How I Stopped Feeling like a Failure in Medical School

Rohan Shah
Published on Jan 21, 2021. Updated on Jan 21, 2021.

Nobody likes failure, but it's an integral part of learning and growing in life. Today on the blog, Osmosis Medical Education Fellow, Rohan, shares how his failure in medical school helped him reset and move forward with a positive outlook!

Medical school is often a tough place to be. It has never been easy—not for you, not for me. But, it doesn’t get any easier when you feel as though your career is on the line or when you feel like you aren’t good enough. Let me tell you about the time I had to remediate a class in medical school, and how that experience changed me.

The day I got my grade 

I woke up midway through my neuroscience block ready to grab my morning coffee. I opened up the LEO app on my phone to check my released grade on my first exam. I saw cheers on our medical school's Facebook page: smiles, giggles, cheerful emojis. 

What was I feeling? Quite the opposite, in fact. I had received a failure on my first exam. I compared grades with my closest friends who all did much better than me. I was shocked! So many thoughts ran through my head. Why me? Was it the way I studied? This can’t be happening! 

I frantically ran to the course coordinator and voiced my concern to her. She told me that there was still time to make up the grade, but I would have to do significantly better on the second exam. I’m not sure if I processed much of what she was saying, but I had a bad feeling going forward.

What happened after 

I went home that evening and made a commitment to not use social media, talk on the phone, or go to the gym for the following two weeks. My textbooks were not leaving my sight. I was really efficient, too! 5–6 hours of sleep a night with minimal breaks, plus I had time to actively learn with my study partner by talking through school lectures. I soon learned that my multiple letter grade jump on the second exam meant little.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from the student performance committee (SPC) stating that I was summoned to meet with board members to evaluate my academic performance. I started to sweat and felt my heart race faster and faster. On top of that, I had a test the SAME WEEK! How was I going to adjust? How could I get over this hurdle and close out strong? This was just the beginning. 

I walked into the room that day with a red shirt and a silver tie. I sat down next to 10 board members and a tissue box next to my side. The Dean of Assessment addressed the situation and asked me to read the letter I prepared. I had taken days to write this plea, and was very well prepared, but in the heat of the moment, my emotions took over. I started to choke, and panic set in. 

I had a very rare out of the body experience. Looking at myself from the outside, I could not realize why there were tears coming out of my eyes. Board members were asking me questions about my performance, how I study, what I could do better, and nothing was settling in. After a few minutes I was able to come to my senses and explain my side of the story. That was the first time I had cried in 10 years. 

I heard back from the committee a day later and was granted the chance to remediate the course. I was disappointed at first but realized that remediation is a privilege. Failure at the graduate level is not tolerated very well (and neither should it be).

The lesson after the failure 

The big lesson for me here is to take accountability. After a year and eight months of medical school, I got lazy. I can’t blame my failures on the time necessary to prepare for our osteopathic exam or the practice COMLEX. It's about organization, dedication, discipline, and most of all, again, accountability. It is my goal to try and right this wrong by doing better and being better, every day.  It is normal to get comfortable, it is normal to get into a routine, but take it from me, commit yourself to excellence every day, because being in medical school is a privilege. 

Another difficult part of all of this is that it is tough to tell others. Not everyone shares the same struggles. It is very important in times like this to have support from friends and family. I was able to tell a few of my close friends in medical school that I was struggling, which was so therapeutic. I was also very lucky to be able to establish a relationship with a wellness specialist in the student affairs department who was able to work with me and quell some of the worries that I had. The resources are out there you just have to find them.

I encourage all of you to try and view my story as a lesson to keep a positive attitude. Regardless of the person’s perceived intellect, help others who are struggling and strive for the best every day.

If any of you are struggling, you can reach out to me. I am more than happy to chat. Cheers, and thanks for reading.

About Rohan

Rohan Shah is a third-year medical student at Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine. He enjoys spending his free time outdoors and cooking healthy. He is interested in pursuing Family Medicine.


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