Deciding to take USMLE as a DO student

As a second-year medical student you could feel the tension building in my class as boards were approaching. How are you studying? What are you going to use? Are you taking a full day off each week or two half days? Are you going back home to study? Can you send me your schedule? AHHHHHHHH!!! When my class mates would talk about boards I would literally run in the other direction. I personally could not stress about an exam that was more than 7 months away. However, I was faced with one question that I needed to decide on. As a DO student, was I going to also take the USMLE Step 1? What would be the point? Would it hurt me? Would it help? Would I regret it? Do I need it? These were questions that I really struggled with and the answer to this question needed to be decided on before I even started studying.

SPECIALTY —– I am still on the fence about what specialty I want to do. I am torn between pediatrics and child psychiatry. Neither one of them require a crazy high board score nor do either specialty require me to take USMLE. There are many, many residency programs in the U.S. that are traditionally M.D. residencies that accept D.O. students that have only taken COMLEX. The USMLE then, was not necessary for the specialties that I am interested in. However, if you wanted to go into orthopedics, urology, ENT or anything on that level I personally, would recommend it. Those specialties are incredibly competitive to begin with so unless you are trying to go to a traditionally DO program the USMLE would help put you in a position where the residency director can easily compare you to every other applicant. If residency directors are unfamiliar with the COMLEX (which they all should be -__-) then it can give them one less thing to do, work wise, when it comes to your application.

LOCATION. LOCATION. LOCATION. —– My boyfriend and I have been long distance for these last two years because of medical school and I do not want to continue to be long distance after graduation. That being said, my boyfriend works for Amazon, so I am not very restricted on location options. Another reason pointing me towards not taking the USMLE. I am open to going to almost any state in the country and I have family and friends all over. I have moved a lot in my life and I think you can learn so much about yourself by packing up and starting over somewhere new, especially by yourself!

CONNECTIONS —– Okay, here comes the answer to “but Kailey your whole post has been about you not taking the USMLE…but you did…what gives!?” I had decided against taking the USMLE in November. January 1st came around and I only signed up for my COMLEX. I had picked a Thursday in mid-June and paid for a flight for that Saturday to leave for a cruise with my boyfriend. I was all set. We had a professor, our chair of surgery, lecture to our class about professionalism and resume writing. I then scheduled an appointment with him to have him review my current CV. During our meeting we spoke about how I still did not know exactly what I wanted to do. He works closely with a psychiatrist at Duke’s psych residency program. (Yes, I fan girled so hard) He gave me his contact information and I set up a phone call. The Doctor was so kind, gave great advice and we really hit it off. I was over the moon, a physician, who was part of a residency that I would probably applied to TOLD ME HE LIKED ME! My 15 minutes on his schedule turned into a 41-minute phone call.  The bad news was the psychiatry program at Duke, being a traditional M.D. program that doesn’t have to change for anyone, requires USMLE. Well….what was I going to do? It was late march and I was about to go into dedicated board prep, had no money to pay for the second exam or any of the new board prep material that I would now need. I figured out the money situation and signed up for the exam the Monday before my COMLEX. An incredible amount of my accomplishments so far in life have been because I knew the right people or was given the right opportunities or mentoring. I had learned from personal experience, who you know can change your life so I decided to take the leap of faith.

STRENGTHS —– I had obviously been studying for the COMLEX for the last two years. The exams at my school had the same timing as the COMLEX and all of our questions were COMLEX style questions. I am also really strong in OMT and microbiology which are heavy subjects on the COMLEX. I struggle in biochemistry and genetics which were heavy on my USMLE. The USMLE did not play to my strengths….maybe another reason why I shouldn’t have taken it but I was going to study for it…continue to take practice COMSAE’s to make sure my scores stayed where I wanted them to be and I was going to work like hell to get a USMLE score that would make Duke an option.

The week before my USMLE I really struggled with if I made the correct decision or not (my personal experience with boards is coming soon). But here is my advice to you. If you are dead set on a location and that locations requires the USMLE…..then take the USMLE. If you don’t need it for your specialty or location and you can’t guarantee you’ll do well or you just don’t want to take two exams, then don’t take it. If it doesn’t play to your strengths, a good COMLEX score will ALWAYS help you more than a lower USMLE score.

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