United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 will transition from numeric grading to pass/fail, sometime after January 2022. The aim of this study was to compare how program directors in orthopaedics and internal medicine perceive a pass/fail Step 1 will impact the residency application process.
A 27-item, validated survey was distributed through REDCap to 197 U.S. orthopaedic residency program directors and 554 U.S. internal medicine residency program directors. Program director emails were obtained from the American Medical Association’s Fellowship and Residency Electronic Interactive Database.
We received 58 (36.0%) orthopaedic and 125 (22.8%) internal medicine program director responses. The majority of both groups disagree with the change to pass/fail, and felt that the decision was not transparent. Both groups believe that the Step 2 Clinical Knowledge exam and clerkship grades will take on more importance. Compared to internal medicine, orthopaedic PDs have greater odds of emphasizing research (OR 6.43, CI 3.18-13.00, p < 0.001), letters of recommendation from known faculty (OR 3.22, CI 1.77–5.87, p < 0.001)), Alpha Omega Alpha membership (OR 4.96, CI 2.65–9.25, p < 0.001), leadership/extracurricular activities (OR 3.69, CI 1.96–6.95, p < 0.001), audition elective rotations (OR 6.20, CI 3.21–11.97, p < 0.001) and personal knowledge of the applicant (OR 2.93, CI 1.61–5.34, p < 0.001). Both groups believe that allopathic students from less prestigious medical schools, osteopathic students, and international medical graduates will be disadvantaged. Orthopaedic and internal medicine program directors agree that medical schools should adopt a graded pre-clinical curriculum, and that there should be a cap on the number of residency applications a student can submit.
Orthopaedic and internal medicine program directors disagree with the change of Step 1 to pass/fail. They also believe that this transition will make the match process more difficult, and disadvantage students from less highly-regarded medical schools. Both groups will rely more heavily on the Step 2 clinical knowledge exam score, but orthopaedics will place more importance on research, letters of recommendation, Alpha Omega Alpha membership, leadership/extracurricular activities, personal knowledge of the applicant, and audition electives.