USMLE: A Shift in Perspective

Dr. Prithvi Gaur, MBBS,

Smt. Kashibai Navale, Medical College, Pune

The USMLE, often portrayed as a formidable challenge akin to scaling a mountain range, initially served as what I hoped would be a motivating force. Yet, as time wore on, the tales of its complexity instilled more fear of failure than inspiration within me. It wasn’t until my rotations that a paradigm shift occurred. Witnessing US medical students tackle their USMLE preparations with ease reminiscent of any other exam left me questioning why international students, including myself, approached it with such trepidation.

Thinking back to my school days, I recall a markedly different approach to learning. Unlike the sporadic exams typical of most schools, mine took a proactive stance. We were subjected to regular tests on each week’s material, with our marks contributing to our overall grades. This did mean we prepared for tests every day, but in the bigger picture it was maybe a chapter or two per subject a week, and before we knew it, we had entire books memorized from cover to cover. This consistent evaluation not only encouraged active learning but also alleviated the pressure of larger exams by ensuring we absorbed the material gradually. It ensured that academic excellence would be achieved by a large majority of the students and that lack of educational discipline would never be a hindrance to our future aspirations.

Sadly, this beneficial practice dwindled as I advanced to college and later medical school as external disciplinarian forces diminished. With a broader syllabus and fewer structured assessments, the emphasis on regular testing faded. Looking back, I realize the critical role these frequent assessments played in deepening our understanding of subjects.

Interestingly, the US medical curriculum echoes this approach with both practical and theoretical testing following each rotation block, contributing to the annual assessment. This system thrives because it aligns with the testing culture ingrained in US students from their childhood which is constant nationwide.

As adults, we must recognize the strategies that make us effective learners and adapt them to new challenges. For me, this meant reverting to the testing culture I experienced as a child, emphasizing repetition and regular evaluation because memorization helped identify the information that I could synthesize and reach a conclusive answer. While various resources offer memory enhancement techniques, the key lies in understanding how you learn best.

It is easier to attribute shortcomings to educational systems or curricula; however, it’s crucial to acknowledge the diverse backgrounds and learning cultures of students. Embracing the diversity in approaches to studying and synthesizing them into personalized strategies is essential for academic success.

I was once told, “Growing up is about making choices; they are neither right nor wrong, they only come with consequences both good and bad, and you have to be okay with all of them.” In this reference, it is easy to compare to different cultures and exams and enlist lacunae but it is more important to identify whether it is a lacuna for you.

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