Well, I should qualify that: it’s the last test of my pre-clinical years. (The first two years are called pre-clinical because we don’t see much of the clinical side, because we don’t really know too much.) So, for two years we sit mostly in lectures, labs, small groups, and the library, learning the basics of human biology and illness. The cycle is predictable: three weeks of cramming, test, repeat. In our last block Life Cycle (our curriculum is organized by topic or organ system), we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But it turns out, that light is an illusion. It’s just another train heading full-speed towards us. We can’t we continue on to clinical training until we’ve passed the boards. What are the boards, you ask?
Well, “the boards”—or ‘the big quiz’ as one of my neurology professors calls it—are the first in a series of exams you take to become a doctor. Also called the USMLE, which stands for the United States Medical Licensing Exam. There are 3 Steps:
Step 1 encompasses all of general physiology (how the body works), anatomy, pharmacology (medications), microbiology (germs), biochemistry (proteins and that kind of stuff), and pathology (how disease happens and what it looks like). This is the stuff we learn during the first 1 ½ to 2 years of med school. In most schools passing step 1 is required in order to continue onto the clinical training of the second half of med school. Your step 1 score is important when you apply for the training after medical school, i.e. your residency.
Step 2 is usually taken in the 4th year of medical school. This next step tests your application of medical knowledge you have learned in diagnosing and treating patients. This is another 8 hour exam.
Step 3 is a 16 hour exam, taken over two days after the completion of the first year of residency (a.k.a. ‘internship’). Then you are finally a doctor.
More knowledge. More questions. More pressure.
So how is this supposed to be encouraging? How will this litany of obstacles keep you excited about becoming a doctor?
Well, it’s about perception. How you choose to see this path ahead. Stay tuned!