USMLE Step 2CS is Cancelled

USMLE Step 2CS is Cancelled


Is This the End of Step 2CS?

On May 26th, USMLE announced on their website that amidst the prolonged coronavirus crisis in the United States, Step 2CS test administrations will be suspended for the next 12-18 months. While previously there was speculation that USMLE Step 2CS may switch to a telehealth online format to administer Step 2CS to students, USMLE noted in a statement that, “Due to the complexity of technical and psychometric work required, we have determined we will not be able to meet timelines for the immediate release of a revised exam.” As a result, Step 2CS has been suspended for at least a year. 


This cancellation begs the question: Is this the end of Step 2CS as we know it? While USMLE elaborated that over the next few weeks they will be announcing more detailed information on what this decision will mean for examinees, e.g., refunds, progression through education/training and medical licensure, many medical students and medical education professionals suspect that Step 2CS in its traditional form may be gone for good. 


USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) is the 2nd part of the USMLE Step 2 exam. The first part of USMLE Step 2 is called USMLE Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK) and is a one-day multiple choice exam administered over a 9-hour testing session consisting of around 300 questions. Step 2CS on the other hand is not a written exam and requires students to travel to one of only 5 testing centers in the United States to work through twelve standardized “patient” encounters using actors. Successfully passing both Step 2CK and Step 2CS is required for medical students to be allowed to continue in their medical education and eventually sit for the final of the USMLE examinations, USMLE Step 3


While important for testing physician interaction with patients in a clinical setting, USMLE Step 2CS has in the past not been a favorite of American medical students or IMGs. By large, the frustration with Step 2CS has not been due to the difficulty of the exam, but rather its accessibility. With Step 2CS testing centers only located only in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, most medical students have to travel (some further than others) in order to take the exam. And, if you are a medical student or know a medical student, then you are aware how difficult it can be to find time to travel for any reason during medical school. For IMGs specifically, Step 2CS has been regarded as quite a pain as it requires international travel which is lengthier than domestic. As such, many medical students are happy about the decision to temporarily cancel Step 2CS, but are anxiously awaiting what its replacement is going to be. 


As telehealth and online testing has been on the rise in recent years, even before COVID-19 there has been debate about whether or not to change the way Step 2CS is administered. Between advances in educational virtual reality technology and the development of secure online testing systems, the use of actors and travel for Step 2CS has seemed increasingly unnecessary. However, the counter argument for taking Step 2CS online has been and continues to be that in practice, doctors see real live patients. Thus the debate develops: Is VR or online format clinical skills exam administration sufficient in testing how medical students will interact with real patients in the future? In the context of COVID-19 and Step 2CS testing center closures, the answer is, hopefully. 


While USMLE has not yet announced what the alternative to traditional Step 2CS testing will be for the next 12-18 months, it is highly unlikely that they will simply make everyone wait a year to take Step 2CS and progress in their medical education. Over the last week, this has been a significant source of anxiety in the IMG community. Often, IMGs have to work extra hard to study for the USMLE exams as many international medical schools have different curricula and medical school timelines than that of US-MGs. In order to take any USMLE exam, IMGs also must become ECFMG certified in order to assess whether they are ready to enter residency or fellowship programs in the United States that are ACGME accredited. Only after IMGs are ECFMG certified are they allowed to take the USMLE exams during their specified “eligibility period.” As international medical students must then plan their travel to an international USMLE testing center and then to the United States for Step 2CS all during their eligibility period, it is not surprising that they are feeling significant stress of the up-in-the-air Step 2CS situation.


As everyone awaits the official announcement from USMLE, the big question still hangs overhead: Even after the 12-18 month cancellation period for Step 2CS, will it ever resume its traditional form? As USMLE noted in their statement, it’s not that a telehealth format of Step 2CS was decided against, rather the project of moving it online was too complex to roll out in a short period of time. 



Time will tell if this is the end of Step 2CS as we know it. For now, save this article as we will revise it when more information becomes available. Additionally, if in the meantime while we are all waiting for a Step 2CS update you find yourself in need of help with studying for USMLE Step 2CK, don’t hesitate to contact us!

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About the Author

Marcel Brus-Ramer, MD, PhD

Completing his BA in economics at Rutgers University in 2000, Marcel Brus-Ramer went on to complete his Diplome de Recherche at Paris Diderot University in…

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