COVID-19 and USMLE Testing Delays

Applicants to residency for the 2021 Match Cycle are facing unprecedented circumstances and new obstacles, especially since USMLE Testing has been delayed due to COVID-19. 

Upcoming residency applicants may be unsure of their abilities to obtain residency without the proper USMLE Testing Exams completed. Additionally, Non-US IMGs face the additional uncertainty of an ever-changing landscape regarding visa issues, both in the USA and their home countries. 


Executive Order on Immigration Does Not Impact Non-immigrant Visa Processing

First, let’s try to clear up preliminary questions regarding visas. As a follow up to our previous articles, Department of State Announces Moving Forward with Visa Processing for Medical Professionals, the ECFMG announced the following on April 23, 2020: 

“President Trump issued a new Executive Order (EO) on April 22, 2020 temporarily suspending the issuance of immigrant visas. Non-immigrant visa classifications, such as the J-1, are not included in the EO and are, therefore, exempt from the provisions of the order.

As previously reported, the U.S. Department of State has advised that physicians and other health care workers are deemed to be mission critical to fighting and mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Potential J-1 applicants who have been issued Form DS-2019 by ECFMG are encouraged to review the website of their nearest embassy or consulate and request a visa appointment.”


USMLE Testing Delays for Step 1, Step 2 CK, and Step 3

Prometric, the organization responsible for administering these 3 USMLE testing exams has affirmed that the delays are in effect through at least May 1st. 

According to the USMLE:
Testing at Prometric centers for Step 1, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK), and Step 3 is scheduled to resume on May 1, 2020 or later. Testing will resume on a site-by-site basis in accordance with local government guidelines for social distancing. Some common local guidelines have included requiring the use of a face mask in public or six feet of separation between people. Examinees should anticipate some modifications to the administrative procedures with Prometric. We will share updated information on these modifications as soon as we can.”


Extended Delay for Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS)

“Testing at CSEC centers for Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) is suspended until at least June 1, 2020.” says the USMLE. 

USMLE Step 2 CS is administered by the NBME and ECFMG at 6 Clinical Skills Evaluation Collaboration Test Centers (CSEC) in five cities. It can be assumed that since the USMLE testing for the CS exam requires more direct contact between examinees and administrators, the test has been delayed longer than the other exams. 


What Does This Mean for Me?

The implications of these delays have created a massive ‘gray area’ for medical students, residency applicants, and even residency programs themselves, among the countless others affected by COVID-19. 

  1. Residency programs may or may not provide leniency towards specific USMLE exams. Match A Resident will have more explicit information regarding such requirements as we begin to complete our annual database update, between July and August of 2020. 
  2. It is our current assumption that any leniencies granted for missing exams will be targeted towards USMGs who are not yet or recently graduated. For IMGs and those who have been out of medical school for some time, it is our current estimate that programs will be less likely to overlook a missing USMLE exam. 
  3. Finally, until more is understood about this constantly evolving situation, we recommend that you continue to prepare as you would normally. The NBME has released free Self-Assessments to aid in preparations. 

Don’t Let USMLE Testing Delays Impede Application Preparations

The USMLE and official organizations are all doing their best to address concerns presented by applicants, programs, and organizations alike. If all goes well, the 2021 Application Cycle will proceed with as little interruption as possible, given the circumstances.

However, keep in mind, the best way to be prepared – is to get prepared. That means starting to craft a strong MyERAS Application, create powerful and specialty-specific Personal Statements, and begin asking for Letters of Recommendation – all EARLY in the season. This way, you will be more prepared mentally, and in actuality, for dealing with potential roadblocks and unexpected turns down the very unpredictable road this residency season has proven to be. 


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