What Is the USMLE® Step 3?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 25 February 2020
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The United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®) Step 3 is the last part of the exam an aspiring doctor has to take to gain a license to practice medicine in the United States. The USMLE® is taken in steps rather than all at once. Steps 1 and 2 are taken when an aspiring doctor is still in medical school, while the USMLE® Step 3 is taken during a residency program, which is on-the-job training for aspiring physicians. The exam is rigorous and usually requires a commitment to studying as well as a good deal of effort during the actual exam.

The USMLE® Step 3 focuses on gauging an aspiring doctor’s ability to apply his knowledge of medicine and science to his practice. This ability is critical for a person who is seeking a license in the medical field and eventually will diagnose and treat patients without any supervision. The questions a person will find on the test typically concentrate on the application of this knowledge to patient care in such settings as clinics, medical offices, and other health care facilities in which a person is seen as an outpatient.

When taking the USMLE® Step 3, a person must demonstrate more than just textbook knowledge. The exam tests the test taker’s clinical skills as well. Test takers are tested on their abilities to diagnose diseases and choose appropriate treatments. The exam also tests an individual's follow-up care skills.


A person has to meet eligibility requirements to qualify to take the USMLE® Step 3. For example, a person must earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree to be eligible to take the exam. He must also pass Step 1 and Step 2 exams to qualify. In some cases, a person may have alternative requirements to meet, such as in the case of an individual who graduated from medical school in a country other than the United States. Additionally, an individual will have to meet jurisdiction-specific requirements to be eligible to take this examination.

Since the USMLE® Step 3 is such an important exam, an individual usually needs a good deal of preparation to get ready for it. Often, aspiring doctors spend at least a couple of months preparing for the test. They may use study manuals and refresher courses to prepare, and some test takers also request tips and strategies for scoring well from licensed doctors.


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