Travel to any medical school, and you’ll find some barren lecture halls.

Medical students are choosing to forego lectures to use the time studying for the Step 1 exam instead. The trend is increasing: recent data show that nationally, “nearly one-quarter of second-year medical students reported…that they ‘almost never’ attended class during their first 2, preclinical years,” — an increase of 5% from 2015.1

“The AWOL students highlight increasing dissatisfaction and anxiety that there’s a mismatch between what they’re taught in class during those years and what they’re expected to know — or how they’re tested — on national licensing exams,” a recent STAT article revealed. “Despite paying nearly $60,000 a year in tuition, medical students are turning to unsanctioned online resources to prepare for Step 1, the make-or-break test typically taken at the end of the preclinical years.”1

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Students are training themselves through videos, subscriptions, and other resources outside of the lecture hall.

Rather than fight it, institutes such as Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine are adapting along with the trend. The Larner College of Medicine at The University of Vermont, for example, plans to phase out lectures by 2019.2

“We’re finding out a lot from the neuroscience of learning that the brain needs to accumulate the information, but then also organize it and make sense of it and create an internal story that makes knowledge make sense,” said William Jeffries, a dean at the Larner College of Medicine, in an interview with NPR. “When you just tell somebody something, the chances of them remembering it diminishes over time, but if you are required to use that information, chances are you’ll remember it much better.”

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So rather than listening to the information through lectures, some schools are having students learn the information at home and then implement those lessons in the classroom within small groups as a form of active learning.

Step 1 — the 8-hour exam that can ultimately dictate which specialty medical students can pursue, is top of mind for many medical students. With pressure from the test looming, lectures seem to take a back seat.


  1. Farber ON. Medical students are skipping class in droves — and making lectures increasingly obsolete. STAT. August 14, 2018. Accessed August 29, 2018.
  2. Cornish A, Gringlas S. Vermont medical school says goodbye to lectures. NPR. August 3, 2018. Accessed August 29, 2018.