Explaining USMLE Step 1 to Friends and Family

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • Way more than just a test, the USMLE Step 1 has critical implications on the rest of your life. Often times this score is your first impression on program directors and interviewers and will be a major determinant in what specialty you can apply to and where you can apply.

    It’s obvious that this exam will come up in conversation with your family members and friends. It may even prevent you from spending time with these individuals, further necessitating your need to explain.

    So what do you tell friends and family about USMLE Step 1?

    They’ve already heard the whole “hardest exam of my life” gig a couple of times, I’m sure.

    There are some pertinent points you need to get across to them, this will not only help you gain some social freedom during your dedicated study time, but will help them get a sense of how important this exam is to you. Your actions during this time can help them foster an encouraging and supportive environment around you while you study.

    1. Let them know the impact of this exam on your career.

    Explain to your family that the results of this exam determine what type of medicine you can practice in your career. Inform them that your score on this exam often correlates with matching at competitive residencies. Tell them that if you don’t do well on this exam, you will not match. But on the flip side, if you do really well, you can be any type of physician you want.

    2. Inform them that the exam has become more difficult, and average scores are increasing.

    The national mean for the USMLE step 1 has increased every year. Students have found more creative ways to absorb the information and question banks have made exam simulation near realistic. You will need to put in more hours, get more creative, and do more questions in order to be as competitive as your colleagues.

    3. Explain to them your desire to do well on this exam.

    Let your family know how important this exam is to you. That the key to your success is founded on your performance on this exam. Let them know that you’ll need their support through the upcoming months and that anything they can do to make your life a little easier will help. For example, for my 2 months of dedicated study I asked my mother if she can help with my meal prep, which saved a ton of time (and money) when I studied.

    4. After it’s said and done, share with them your success.

    After you finally get your target score, make sure you share your success with the people who you’ve asked for help. Take them out and reward yourself, as well as them. Let them know how much they’ve helped you out and be appreciative. Lastly, repay the favor when they’re going through their tough times.

    All in all, you have to let your family and friends know the importance of this exam to you and that you need their aid. This will make your life a lot easier when you have to bail on the weddings, baby showers, and graduation parties you’re invited to while you’re studying. You will also gain the empathy of others around you and they will help you with what you’re going through.

    Are you studying for Step 1? Visit our 7-part guide on how to study for USMLE Step 1 by Brian Radvansky. And Dr. Jason Ryan has Step 1 study tips to help you stay in the right frame of mind.

    Get your best practices for NBME Self-Assessments! And here’s the most detailed two-week Step 1 study schedule you’ll find.