Any medical student applying for residency programs dreads the idea of failing the USMLE exam, believing there’s no way to overcome this failure and be considered for interviews. However, it isn’t really the end of the world, and there’s a lot you can still do for USMLE success.
Let’s decode some common myths about the USMLE, and look at some strategies for residency applications with multiple attempts.
Common USMLE Myths vs. the Truth
Here are a couple of myths about USMLE exams:
- USMLE Attempts – There’s a wide-ranging myth that you will not get interviews from residency programs in the U.S. with multiple USMLE attempts. Many residency candidates believe this means the end of their medical career, before it even starts!
The fact is, many residency programs don’t care about failed attempts at the USMLE exams. Some may treat this as a fault, but even they might make an exception if you’re willing to put in extra effort on the rest of your application.
- Old/International Graduates – Another common myth is that older medical graduates, especially International Medical Graduates or IMGs, cannot score well in the USMLE exams or get residency in any U.S. residency programs.
This is not entirely true, since there is no age limit for taking the exam. However, Old IMGs who graduated medical school outside of the U.S. more than 5 years back will not be considered for most residency programs in the country.
Applying for Residency with Multiple Attempts
Here are some strategies for applying with multiple USMLE attempts:
- Work Hard on Other Steps – Failing at one stage of an exam often means working harder at future stages to show your commitment. If you failed USMLE Step 1, for instance, the USMLE Step 2 CK/CS offers you the chance to show your abilities. Scoring very well at this stage could help you get residency.
- Check State Restrictions – In some states, you are only allowed a limited number of attempts at the USMLE exams. Make sure that you’re not applying for programs in states where your money and time will be wasted due to multiple attempts, and check this list carefully for compatible states.
- Check Program Restrictions – Along with checking whether there any attempt limits apply in each state, also check whether the residency program in question imposes its own limit for qualification. There are many programs that interview candidates with multiple attempts, so look for these instead.
- Tell Programs Your Story – If you’ve had a USMLE failure before passing, use this as an opportunity to show residency programs how you handle setbacks. Sharing the story in your Personal Statement proves that you can take responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them, which is important to programs.
- Build a Strong Application – Make sure that your Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) application, CV and Personal Statement are strong, well-written and error-free. They also need to be specific to the specialty you’ve chosen, with recent Letters of Recommendation from your clinical experience in the U.S.
- Take the Step 3 Exam – Consider taking the USMLE Step 3 exam if you have multiple attempts that raise questions or concerns with residency programs. Make sure that you’re completely prepared for the test, though. Multiple attempts combined with a Step 3 failure will be worse than multiple USMLE attempts alone.
Whether you’re an international student or a U.S. medical graduate, don’t let yourself become discouraged by a USMLE failure. Put in the effort and study harder to get a better score next time!
Originally from Philadelphia, Eric Brown is a resident of New York, where he works as a standardized patient (SP) and advises NYCSPREP with their Clinical Skills Course. With many years of experience and industry insight into all things SP-related, he helps students ace their CS exams by simulating patients they will work with. He also remains up to date with expectations, trends, and developments in CS exams, to help NYCSPREP keep their course current. In his free time, Eric likes unwinding by watching baseball and can be found at the game when the Phillies (his home team) are playing. If you have any questions about standardized CS exams or courses at NYCSPREP, email Eric at email@example.com or visit www.nycsprep.com.