expenses medical students incur before earning their first paycheck.
Furthermore, they argue that the test offers no opportunity for them to assess their abilities or learn from their mistakes since the exam report provides nothing but a pass/fail score without any notes or comments on what they need to improve. Senior vice president for assessment services at the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) agreed that the board could offer more feedback to schools, though he expressed concerns that providing any more information about the exam could lead to cheating.
Andrew Zureick, a student at the University of Michigan Medical School, submitted a resolution to the Michigan state Medical Society, asking that they eliminate the exam. The society voted in May to bring the motion to an American Medical Association meeting in June. During that meeting, the AMA agreed to work with the Federation of State Medical Boards and the NBME to find a solution.