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Importance of the USMLE

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USMLE Step 1 and 2 CK:  9 Important Points for the Psychiatry Residency Applicant

1. In 2018, the mean USMLE Step 1 score among U.S. seniors who matched to psychiatry was 226. Among unmatched U.S. seniors, the mean score was 215. 

2. Among the reasons for the importance of the USMLE in the selection process is the desire to select residents who will pass the American Board of Psychiatry board certification examination.

3. In a survey of 58 psychiatry residency programs, 91% cited the USMLE as a factor in selecting applicants to interview. 

4. Although programs differ in how USMLE Step 1 scores are used in the residency selection process, the score is an important factor used to make interview decisions. 36% of programs have established a target score while 62% look for evidence of a passing score.  

5. Applicants with low USMLE Step 1 scores may have difficulty matching with psychiatry residency programs. 22% of U.S. seniors with scores < 220 failed to match in 2018.

6. The USMLE Step 2 CK score is also a factor used by many psychiatry residency programs in deciding whom to invite for interviews. 84% of programs use the Step 2 CK score in their decision-making process.

7. Should you take the USMLE Step 2 CK exam before applying to psychiatry? Some programs want to see Step 2 scores when you apply. Applicants are urged to visit program websites as early as possible so that informed decisions can be made with respect to the timing of the USMLE Step 2 CK exam. 

8. Some programs want to see Step 2 scores before rank-order lists are due for submission in February. Review of program websites will allow for proper planning. "USMLE Scores or COMLEX Scores (Part I is required to interview)," writes the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachussetts. "Part II CK and CS are required for ranking."

9. When psychiatry residency program directors were asked, “Would your program consider applicants who fail their [Step 1] exam on the 1st attempt,” 55% of programs indicated that they seldom do. However, 31% indicated that they often do. "In general, we do not offer interview invitations to applicants who have failed any component of the USMLE or COMLEX," writes the Department of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. "The only exceptions are when the exam score is a single anomaly on an otherwise impeccable academic and clinical performance, and when there is a compelling explanation for the failure."

Some applicants are concerned about their chances of matching in the specialty or securing a position in highly competitive residency programs.


If you have such concerns, consider our Strategy for Success Session with Dr. Samir Desai.


Dr. Desai will perform a comprehensive review of your credentials, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and provide you with a specific plan to implement tailored to your unique situation and school.


This plan will significantly improve your chances of a successful outcome.

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