The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Bulletin of Information outlines several examples of conduct that is deemed to be irregular behavior. On February 27, 2014, the USMLE posted an Announcement listing the types of alleged irregular behavior recently reviewed by the Committee for Individualized Review (CIR). Some of the cases reviewed involved individuals who were accused of soliciting unauthorized access to examination materials or communicating about specific test items, cases, or answers with other examinees. This particular type of irregular behavior seems to be increasingly alleged against individuals who have participated in online forum discussions requesting assistance with examination preparation.
Do Not Seek Specific Examination Materials or Attempt to Communicate With Other Examinees.
The USMLE is taking a hard line stance on enforcing its irregular behavior policies concerning soliciting test materials and communicating about specific test items. We have recently seen a number of individuals accused of engaging in irregular behavior because of posts on forum websites that appear to be solicitations for specific examination materials or cases. Some examples of these posts include:
- Joining in requests from others for information on recent test questions after another individual’s post requesting Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) cases;
- Requesting that others provide information about some of the cases at a specific test center;
- Suggesting approaching examinees as they leave the exam center to ask about the exam; and
- Requesting a list of CS cases for a specific test center.
Know the Rules.
All USMLE applicants are required to be familiar with the USMLE’s Bulletin of Information. By signing a Step Exam application, an applicant is certifying that he or she has read and is familiar with all information contained in the Bulletin. You will still be held responsible for this whether you read it or not.
According to the Bulletin, irregular behavior includes any action that subverts or attempts to subvert the examination process. As noted above, the Bulletin contains a non-exhaustive list of examples of conduct that is deemed to be irregular behavior.
Irregular Behavior Has Serious Potential Consequences.
If an examinee is found to have engaged in irregular behavior, the CIR will impose sanctions. These sanctions can include an annotation on an individual’s USMLE transcript, invalidation of scores, a report to the Federation of State Medical Boards, and even a bar from taking future USMLE examinations.
Appropriate Test Preparation.
Examinees can adequately prepare for the USMLE Step exams without the need to seek further assistance that might cross the line into irregular behavior. On April 4, 2014, the USMLE posted an Announcement on its website with information about materials available from the USMLE, the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and third parties. From the USMLE website, examinees can access free orientation and practice materials, including:
- Informational materials on the overall USMLE program and content descriptions for each of the USMLE examinations;
- Tutorials that illustrate the USMLE Step 1, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK), Step 3 multiple-choice software and the Step 3 computer-based case simulation (CCS) Primum® software;
- Sample multiple-choice test questions with answer keys for each Step exam;
- Sample Step 3 CCS cases with feedback; and
- Orientation materials for Step 2 CS.
Examinees may also, for a fee, take advantage of the self-assessment services offered by the NBME. These services are designed to familiarize examinees with USMLE questions and provide feedback on the examinee’s areas of strength and weakness.
There are also a variety of commercial test preparation materials and courses that claim to prepare examinees for USMLE Step exams. These courses are not affiliated with or sanctioned by the USMLE program, but may be helpful to you.
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Have you ever come across these online forums? Have you ever posted in these forums? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
“USMLE Takes Action Against Individuals Found to Have Engaged in Irregular Behavior.” USMLE. (February 27, 2014). From: http://www.usmle.org/announcements/?ContentId=130
“Use Caution in Selecting Review Courses.” USMLE. (April 4, 2014). From: http://www.usmle.org/announcements/?ContentId=67
“USMLE 2014 Bulletin of Information.” USMLE. (2013). From: http://www.usmle.org/pdfs/bulletin/2014bulletin.pdf
About the Authors: Catherine T. Hollis is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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