Purpose: United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) scores are frequently used by residency program directors when evaluating applicants. The objectives of this report are to study the chain of reasoning and evidence that underlies the use of USMLE Step 1 and 2 scores for postgraduate medical resident selection decisions and to evaluate the validity argument about the utility of USMLE scores for this purpose. Method: This is a research synthesis using the critical review approach. The study first describes the chain of reasoning that underlies a validity argument about using test scores for a specific purpose. It continues by summarizing correlations of USMLE Step 1 and 2 scores and reliable measures of clinical skill acquisition drawn from nine studies involving 393 medical learners from 2005 to 2010. The integrity of the validity argument about using USMLE Step 1 and 2 scores for postgraduate residency selection decisions is tested. Results: The research synthesis shows that USMLE Step 1 and 2 scores are not correlated with reliable measures of medical students', residents', and fellows' clinical skill acquisition. Conclusions: The validity argument about using USMLE Step 1 and 2 scores for postgraduate residency selection decisions is neither structured, coherent, nor evidence based. The USMLE score validity argument breaks down on grounds of extrapolation and decision/interpretation because the scores are not associated with measures of clinical skill acquisition among advanced medical students, residents, and subspecialty fellows. Continued use of USMLE Step 1 and 2 scores for postgraduate medical residency selection decisions is discouraged.
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