Last Updated on June 22, 2022 by Laura Turner
Medical students, residents, and other health professional students are running into significant issues as they attempt to complete their licensing exams, which are required for them to progress into practice.
On April 23, 2020, the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which administers medical licensing exams through Prometric testing centers, announced that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prometric would be cancelling a significant number of licensing exam testing appointments. The testing appointments to be cancelled would be selected randomly and test-takers would be informed by email.
However, students claim the emails they received were vague and did not clearly indicate which session numbers were cancelled. For students whose sessions were not cancelled, there were additional issues. Some students arrived at their testing center to take their exam only to find the doors locked; their exam had been cancelled without notification.
The USMLE confirmed that they knew students were not informed of cancelations before arriving for their tests in an announcement on their website on May 8, 2020. In an update on May 15, 2020, the USMLE stated that they “will continue to escalate these and other communication issues to Prometric leadership.”
According to Matthew Durst, president of the University Medical Student Council (UMSC) at the University of Illinois College of Medicine (UICOM), approximately 450 students, almost 100% of the class of 2022 and about 50% of the class 2021 were impacted at his school. “Assuming that UICOM is representative since the Prometric shutdown was nationwide, I would estimate about 33,000 students were impacted,” said Durst.
Students Protest Issues
Following these issues, the UMSC at UICOM sent an open letter to the presidents of the National Board of Medical Examiners and the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States on May 8, 2020 to protest issues surrounding the cancellation and rescheduling of these critical licensing exams.
Student Doctor Network reached out to both USMLE and Prometric for comment, but did not receive a response prior to our publication deadline.
Students Struggle with Rescheduling
Students have struggled to get clear answers from Prometric and the USMLE regarding rescheduling. Additionally, students who have ADA testing accommodations were provided no way to reschedule their exams online. At one point, Prometric had turned off their phones “due to high call volumes,” leaving these students unable to reschedule their tests. UMSC additionally reported that one student was advised by USMLE Candidate Services to “request cancellation of her accommodation to regain access to online scheduling.”
The USMLE advised students that they may complete a form online to request compensation from Prometric for expenses related to the test administration issues.
Prometric testing woes have not been limited to only medical students and residents. SDN spoke with an occupational therapy student who was forced to fly from the East Coast to Texas to take her board exam, with no guarantee that the test was even confirmed to take place. “Prometric can cancel the test up to the day before,” the student, who requested to remain anonymous, reported.
Allopathic medical students and residents must pass four total licensing exams in order to practice medicine in the United States. These exams, commonly referred to as “The Boards“, cover basic sciences, clinical knowledge, and clinical skills. Students usually spend a significant amount of dedicated study time to prepare for these exams.
Impacts to the Healthcare Workforce
Long term, these testing failures could potentially reduce the number of new physicians and other healthcare workers entering the workforce at a time when healthcare workers are desperately needed. These exams are essential for state licensure and for a student’s ability to work as residents and clinicians after graduation.
The Federation of State Medical Boards is the coordinating body of medical boards that determines licensure requirements. “Only they would have the ability to alter requirements for an entire class of medical school graduates,” said Durst. “With the changing of the Step 2 Clinical Skills format, there are renewed calls for the cancellation of the exam while they are restructuring it to support telehealth. While looking into this issue, UMSC found that a previous push to cancel or change Step 2 CS was made in 2016-2017.”
One state, North Carolina, has taken matters into their own hands, choosing to temporarily suspend Step 2 requirements for licensure due to COVID.
What Impacted Students Can Do
Durst had the following recommendations for students facing cancelations of their exams. “Work with allies in your administration to elevate the concerns of students. We at UICOM are also working with students at other medical schools to amplify the message.”
“Finally, for students impacted by this situation, self care is important. Figure out what your backup plan is if your test date is cancelled – understand what you are and are not willing to do to accommodate Prometric.”
Laura Turner, MS serves as the Executive Director for HPSA. She previously served for eight years as Executive Director of the Student Doctor Network (SDN). Her work has been focused on providing new tools and resources to help students.
Before her work with SDN, she worked as a business analyst for The Capital Group and product management and marketing for software companies Paciolan, Adexa, and MSC Software.