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Suspicion Of Cheating Has Med Exams On Hold

Sat., Aug. 2, 1997

The test scores of more than 20,000 aspiring doctors are being held up amid suspicions some of them cheated on the licensing exam.

“Some examinees could have had access to the exam before the administration of the test,” said Thompson Bowles, president of the Philadelphia-based National Board of Medical Examiners, whose test is used by all 50 states to license physicians. “We’re doing more computerized analysis of the scoring patterns to identify the people involved.”

Bowles said only that “a relatively small number” of students were involved. He said he hopes to release the scores early next week.

More than 20,000 second-year medical students took the two-day, 12-hour test in June around the country. Before the scandal, they were supposed to find out Friday whether they passed.

For many, the results determine whether they will continue into their third year of medical school. Failing it on the first try can not only hold them back but also hurt their chances of getting the residencies they want later. Failing three times can get a medical student thrown out of school.

“It’s big,” said Kavita Patel, president of the American Medical Student Association. “I am not kidding. There are literally thousands of students waiting for their scores, and it’s just causing a lot of stress.”

Past reviews have led to similar investigations, but Bowles said this case appeared to involve more students.

The U.S. Medical Licensing Examination is a three-step test taken over several years. Most students take the first part after their second year in medical school.

About 100,000 aspiring doctors around the world take the tests each year.

How could a student have seen the test before the exam day?

“That’s a very interesting question which we are working very hard to unravel right now,” Bowles said.

Depending on the circumstances, students discovered cheating could be required to retake the exam and face criminal charges, Bowles said.


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