Dr. Martin Schmidt, DMU’s “item writer” extraordinaire

The Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States, or COMLEX-USA, is the three-level national standardized licensure exam that osteopathic students typically take after their second, third and fourth years of medical school to become licensed osteopathic physicians. In addition to requiring students to study hard and prepare thoroughly, the exam requires the expertise of scientists and physicians who write and review its questions and cases.

Early this year, the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners (NBOME), which administers COMLEX-USA and other medical examinations, announced its 2019 best-in-class item writers and case authors. The COMLEX-USA Level 1 Item Writer of the Year was Martin Schmidt, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and nutrition.

Martin Schmidt, Ph.D.
Martin Schmidt, Ph.D. (DMU photo by Brett T. Roseman)

Level 1 of the exam covers the application of osteopathic medical knowledge concepts related to the foundational sciences, patient presentations and physician tasks. It contains 400 multiple-choice questions and is divided into two four-hour sections, with three optional breaks students can take during exam day.

Dr. Schmidt has contributed a minimum of 10 exam items per year since 2003, when he joined the DMU faculty. It was a professional “expectation” of him as a faculty member, but he says it offers several benefits.

“It’s allowed me to better understand what is asked of students when they take the exam. When I’m putting together my courses, it’s helped tremendously in writing my own exam questions,” he says. “I’ve met a lot of faculty who also contribute to the exam, so there’s a professional networking component. It’s useful on so many levels.”

Pointing out that he’s a “basic scientist” and not a clinical faculty member, Dr. Schmidt uses his copy of the Merck Manual, the world’s best-selling medical textbook that covers thousands of topics in all fields of medicine. “It covers every condition you could possibly think of,” he notes about the 3,530-page tome.

Crafting COMLEX-USA exam items is no easy task. All items are pre-tested, tested and reviewed by clinicians to make sure they make sense and accurately reflect clinical cases and situations. Student performance on each item also is statistically tracked. While Dr. Schmidt adheres to NBOME’s rule that item writers don’t share questions with students pre-exam, he pays close attention to how well DMU students do on the licensing exam compared to their peers at other medical schools. He’s proud that DMU students consistently perform better than the national average on COMLEX board exams, and that their scores on biochemistry items “tend to be the best.”

Appointed a curriculum fellow at DMU in 2018, Dr. Schmidt has also begun educational research on the effect of curricular interventions on learning outcomes. In fact, at the University’s 2019 Research Symposium, he won the People’s Choice Award for his poster presentation, titled “Effects of Back-to-Back Testing on Student Well-Being and Exam Performance – Preliminary Data.”

“On behalf of Dr. Schmidt’s DMU College of Osteopathic Medicine faculty, I congratulate him for this tremendous national honor,” says Steven Halm, D.O., FAAP, FACP, dean of the college. “Dr. Schmidt has contributed to NBOME for years and has honed the art of combining question-writing skills with his deep scientific knowledge. This benefits our profession, our own faculty, and especially our students at DMU.”

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