Failing a Course in Medical School- And What to Do Next

Failing a Course in Medical School- And What to Do Next

If you have had the unfortunate experience of failing a course in medical school, it is a horrible experience. As a medical student, failure isn't exactly something you're used to. Heck, you beat out at least 22 other premed students for your med student position. You're what they call a "high achiever." But even the high achievers occasionally fail. How do I know?

 Picture by Sam Beebe via WikiCommons

Picture by Sam Beebe via WikiCommons

I failed a small 2 credit course in the first summer of medical school. In my defense, it was a timed 15-minute online test consisting of 20 questions. In the professor's defense, I thought I could squeeze the test into my finals week right after taking a different test before switching to schedule for my last test. It turns out that 12/20 is not a passing grade! I was put on a brief probation, had to study to retake the test, and passed a month or two later. It was not a fun time of my life.

My advice is that if you have failed a course at all, you need to find out why exactly you have failed before you dividing your attention between school and a financial pursuit. I can tell you exactly why I failed- I am excellent when it comes to completing things that are a big deal, but if I think something isn't as important, I try to do as little work as possible to complete the requirement. Not exactly a glamorous quality, I know.

I think you'd be very surprised to find out which of your fellow classmates have failed a course before. I'm fine talking about my failure because it was a little 2 credit class that will have nothing to do with my future practice of medicine, but some of my friends have failed more foundational courses, and I imagine they will need to explain the reason for that failure during their residency interviews fast approaching.

If you have failed, dropped out, been kicked out of medical school, I am sorry. That is a horrible feeling. It is very hard as med students to not take failure as an attack on our very identity in the world.


If there was one piece of advice that I could leave you with, it would be that you need to know exactly why you failed and be able to explain how you have changed yourself or your habits to avoid that ever happening again in the future. I don't know anyone personally who failed any courses because of working during school or pursuing some financial interest. But if you're enjoying the blog and brainstorming about how you can make money, let me be the first to tell you that the most money you'll probably make will come from your future job as a doctor! So don't trade away your future physician's salary for a few extra bucks today if school is extremely challenging for you.

So, let's say there is a failing grade on your transcript. You can bet your government-loaned dollar that the residency interviewer will ask you about it. When they do, you need to explain what you have learned about yourself through this experience. For example, I will say, "Well, it occurred to me that the only time I fail is when I am trying to rush through something. I have the best of intentions, to move on to the next bigger and better project, but I learned I can't do that. Every project I do, every patient I treat, every day I come to the hospital, I need to give it my best work. And that has been something I have practiced the past few years on my clinical rotations, and it has gone very well for me." By saying that, I explained what the problem was, how I fixed it, and the results of my solution. This exercise is essential to turning your failure into a journey of self discovery! Medical Schools and Residency Programs love that stuff.

For more information, check out this fellow med student blogger's post on failure- Medicine From the Trenches.

Have you failed a course? If so, how did you recover?

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