Do Medical Student Stress, Health, or Quality of Life Foretell Step 1 Scores? A Comparison of Students in Traditional and Revised Preclinical Curricula

Phebe Tucker, Haekyung Jeon-Slaughter, Ugur Sener, Megan Arvidson, Andrey Khalafian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Theory: We explored the theory that measures of medical students’ well-being and stress from different types of preclinical curricula are linked with performance on standardized assessment. Hypotheses: Self-reported stress and quality of life among sophomore medical students having different types of preclinical curricula will vary in their relationships to USMLE Step 1 scores. Method: Voluntary surveys in 2010 and 2011 compared self-reported stress, physical and mental health, and quality of life with Step 1 scores for beginning sophomore students in the final year of a traditional, discipline-based curriculum and the 1st year of a revised, systems-based curriculum with changed grading system. Wilcoxon rank sum tests and Spearman rank correlations were used to analyze data, significant at p <.05. Results: New curriculum students reported worse physical health, subjective feelings, leisure activities, social relationships and morale, and more depressive symptoms and life stress than traditional curriculum students. However, among curriculum-related stressors, few differences emerged; revised curriculum sophomores reported less stress working with real and standardized patients than traditional students. There were no class differences in respondents’ Step 1 scores. Among emotional and physical health measures, only feelings of morale correlated negatively with Step 1 performance. Revised curriculum students’ Step 1 scores correlated negatively with stress from difficulty of coursework. Conclusions: Although revised curriculum students reported worse quality of life, general stress, and health and less stress from patient interactions than traditional students, few measures were associated with performance differences on Step 1. Moreover, curriculum type did not appear to either hinder or help students’ Step 1 performance. To identify and help students at risk for academic problems, future assessments of correlates of Step 1 performance should be repeated after the new curriculum is well established, relating them also to performance on other standardized assessments of communication skills, professionalism, and later clinical evaluations in clerkships or internships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-70
Number of pages8
JournalTeaching and Learning in Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2015


  • USMLE Step 1
  • health
  • medical curriculum
  • stress
  • well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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