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Baby Steps

January 23, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

It seems that I still need to work on announcing my hiatuses (hiati?) from blogging prospectively. If even CMS has agreed to assign Medicare beneficiaries to ACOs on an ex ante basis, I really have no excuse.

*crickets chirping*

In my defence, I am a second-year medical student, though you might not know it from my taste in health reform jokes.

It isn’t that the content of medical school is intrinsically difficult. In a refreshing change from my previous education in economics and social sciences, there are usually right answers. Unambiguously right answers that rest on a foundation of the (usually) internally consistent logic of human pathophysiology. There are fewer clinically-relevant “models” per se, and their assumptions rarely engender as much bitter controversy as those in… say… macroeconomics. To be fair, my contention that the kidney only makes sense if you posit the existence of a sodium/unicorn dust exchanger in the loop of Henle took a while to gain acceptance.

*more crickets chirping*

What makes medical school hard isn’t the material. It’s the volume that gives us a run for our money. Not only do we have to learn “everything” in two years or less, we have to remember it. For Step 1.

(If you’re a second-year medical student, consider stopping here. For your sanity, of course)

Physicians in the United States are licensed, as are physicians in countries like Canada, the UK, Australia… probably most others. As one might expect, physicians in the US are expected to pass a nationally standardized exam to qualify for licensure. As in Canada, there is one part that is taken before entering post-graduate training, and another part that is taken after at least one year of residency.

However, as politicians are quick to remind us, the US is exceptional. Because in my poking around medical licensure systems of similar countries, the United States Medical Licensing Exam is the only test with anything like Step 1.

(I said it again. Second years, I warned you.)

The simplest way to describe Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam is as follows: a seven hour long, 322 multiple-choice question, 78 seconds-per-question final exam for the first two years of medical school.

An exam with sacred texts known to medical students across the country: First Aid; Goljan; Robbins Review; the Q-Books; BRS; High Yield

An exam for which completing a few thousand practice questions is considered “barely enough.”

An exam that plays a significant role in whether you’ll get accepted into the residency program, or even the specialty, of your choice.

An exam for which most students are given 5-8 weeks of time off in which to study full-time right before taking it.

An exam for which many students start studying six months in advance. Which for me is… now.

I tell you all of this because between now and mid-May (when 5 week journey of discovery and practice questions begins in earnest) my posting will be even more infrequent than before, and those posts that are written may well feature less of the policy commentary you’ve grown accustomed to and more… “medical student stuff.” That said, I assure you it will continue to be worth your time.

As for your intrepid blogger/test-taker… despite my flair for the dramatic, I’ll be fine. Just under six months from today, I take the next step on the road to licensure. I will take that seven-hour, 322-question exam. And I will crush it. You heard it here first.


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