I had a rough start to medical school academically. People keep telling me that if I "do well" here on out, it "shouldn't matter" in four years when I apply to the next stage in my training (residency). That's easy for them to say, but I need more perspective than that. I'm bothered that it could put a "ceiling" on what I might be able to achieve otherwise. Those who have experience with medical education and academics, please give me your thoughts!
posted by anonymous to Education (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Due to a combination of factors (not being academically talented enough, the difficulty of memorizing insane amounts of information after majoring in the physical sciences, dealing with the acute stress of a sexual assault and abuse from faculty and subsequent judicial process, moving far away from my friends and family to live on my own for the first time, being quiet in class), I failed not one, but two classes my first semester of medical school. It shows on my transcript. I will have to explain it to future interviewers.
On a cognitive level, I know I am not doomed. Preclinical grades matter little compared to other factors, and realistically, nobody is going to actually care in four years. I know I am not the first and won't be the last student to have a rough transition to graduate studies, and that there are people who sometimes fail an entire year and have to repeat.
What bothers me is that I think I could be "limited" in the places I could go later on because of these black marks on my record. In other words, if med school were a video game (and ha, I know it's not), I surely would have rage-quit by now so that I could start out with "full potential" again. The few people I've discussed this with make vague statements like, "Well, you probably won't get into neurosurgery at Mass Gen ... But otherwise you won't be limited! Just do well on your board exams." Somehow, I feel like I'm left hanging every time I hear a response like that.
I get the impression that the general, openly-expressed sentiment in medicine is that you have to really, really, really want to be a doctor to be one. Therefore, since you want to be a doctor so much, you should be willing to train anywhere, and that prestige doesn't matter. I get that, and I'm not super hung-up on prestige in itself. But I want to go into academic medicine, and I want to interact with people who are influential in the field, and in my case that means going to top programs even though I know there are brilliant people to be found at all types of institutions. I was a great student in undergrad-- magna cum laude at an Ivy, recipient of the departmental award, active in school activities and research. I loved learning. I don't want to be mediocre in a field when I know that I'm capable of excellence; I'd almost rather switch fields so that I can interact with top minds in the career I choose.
I know I probably sound really immature and possibly even entitled, as if I've never dealt with failure or hardship before and am falling apart (well, perhaps it isn't that dramatic) at the first hint of failure, but that's not the case. I take responsibility for my failures and I've done everything I can to move forward in a positive way. I realize that even if I didn't have these obstacles in my first semester of medical school, it's possible that I could run into subpar performance later on in my training, be it on the board exams or in third year rotations. I know that all I can do is my best, and that is exactly what I've been doing. I went to therapy. I exercised daily. I ate well and made sure I slept. I got a tutor and worked really hard and didn't miss class, even on bad days. People are noticing that I seem better, and I almost feel like a whole person again; my symptoms of PTSD and depression are subsiding. I'm starting to be curious again, and I'm starting to look into extracurricular and career-building activities again. I'm cautiously optimistic.
Still, it's hard to not let the self-doubt get to me. I feel I have "ruined" things before they've even had a chance to go anywhere; first-year preclinicals are supposed to be easier than the rest and practically nobody at my school fails anything. It's a mental block. Can people who have either been through something similar and bounced back, have experience with how residency programs work, or have some perspective to contribute help me out here? I feel I need to reframe my mindset before I can get over the discouragement and start to work optimally again. I don't want to be too derailed.
Other details that could matter: I don't know what I want to specialize in, but I know it's certainly not ENT, orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, dermatology, or radiology; I'm more of an internal med-leaning type.