Last week the Alpert Medical School floated a proposal that would require medical students to pass Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination in order to graduate. On Nov. 24, the Faculty Executive Committee met with Associate Dean of Medicine Philip Gruppuso about the proposed change to the medical school's graduation requirements. Currently, students at Brown's medical school are required to take the USMLE Step 1, but do not need to pass it, Gruppuso said.
The new requirement would take effect beginning with the entering class of 2014, according to Gruppuso.
The USMLE Step 1 is the exam's first part and is normally taken at the end of the second year of medical school. It is the first licensing test that medical students take, and at many schools a passing score is required to continue to the third year, Gruppuso said.
Step 2 is usually taken during the final year of medical school, and students at Alpert are not required to take this exam, Gruppuso said. The final requirement, Step 3, is usually taken during a student's internship, the first year of residency, according to the USMLE Web site.
The primary purpose of Step 1 is to assess a student's ability to apply scientific concepts that are essential to the practice of medicine, including fields such as anatomy, genetics and physiology, according to the USMLE Web site. It is taken during a single session over the course of eight hours and consists of seven sections of 48 questions each, for a total of 336 questions altogether.
It is difficult to obtain a good residency without scoring well on the USMLE Step 1, Gruppuso said. Because of this, most medical students strive to pass the exam anyway, making the proposal largely symbolic. Furthermore, it is not possible to practice medicine without passing the USMLE Step 1, he added.
Students who do not intend to practice medicine will be able to receive waivers exempting them from the requirement, he said.
The funding guidelines of many of the federal loan programs that the medical school depends on now stipulate that medical students pass the USMLE Step 1, Gruppuso said.
The change is also partially a matter of reputation. Because Alpert is one of a very small number of medical schools that do not require students to pass the USMLE Step 1, Gruppuso said, there is a perception that its curriculum is not as rigorous as those at comparable schools.
"It just wasn't good P.R. for the medical school," he said. While he does not believe that the perception is fair, he admits that it is real nonetheless.
The proposal was first brought to the attention of the Medical Curriculum Committee, where it was approved, before being sent to the Biomedical Faculty Council, Gruppuso said. From there, it went to the Medical Faculty Executive Committee and then finally to the University's FEC.
FEC Chair Chung-I Tan, a professor of physics and chair of the department, said while the proposal is largely an internal matter for the medical school, all graduation requirement changes must go through the University FEC.
Tan said he anticipates that once it has been thoroughly vetted, it will be approved by the FEC within two or three months.
"We would like to do it early second semester," he said, to have the new policy in place before the next academic year.