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(MedEd)itorial: Give the USMLE Step 1 Everything You’ve Got

So, how much grit and determination is required to overcome the hurdles needed to become a doctor?

The answer is different for everyone, but it’s always some shade of a whole lot. Here’s an example of one student who buckled down to make his dream come true. I hope it inspires all you med students out there who feel like you may not make it through!

When I started as a tutor with MST I felt a bit nervous, but mostly I was excited to help students reach their full potential. However, when it came time for one of my first assignments, it seemed my student wasn’t destined to succeed.




I got an email from the office asking if I could work with a student for the ten remaining days leading up to his USMLE Step 1 exam. Then, I got a rundown of the student’s situation:

He had failed three consecutive times and his medical school had told him that he had one more chance to pass. They even gave him a hard deadline and a serious potential consequence: If he did not pass the exam in the next ten days, he would be expelled.

I called him up to explain that this was a long shot, and he had to understand that there was no guarantee that we could overcome this obstacle. He assured me that he understood and took full responsibility for the outcome. However, he felt that he had to try because he’d already racked up over $100,000 in student debt, and his next option would be trying to get into an offshore medical school where he’d likely need to redo coursework or even start over from scratch. This would be both time-consuming and expensive, not to mention demoralizing.

With the preliminary details out of the way, we got to work immediately.

The Next Ten Days: Intense USMLE Exam Prep

When I first met with the student, I launched into my usual first-meeting spiel about our working relationship and the tutoring process. I talked about how important it was that he follow directions, and thought maybe it would be difficult to fully stress that point to him. Instead, he looked at me and said the following: “I’ve been an athlete for a long time, and there’s one thing I learned a long time ago. Always listen to the coach. You are my coach for the next ten days, and I’m going to do exactly what you tell me.”

I was a little taken aback. A student had never said anything like that to me before. (In fact, I have never been told it since). I was amazed at the trust he was putting in me, and more than a little worried about the responsibility I was taking on if he was not successful on the exam. Nevertheless, there was no turning back. I made him a strict schedule of 12 hours per day of studying, and we met for an additional two hours every single day for the next ten days straight.

I have tutored many medical students, and before that I tutored high school math and college chemistry. I have never had a student as committed as this one. For the next ten days he ate, breathed, and slept the exam. Not once did I need to remind him how important this was or push him to do his work. I’m not even sure if he left his house during those 10 days, during which he completed at least 120 hours of focused, uninterrupted study. This student was med school determination and grit, personified.

The Result of Dedicated USMLE Exam Prep

When it comes to academic goals and achievements — especially those related to medical licensing exams —  perseverance almost always pays off. Ten days after we met, my student achieved a passing grade on his exam, and today he is a fully licensed and board certified physician. We all have different challenges. Yours may be different than this particular student, but the lesson is the same: While tenacity and hard work do not guarantee that things will always work out, they do make it much more likely.

On that note…. keep up the good work!