Step 2 Or March Madness…?

This past Wednesday, one of my closest friends, C., took Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS). You may remember me writing about and taking the 9-hour Step 2 Clinical Knowledge test (CK) back in December… but did you know there was another half to that exam?

Clinical Skills is another lengthy exam, but it’s hands-on. During the test, you “see” twelve standardized patients – actors – who simulate a variety of medical conditions. Your job is to connect with the patient, wash your hands, speak English, and figure out what’s wrong with the actor.

This sounds great, right? Real-life simulated practice! Training the doctors of tomorrow, today! Make sure we aren’t training robot scientists (which we are)!

Well. Except the test, which is pass/fail, is much less about real life diagnosis and all about whether you remember to wash your hands and make eye contact.

Actually, maybe you have heard of this before – a national petition about Step 2 CS circulated by medical students at Harvard has gathered thousands of signatures and some media attention. The petition calls to end the exam as a part of physician certification and as a necessary step for medical students, for three key reasons:

  1. Almost everyone passes (98% of American medical students)
  2. It costs $1200
  3. It is only offered in 5 cities and you have to pay your way there

I know, that’s four. shut up.

So far, though, no radical Change We Can Believe In/Make Medicine Great Again movement has swept through the august halls of the USMLE, aka the profiteering testing service from med school hell whose sole reason for existence appears to be to defraud future doctors of America out of thousands upon thousands of dollars, and years off their life. I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you.

Anyway. As I mentioned, C. is a close friend but is also between 94 and 98% insane, depending on the day and how long it has been since she has last exercised.  Leading up to the test her worrying about CS began to redline up around the 98% bananas range, where I stop being able to handle it. Since I heard so much about it, I signed up to get my scheduling permit for the exam this past Monday.

On Tuesday, while waiting for approval, I thought, “Hey! I’m gonna be in Delaware for an away rotation in September. That’s close to Philadelphia, where one of the testing centers is. Let’s see if there’s any availability in Philly then.”

I logged on to the website to see the dates. The first thing I saw when I clicked “Philadelphia” was a big blue box showing me that there were multiple spots available for CS on Friday.

As in yesterday Friday. March 25 Friday.

For those of you in medical school you know that the amount of time you need to study for CS varies from “Hi, I’m Nate, a student doctor in clinic, what seems to be the problem?” and the length of a miraculously on time Delta flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia. So it wasn’t like I would gain anything by waiting, right? Also I’m finishing up a research block and don’t have anything better to do…

As I sat there contemplating possibly inappropriate life choices, I thought, “Wait. Philadelphia. Friday. Doesn’t something else happen on Friday night in Philadelphi—“


My beloved North Carolina Tar Heels would be playing in the Sweet Sixteen against Indiana, that night.


By the time I actually received permission to register for the CS exam a day later (now Wednesday), I had already booked a flight to Philly the next day, snagged a hotel room near the testing center, packed my MRSA-coated white coat and some clinic clothes, called my dad in DC and convinced him to join me for the game, and made contact with a dude named Jeff from Craigslist about getting ahold of some tickets.

It all happened kind of fast.

(My backup plan for tickets, if you care, was another dude named Rob who wanted to meet at night by a Greyhound bus station. Not incidentally, this was why he was my backup plan as I would like to continue to enjoy the privilege of possessing a driver’s license and both of my kidneys.)

The next day I was on a plane to Philadelphia. I am proud to report that I considered studying for CS for an entire thirty seconds before giving up in favor of reading ESPN articles about the Vegas odds of the Tar Heels piledriving the Hoosiers through the floor of the Wells Fargo Center.

Thirty seconds is about 29 seconds longer than I expected to make it.

When I got to the hotel to check in, the concierge handed me my keys and added, “here’s your package, Mr. Nate.”

I opened the envelope to see two tickets to the game and a couple of lanyards to boot. Jeff is the man! Long Live Jeff! All Hail Jeff!

I was too excited that night to even google “Step 2 CS tips.” So I maybe took CS totally cold the next day. At least they had cookies at lunch.

It could have backfired on me but I didn’t have time to ruminate after the exam – my dad showed up and we headed to the arena for the game. Where, indeed, UNC threw down a full-blown Captain Insane-O Powerbomb on Indiana. (The Waterboy reference? Anyone? Buhler?)

Sigh. Fine. Here you go.

I’m not sure what’s more exciting – that Carolina made the Elite Eight or that I just finished the last exam of medical school. I think my priorities are messed up. Hark the sound, bitch.


3 thoughts on “Step 2 Or March Madness…?

  1. Pingback: I Took Step 3 And It Was Stupid | STATUS HAZMATICUS

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