2.06 Licensure: USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination)

The National Board of Medical Examiners has established a single, three-step examination for medical licensure in the United States. The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) provides a common evaluation system for applicants for medical licensure. Harvard medical students are required to obtain passing scores on USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK (Clinical Knowledge) to be eligible for graduation. Step 3 is taken after the MD degree is earned. For additional information, please refer to the USMLE Bulletin of Information http://www.usmle.org/.

USMLE Step 1

Students in Pathways and HST take USMLE Step 1 following completion of the PCE – no later than December 31 of Year III for Pathways students, and no later than April 30 of Year III for HST students. Pathways students must have individual meetings with their Society advisors to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various scheduling options and are strongly encouraged to schedule one credit-bearing month during the three-month post-PCE period (i.e., a clinical elective, a core subinternship, Essentials II, research for the scholarly project requirement, or a non-clinical elective) during the quarter following the PCE. Students entering a PhD program after 9 months of the PCE (Pathways) or after 3 months of the PCE (HST) are required to take Step 1 prior to beginning the PhD.


USMLE Step 2 – Clinical Knowledge (CK)

Students are required to pass Step 2 CK in order to graduate. Because of limitations in the availability of test slots and the extended reporting timeline for Step 2 test results, students are required to complete Step 2 CK by December 31 of their final year. Test scores must be reported to the HMS Registrar in order to receive the MD degree. If a student’s passing scores are not reported to the HMS Registrar before the last date of attendance in the graduating year as published on the academic calendar, that student will not receive the MD degree at graduation. Because failure to receive an MD degree will have an impact on a student’s ability to start postgraduate training, the Academic Societies require students to confirm their test schedules as they prepare the MSPE (Medical Student Performance Evaluation, or Dean’s Letter). More information about resources available to help with study strategies, exam taking, etc., can be found on the Office of Learning Resources and Support website.

Students should be aware that some residency programs may require that students have passing scores available for all parts of USMLE, by the rank order deadline for the residency match (late February) in order to be considered for ranking by the program. Students should check directly with the residency programs for specific requirements.

For more information about Assessment and Evaluation requirements, please refer to Sections 1.04 and 2.03.

Students are permitted three attempts to pass each required licensing exam (Step 1 and Step 2 CK). Students who fail to pass any of these exams after three attempts are referred to the HMS Promotion and Review Board (PRB) and are ordinarily required to withdraw from Harvard Medical School.

During the late spring or summer of the 4th (or final) year, each student will have an interview in preparation of the MSPE (Medical Student Performance Evaluation, or “Dean’s Letter”). At that meeting, each student must present proof that he/she has taken, or is scheduled to take, Steps 1 and 2 CK of the USMLE prior to December 31st of that year. If a student has not taken or scheduled a step of the USMLE at the time of preparation of the MSPE, HMS may include a sentence in the MSPE regarding the status of USMLE scheduling. 

Last updated 4/6/21