Will USMLE changes affect the MD/Phd? How?

Medical students and MD/PhD applicants have likely heard the rumors: the USMLE program sequence will be changing.  This news quickly draws the attention of those starting down the regimen of a MD/PhD program.  Most MD/PhD students currently take 2 years of medical school basic science and the USMLE step 1 exam before heading down the PhD road.  So, what changes are planned and how will these mandates change the order of the MD/PhD program as we know it?

First, the United States Medical Licensing Examination board (USMLE) has been holding hearings and writing the new principles that will guide a new exam structure since 2005.  The process is slow and the future changes still need to be defined, communicated with and approved by medical schools, state medical boards, and national medical boards.  In short, we don’t know the exact language of the changes, but we can guess what the

When will the changes happen?  The earliest year the exam would be affected would be 2011.  The USMLE board expressed the importance of providing a grace period to allow for students who have passed Step 1 to take Step 2.  This means that whatever system is in place when you begin your program, that’s the program that you’ll follow thanks to likely grandfathering clauses.

What’s changing? The full statement of principles are outlined on the USMLE website.  It’s important to note a couple things: clinical skills and basic science knowledge will be tested at the same time, so MSTP students will need some of the third year curriculum to take the test.  And they’ll need to take the exam at least 9 months before they plan to start their residency program.

One change will surely drive changes in the medical school curriculum, and favor MD PhD students.  The board’s recommendations stated:

CEUP [board] recommends that USMLE emphasize the importance of the scientific foundations of medicine in all components of the assessment process. The assessment of these foundations should occur within a clinical context or framework, to the greatest extent possible.

The hope is that this new emphasis on the exam will change the way that physicians are trained–to think more like scientists!

Read the principles of the new changes http://www.usmle.org/General_Information/review.html

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