It often seems like the first two years of medical school has become a glorified USMLE Step 1 prep session. Schools that “teach to the boards” are lauded; any material covered that is not on Step 1 is ignored. In addition, the amount of resources that are “required” to do well on the exam is ever-increasing, with new products being released on a constant basis. In this never ending test-prep arms race, medical students are forced to give up growing amounts of time and money.
There is no doubt Step 1 is an important exam, but it is just one piece of a large pie that is being used for consideration for residency. Looking at the most recent Program Director Survey, Step 1 is used mostly as a screening tool for applicants prior to the interview. However, once placing applicants on the rank list, program directors weigh faculty interactions, interpersonal skills, and resident feedback much more highly. In my personal experience, I know plenty of fellow medical students with lower than average step scores for their specialty, who ended up matching very well due to the various other parts of their application.
In summary, it is easy to get tunnel vision regarding Step 1 during the preclinical years in medical school. However, while you should study hard and do as well as you can, it is usually not worth the suffering, pain, and tears that it inflicts on many students. Remember to also socialize with classmates, connect with your patients, network with faculty, and pursue extracurriculars – all equally important pursuits!