Medical students must conquer new hurdle

After years of studying and taking many courses, there’s one more thing medical students must do before becoming a physician: Take yet another exam.

Before becoming a physician, he or she must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. Historically, students have taken the USMLE in three steps, said Dr. Paul Wallach, associate dean of curriculum and medical education at the College of Medicine.

According to the USMLE Web site, the second step of the exam, which assesses a student’s ability to care for patients under supervision, will be expanded in 2004. The expansion will incorporate the testing of the potential physician’s bedside manner by adding the area of clinical skills as a section to be mastered, along with the traditional area of clinical knowledge.

“There’s been a lot of pressures on medical professions over the last decade with patients saying they don’t feel like their doctors care,” Wallach said.

The clinical skills portion of the exam involves the use of carefully trained patient portrayers to evaluate students on communication skills and clear and concise information gathering and documenting, among other things.

The addition of the extra part to the test will cost $975 and will be conducted at five different centers in the United States.

USF medical students are assigned to the center in Atlanta, Wallach said. These students will get to break in their lab coats before they make the trek to Atlanta, thanks to an exam of similar format that they will take at USF the semester prior to the exam.

“While we require students to take it and pass it, we use it as a tool to provide formative feedback for students before the national exam,” Wallach said.

USF has been conducting the exam for five years. It is a partial product of the college’s interaction with the department of communication. The department works with the college to teach communication skills throughout the curriculum, Wallach said.

The exam at USF is held in May or June, and the national exam is held in the fall, Wallach said.

“The stakes are high,” Wallach said, speaking of the national exam. “If they don’t pass the test, they don’t get a medical license.”