Dealing with failure

As the title suggests this is not a great post. I was seriously debating whether I should write a blog post about it but after having slept on it, I decided I want to at least start changing the perception of failure a bit by bit within my medical school. It is taking me a lot to actually put down into words how I feel and what I want to put across to my readers about what I am trying to say so please bear with me…

The results of my final year exams came out about a day or two ago and I failed one of my papers. I know, what a shocker that a study blog is talking about failing an exam! Paper 3 is the bane of my life and it tests our knowledge regarding epidemiology, professional practice, values and ethics. As the content suggests, it is a very subjective paper which in itself automatically makes me detest the paper as I am a very logical person. I like being tested on questions where there is one right answer. So in this paper I fell short of 3% which works out to about 1.8 marks. Frustrating right?

As you can imagine, the last few days have been absolute hell. Mainly because I worked (bloody) hard this year and it was heartbreaking to see that all that hard work was not reflected in the results of my exams. In the heat of seeing ‘FAIL’ next to the paper, I also failed to see that I did REALLY well in all of my other medical sciences papers, the OSCE and LCA. But I guess I am the type of person that focuses on where I went wrong than where I went right… The second reason as to why it has been hell is to do with the culture regarding failure within my medical school. I am extremely proud of every one in my year that passed their finals. Everyone worked really hard and they truly deserve it. But one of my first thoughts when I saw the dreaded word in that email was how humiliating it was to be one of the students that fails an exam.

One of the downsides of going to a medical school with around 50 people in each year group is the fact that everyone knows everyone else’s business. Because of that, it is a big deal when someone fails. If you contrast this to a bigger medical school with around 500 people in each year, failing is not seen as a big deal (I know this for a fact because as soon as I failed I rang my cousin who went to King’s College London!). In fact, she knows lots of doctors who are not strangers to failing a few of their final year exams. She also tried to reassure me by saying that failing is only a big deal in medical school and when you step out into the real wide world of medicine, it is not something to be ashamed of and it is an easy conversation to have with peers.

So why is it such a taboo topic at medical school? Well I am sure everyone is aware of exactly how competitive medicine is. From day one, as much as people hate to admit it, you are in competition with the other to be the best. The culture of medical school does not help to tackle this. With examinations and assessments throughout each academic year, you are almost forced to always remain close to perfection. And when you stray from this spectrum, the way in which your outcome is dealt with makes you feel almost as if you are incapable to become a doctor. All of this then leads to medicine being the course that is most closely linked to adverse mental health among students.

A lot of people message me regarding my blog and claim that I am really inspirational and that they aspire to be like me (lots of love to all of you!). So I think, it is more important that I write about how even one of those study bloggers are prone to having a bad exam. The past few days have been hell to say the least, but I am slowly coming to terms with it. Yes a lot of my plans are having to be rearranged (no pretty pictures from the Netherlands and Belgium I’m afraid). But I will hopefully still be able to go to France at the end of August.

So how can you deal with failure? It is going to be tough. I am not going to sugar coat it and say that it is easy knowing that the work you did went to waste. You are allowed to cry or vent in whichever way you want to and do not let anyone tell you to just get over it. Because at that time you feel like the whole world is against you and all you want to do is just scream at the top of your lungs. So let yourself be upset. But once you feel ready to face the next day, pick yourself up, dust off the past, listen to Beyoncé then start to face the minor obstacle that has been placed in front of you. In the grand scheme of things, this is just one minor setback that is only going to make you stronger in the future. For me, I have never failed anything that matters. I am adamant to achieve what I have my eyes set on. So failing this exam has definitely knocked me as it is the first time I have experienced this. I am almost glad that it happened now and not later on in life when I may find it more difficult to get over the failure.

So from now on, annoyingly, I have to slowly start my revision for this resit in early August. I am still going to try my very best to enjoy the rest of my elective and still keep you guys posted about what I am seeing across the pond whilst on placement.


4 thoughts on “Dealing with failure

  1. Thanks for writing about this. Failure happens in medical school but not a lot of people talk about it because it’s so taboo and it contributes to poor mental health. I too had to deal with failure in my first semester of medical school and wrote about it in my blog! I do think that failure only makes us stronger individuals if we can learn to deal with it in a healthy way :). Keep studying hard and kicking ass!


  2. Pingback: Highlights of 2017 | Stilettos and Stethoscopes

  3. My mate failed her whole year, she just retook it and became a doctor. I think the medical school has the bigger problem: it’s just not acceptable to get the question paper wrong!


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