Emotional Intelligence in Medical Students is Inversely Correlated with USMLE Step 1 Score: Is there a Better Way to Screen Applicants?

Allison Lee Boden, Christopher A Staley, Adam R Boissonneault, Thomas L Bradbury, Scott D Boden, Mara L Schenker



Background: The primary aim of this study was to investigate whether USMLE board scores correlate with the emotional intelligence of medical students. We hypothesized that higher Step 1 scores would be associated with lower emotional intelligence.
Methods: This prospective study included medical students who self-reported their USMLE Step 1 score and completed a survey designed to measure their emotional intelligence. The survey was composed of a Grit Scale, a Hardiness-Resilience quiz, and the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” quiz. For participants who completed all three instruments, a composite score was equal to the sum of the three scoresThis study was performed at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. Of the 85 medical students who were recruited to participate, 72 completed all aspects of this study (85% completion rate).
Results: Pearson correlation analyses showed that grit (r=-0.105, P=0.34), hardiness-resilience (r=-0.230, P=0.04), the eye quiz (r=-0.033, P=0.79), and the composite score (r=-0.187, P=0.12) were
inversely correlated with USMLE scores. Participants who scored higher than the national average had a lower mean hardiness score compared to those who scored lower than the national average (P=0.03). Those who scored at least one standard deviation above the national average had a lower
mean hardiness score (P=0.05) and a lower composite score (P=0.04).
Conclusion: Higher USMLE Step 1 scores are associated with lower emotional intelligence, namely hardiness, in medical students.



Full Text:




Wagner J, Schneberk T, Zobrist M, Hern HG, Jordan J, Boysen-Osborn M, et al. What predicts performance? A multicenter study examining the association between resident performance, rank list position, and United States medical licensing examination step 1 scores. J Emerg Med 2017; 52(3):332-40.

de Virgilio C, Yaghoubian A, Kaji A, Collins JC, Deveney K, Dolich M, et al. Predicting performance on the American board of surgery qualifying and certifying examinations: a multi-institutional study. Arch Surg 2010; 145(9):852-6.

Thundiyil J, Modica R, Silvestri S, Papa L. Do United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) scores predict intraining

test performance for emergency medicine residents? J Emerg Med 2010;


Mayer J, Salovey P, Caruso D, Sitarenios G. Emotional intelligence as a standard intelligence. Emotion 2001;1(3):232-42.

Lin D, Kannappan A, Lau J. The assessment of emotional intelligence among candidates interviewing for general surgery residency. J Surg Educ 2013; 70(4):514-21.

Klein G, Austin M, Randolph S, Sharkey P, Hilibrand A. Passing the boards: can USMLE and orthopaedic in-training examination scores predict passage of the ABOS part-I examination. J Bone Joint Surg Am 2004; 86:1092–5.

Dougherty P, Walter N, Schilling P, Najibi S, Herkowitz H. Do scores of the USMLE step 1 and OITE correlate with the ABOS Part I certifying examination?: A multicenter study. Clin Orthop Relat Res 2010; 468(10):2797-802.

Egol K, Collins J, Zuckerman J. Success in orthopaedic training: resident selection and predictors of quality performance. J Am Acad Orthop Surg 2011; 19(2):72-80.

Raman T, Alrabaa R, Sood A, Maloof P, Benevenia J, Berberian W. Does residency selection criteria predict performance in orthopaedic surgery residency? Clin Orthop Relat Res 2016; 474(4):908-14.

Duckworth A, Peterson C, Matthews M, Kelly D. Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. J Pers Soc Psychol 2007; 92(6):1087-101.

Duckworth A, Quinn P. Development and validation of the short grit scale (grit–s). J Pers Assess 2009; 91(2):166-74.

Baron-Cohen S, Wheelwright S, Hill J, Raste Y, Plumb I. The «Reading the Mind in the Eyes» test revised version: a study with normal adults, and adults with asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2001; 42(2):241-51.

Olderbak S, Wilhelm O, Olaru G, Geiger M, Brenneman M, Roberts R. A

psychometric analysis of the reading the mind in the eyes tests: toward a brief form for research and applied settings. Front Psychol 2015; 6: 1503.

Shih T, Fan X. Comparing response rates in e-mail and paper surveys: A metaanalysis. Educ Res Rev 2009; 4(1):26-40.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.22037/jme.v16i4.19528

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.