- Posted September 7, 2012 by
NBME'S UNFAIR TESTING CONDITIONS? OR DISCRIMINATION?
Few days back I was searching the web, when I found discussion between examinees, who gave USMLE(United states medical licensing examination) Step 2 CS exam at Philadelphia center in may. They were complaining about testing conditions at the center and the treatment they got from NBME(National Board of Medical Examination). According to them, testing center in Philadelphia treated them unfairly. They had computer problems during the whole exam, so it would freeze for so many seconds during whole exam and subsequently they got less time than the official timing for the exam. If they would try to delete a word, it would again freeze. Other 4 centers(Atlanta,Chicago,Houston,Los Angeles) for USMLE Step 2 CS had no such issues and had normal computers during this time period. The examinees at Philadelphia center were not notified about this computer problem before exam. At first it looked beyond logic and surprising enough that for such a big exam, NBME would use freezing computers without notifying examinees before such an important exam. Not only it gives an unfair time disadvantage to the examinees taking exam at Philadelphia center but also the stress and anxiety it creates badly affected the examinees mental state. So I decided to find out the real issue because I thought it would be unjustified for the medical students if it was true.
I started my search for the truth by finding the examinees and contacted them individually. All had same thing to say that they were given less time than official timing for typing due to these freezing computers. Not only this but the undue stress and anxiety it created badly affected their overall exam. They asked NBME to be given normal testing conditions because of this computer problem at Philadelphia center, but they were denied by NBME stating that test administration told them that computer problem was minimal. To find that it was minimal or not, I contacted those who had passed the exam just by margin that what they thought about the exam, and I got the same reply that computers were freezing throughout the whole exam, and not only it affected their patient notes(due to less time given) but also affected them mentally by causing stress and anxiety. I was speechless that in this day and time, such injustices by such a big name as NBME is possible.
One of the students, who was in tears talking about this computer problem said,
"I have never failed any exam in my lifetime. I was well prepared for the exam, but NBME's computer problem ruined everything for me. I had great USMLE step 1 and USMLE step2Clinical knowledge scores but was failed in USMLE step2CS exam due to this computer problem. If they had this computer problem, they should have at least notified us. I would have never given exam under such conditions. I would have opted for centers other than Philadelpia. Not only I got less time for patient notes due to this computer problem, but the stress and anxiety created by it badly affected my overall exam. Now NBME won't even give normal testing conditions. My career has been ruined. NBME called it minimal but there are lots of other victims of this computer problem, who can verify all these computer problems, and that it was not minimal. NBME ruined me, and they won't accept their mistake because they are not answerable to anyone."
Another student, who only wanted to be named with his first name as Abhishek said,
"My career has been destroyed by NBME. I lost thousands of dollars and was denied justice. I am thinking about quitting this medical field now."
Mrs.Gul, mother of one examinee said,
"If NBME cannot provide normal testing conditions, at least they should have informed the students before the exam. It is very careless and negligent on the part of NBME. They are destroying careers of students with impunity. At least, they should have the courage to admit their mistake and let the affected students appear under normal testing conditions and then compare the results. That will show their true potential and valid measurement of their knowledge and skills as doctors."
One of the students, who passed the exam by a margin but refused to be named in the article fearing a backlash from NBME as she is appearing for USMLE step3 said,
"It's very unfair of NBME to give freezing computers. We pay thousands of dollars for this exam. Atleast, they should have given normal working computers. Some of my friends, who had the great scores in previous exams were failed because of this computer problem at Philadelphia center. It feels bad to see them treated unfairly and denied their due right of justice."
I also contacted NBME regarding this issue, but unfortunately, they won't comment on this. It is noteworthy that medical students, including international medical graduates pay thousands of dollars for this exam. It is part of medical licensing examination in USA. I think NBME shall investigate this issue and affected students should be given normal testing conditions to know their true potential, and it will provide fair and equal chance to all examinees irrespective of their appearance at Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles or Houston. Furthermore, measures should be taken not to repeat such mistakes in the future. Not only, it will give justice to all examinees but will also prevent their precious time for applying to residency training.
In the past also, NBME had made such mistakes and after one year they would issue apology letters to students citing that they failed the students by mistake and had some computer software problem. It's time to bring some changes in NBME to change such fatal mistakes for students, and their precious time should not be wasted like that. In 2005 due to a NBME's software problem, they inaccurately failed many students but after months were notified that actually it was a software problem in computer and initially failed students were passed later.
NBME has also been involved in controversial cases like discrimination against Frederick Romberg, a Yale Medical School student with dyslexia who was twice denied "reasonable testing accommodations" to take the exam and Sophie currier,who was denied breast feeding time. They had to fight NBME and later were given their due rights after prolonged legal fights. I wonder if the only way to get justice from NBME is to sue them, or they will do some soul-searching and correct their mistakes by themselves and provide equal testing opportunities to all? An answer NBME better knows.