Logo for University of Iowa Health Care This logo represents the University of Iowa Health Care

Zach Skopec earns top USMLE Step 1 score and scholarship

Date: Wednesday, November 2, 2022

“I didn’t feel particularly confident after walking out of the exam,” fourth-year University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine student Zach Skopec recounts after completing Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), an exam that could decide which residency training program he would get into.

Despite his worries, Skopec was thrilled to learn that he had earned the highest score among the most recent group of UI medical students. With a score of 270 (out of possible 300), the Spirit Lake, Iowa, native was awarded a $3,000 scholarship award from the college that will be applied toward medical tuition and fees.

Portrait of Zach SkopecThe USMLE Step 1 is the first test in the three-exam process for medical licensure in the United States. Step 1 measures how well students can apply basic and foundational scientific concepts to clinical scenarios. The exam is divided into seven 60-minute blocks and administered in one eight-hour session. The number of randomized, multiple-choice questions per block may vary, but does not exceed 40; the total number of questions for Step 1 does not exceed 280.

It is one of the toughest and most important exams medical students must pass.

MD students in the UI Carver College of Medicine take the USMLE Step 1 after completing their core clinical clerkships, which is typically midway through their third year.

Skopec recently reflected on his Step 1 success:





Why did you choose to pursue medicine?

For me, medicine was the perfect intersection of my interests and future goals. Science, like biology and chemistry, has always fascinated me, and I wanted to use my skills to make a positive impact on people. Shadowing wonderful role models and mentors in my family and community supplied many examples of what a huge impact physicians can make on their patients. After realizing what a perfect fit medicine was for me, I’ve never looked back!

What has your experience at the UI Carver College of Medicine been like so far?

Overwhelmingly positive. My classmates are some of the brightest, most caring, and most supportive people I’ve ever met. I really feel like there is a culture of cooperation at CCOM with everyone wanting everyone else to succeed, and actively helping to make that happen. I’ve met lifelong friends here, the faculty are passionate and effective at teaching, and the administration is always there to support you.

How did you prepare for the USMLE Step 1? Did you have a strategy?

I joined a tutor group with some of my friends, which was very helpful. The tutors had insightful advice after taking the exam the previous year, and weekly meetings helped to structure my studying before the six weeks of dedicated study time.

I also used resources like Sketchy (video course reviewing microbiology and pharmacology), Pathoma (pathology review book), and did tons of UWorld practice questions. The dedicated study time can make for long days, so breaks to see friends and relax are also important!

How did you feel when you finally got into the examination?

I remember being nervous before the exam. I hadn’t had time to memorize a specific kidney equation before the test, so naturally I got a question about it within 5 minutes of starting! Thankfully, there were some easier questions to steady my nerves after that.

What was your reaction to learning your score, and that it was the highest in your class?

I was thrilled to initially get my score and see that my hard work had paid off, and that all future career paths remained open to me. When I learned my score was the highest in the class, I was surprised and incredibly honored, considering how amazingly talented my classmates are.

What advice would you give other medical students preparing for Step 1?

Find a study strategy that works for you! Everyone learns differently, and just because a certain resource or study method worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. Additionally, focusing on really understanding concepts and pathophysiology will take you much farther than pure memorization for tests like Step 1, which covers a massive amount of material. Finally, finding a good tutor/study group can help keep you accountable and sane during the long days of studying.

What specialty most interests you for residency training?

I’m interested in dermatology. I’m a visual learner, so I love the concept of visual diagnosis. Treating skin diseases can be extremely rewarding because of how visible and distressing they often are to patients. In Dermatology, we can treat symptoms while also improving patient self-confidence and self-esteem.