Education| Volume 171, ISSUE 3, P590-597, March 2022

Standardized oral examinations allow for assessment of medical student clinical knowledge and decrease racial grading differences in a surgery clerkship

Published:December 08, 2021DOI:



      Oral examinations are not consistently included in third-year medical student clerkships. When included, they are often unstructured, leaving room for variations in difficulty or scoring. Previous research has demonstrated differences in clinical grade achievement, with underrepresented in medicine students receiving significantly lower grades than White students.


      We designed a structured oral examination for third-year medical students on the surgery clerkship. Students completed 2 oral examination scenarios and were evaluated on their ability to complete a history and diagnostic workup, interpret laboratory and imaging results, and devise a treatment plan. Scores from our examination were compared to previous, unstructured oral examination scores and to student demographics. Students and faculty were surveyed regarding their experience.


      Third-year medical students demonstrated strong knowledge of multiple surgical diseases. The greatest number of errors occurred in treatment planning (P < .001). Third-year medical students receiving honors clerkship grades achieved higher percentages of correct items on their oral examination. (94.8% vs 90.4%) (P = .02). Evaluation of prior unstructured oral examinations found underrepresented in medicine students received lower scores than White students (P = .04). After implementation of our structured examination, no difference was seen between the scores of underrepresented in medicine and White students (P = .99).


      We implemented a standardized oral examination for third-year medical students on the surgery clerkship with student and faculty satisfaction and demonstrated the ability to determine domains of knowledge weakness. The application of our structured oral examination helped to address nonspecific grading practices and eliminate oral examination grade differences between underrepresented in medicine and White students.
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