A group of five students from Harvard Medical School have gathered 6,000 signatures from students, residents and faculty members across the country calling for the National Board of Medical Examiners to eliminate an expensive and unnecessary patient skills test that is part of the licensing requirements for physicians. The Step 2CS exam tests patient care skills in a role playing format that the petition says is a waste of time. Registration for the test is over $1,200 and since it is only offered in five cities across the nation, most students have to add airfare, lodging and meals to the price tag.
Officials from the National Board of Medical Examiners argue that the test is a necessary part of assessing patient care skills and a way to validate the quality of work and training going on in U.S. medical schools. Students are assessed on their ability to conduct a full exam for a patient from start to finish that includes the initial patient consultation, full medical exam and final diagnosis and treatment plan. While student advocates claim that the 96% success rate of students passing the exam the first time they take it proves that the test is too easy, the Board reports that over 800 students failed the test in the 2013-2014 school year.
The Harvard student advocacy group is also frustrated with the lack of feedback following the exam. Students receive a pass or fail grade, but there is no communication provided on strengths or weaknesses assessed. Officials at the National Board of Medical Examiners claim that giving detailed feedback would invalidate the test since students would be able to compare notes and gain an unfair advantage to prepare for scenarios presented ahead of the test. The Board currently communicates weaknesses seen in the assessments to medical schools across the country so that they can improve their teaching and training in these areas.
The Step 2CS exam is currently only offered in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The American Medical Student Association is in favor of increasing the number of testing sites across the country, which will reduce travel costs for the majority of those required to take the test. Though they have not taken a position on the issue of eliminating the patient care skills test, they do support the call for more detailed feedback from the Board.
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