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Importance of the USMLE

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

1. In 2018, the mean USMLE Step 1 score among U.S. seniors who matched to radiation oncology was 247. Among unmatched U.S. seniors, the mean score was 238. 

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 Radiation Oncology board certification examination.

3. In a survey of 26 radiation oncology residency programs, 100% 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. 58% of programs have established a target score while 42% look for evidence of a passing score.  "Applications are reviewed in their entirety with no minimum score requirement," writes the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Cincinnati. "However, typical Step 1 USMLE scores for selected candidates have ranged in the upper 30 percent of all scores." 

5. Applicants with low USMLE Step 1 scores may have difficulty matching with radiation oncology residency programs. 17% of U.S. seniors with scores < 230 failed to match in 2018.

6. The USMLE Step 2 CK score is also a factor used by many radiation oncology residency programs in deciding whom to invite for interviews. 62% 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 radiation oncology? 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. "In addition, applicants must have completed USMLE Step 2 or at least be scheduled to take the test in early 2017," writes the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Michigan.

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.  "A passing score on USMLE Step II (CK and CS) is required for all trainees beginning a UCSF GME program," writes the Department of Radiaton Oncology at UCSF. "To meet this requirement, applicants should have passed USMLE Step II (CK and CS) prior to placement on UCSF rank order lists."

9. When radiation oncology residency program directors were asked, “Would your program consider applicants who fail their [Step 1] exam on the 1st attempt,” 52% of programs indicated that they never do and 40% reported that they seldom do. 

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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