Don’t think of failure as something to be ashamed of, be proud of the progress you have made getting this far and use that going forward in your career!
Failure. It’s not something we all associate with the medical profession and not with medical students and medical applications. However, this is fast becoming an old myth and the importance of recognising your failures is becoming a key feature in the application process. This may go against your ideas, but I can’t emphasise how important it is to recognise the fact that you are …well … human.
Medical memoirs will always include any mistake that the doctor has made, “Do No Harm” by Henry Marsh even mentions his first mistake in the first chapter and he was one of the best neurosurgeons in the country before he retired! If you haven’t read the book, I suggest you head to Amazon now and buy it. Most medical applications will boast 3 straight A’s, hours of work experience and their personal statements will mention every single buzzword that most websites will tell you to, and this is fine and will probably get you an interview. However, if you still portray an “invincible” persona at the interview, you probably will not get the offer you have worked so hard for.
I got BCE at A level in Biology, Psychology and Chemistry. I got 7 rejections from universities for my undergraduate degree before I was offered a place on a Neuroscience course at UCLan through clearing. Even in my undergraduate degree, I was constantly fluctuating with my grades between 1st to literally scraping a pass. I even mentioned getting a 42% on an examination in one of my two medical interviews ! However, despite all this, I ended up with two offers for graduate entry medicine. How? It’s about how you manage setbacks.
A common question arising at interviews tests your resilience and how you bounce back from disappointments in life. Throughout your medical career, you will be faced with setbacks and roadblocks. It’s how you face these and learn from them that medical schools are interested in. Examples could be:
- Reflecting on what went wrong during an exam and putting in preventions to improve your score next time such as completing past papers or going to seek help from a teacher.
- Not getting into medicine on the first attempt so asking for feedback on your application and working on the weak points
- Not getting picked for a sports team so working continuously on your technique and trying again
The key here is to show three stages:
- Acceptance: Admit there was a mistake
- Reflection: What went wrong? What could have gone better? What can you improve on?
- Action: How did you fix it? What did you do? How did you seek help?
One key thing is to never give up. In showing how you reflected and acted upon weaknesses show you have a capacity to ask for help and shows resilience. Key attributes in good doctors. Saying that you have never/ will never fail may sound good to you, but it just makes you sound arrogant and ignorant which isn’t something medical schools often look for. Everyone is human, even consultants.
Everyone will struggle at some point in their medical careers, and if they say they have not then they are lying. I am proud of my failures and I don’t see them as hindering my medical career, in fact, I would say that I would not have been able to cope with medical school without them. So, if you are applying, I would suggest having a sit down and think of a time where something hasn’t gone how you planned and how you overcame it. Keep it personal to you and do not put the blame on other people.
Hopefully, this has given you some ideas that are a bit different to every pre-med website out there. Don’t think of failure as something to be ashamed of, be proud of the progress you have made getting this far and use that going forward in your career!
1st year Graduate Entry Medical Student, Warwick Medical School