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Medical Students Petition to End ‘Pointless’ Exam

By Ellen Zhang, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: March 25, 2016, at 10:40 a.m.

More than 12,000 medical students, residents, and physicians from around the country have signed a petition originating at Harvard Medical School that calls for an end to the Step 2 CS exam, a portion of a mandatory test for all fourth year medical students.

Over three hundred Harvard Medical School affiliates joined the thousands of protesters in petitioning for the exam’s elimination as a way to reduce “unnecessary costs in the education process without negatively affecting patient care.”

The exam, initiated in 2004, consists of staged clinical patient interaction simulations, and is a requisite for acquiring a medical license. “The exam’s main purpose was and has been basically to see whether the student at this stage is able to one, speak English clearly and interact with patients,” Ronald A. Arky, a professor and advisory dean at Harvard Medical School, said.

Students said they are frustrated at how costly the exams are to take, given they are offered in just five testing sites around the nation: flight and hotel costs on top of an exam fee can cost roughly $1,275. Petition organizers argue that on top of the financial burden, the test is just plain unnecessary.

Carolyn L. Treasure, an organizer of the petition, which was first circulated earlier this month, called the exam “pointless,” and said that nationally, medical school students already face a student debt burden that averages to roughly $180,000 per graduate.

“Medicine emphasizes evidence. Ironically, there’s no evidence that this exam makes people better doctors,” she said.

Samia Osman, an organizer of the petition, argued that the exam is unnecessary because the vast majority of medical schools in the U.S. already have internal clinical skills exam; moreover, 95 percent of students pass the Step 2 CS exam on their first try.

Osman and Treasure said the redundancy of the test means it needlessly adds to medical school graduates’ financial burden, and some Harvard Medical School administrators agreed.

“This is a kind of exam that each medical school can certify its students for,” Arky said. “There’s no need to do this. The costs, as I mentioned, go up progressively each year.”

Nancy E. Oriol, Dean of Students at the Medical School, agreed the test is expensive both financially and in terms of time, and said it “uses up their resources.”

“I wish they had more time they were allowed to actually be learning more—you know, learning more, say in medical school that will sort of be of value as they go forward,” she said.

The petition, less than a month old, has spread very quickly among medical school students. Christopher R. Henderson, another organizer of the petition, said students used the power of social media and reached out to friends at other medical schools to spread the news.

“Within three days, we had a thousand people who signed. Within a week, we had like three thousand… Now, we have one in every 10 medical students in the United States in three weeks have signed this,” he said.

Currently, Osman said they’ve submitted a resolution to the Massachusetts Medical Society to remove the testing requirement in Massachusetts—the decision will come out in May—and other schools will also submit resolutions to their state societies. Meanwhile, a similar resolution was sent to the American Medical Association, which will make a decision in June, according to Osman.

“Since it’s a national body, it’s a way to get a unified voice from the medical community,” Osman said.

—Staff writer Ellen Zhang can be reached at

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: March 25, 2016

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that the American Medical Association administers the Step 2 CS exam. In fact, the National Board of Medical Examiners administers the test.

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