failure

I wrote the following piece after finding out I did not pass my finals for Block 4 (musculoskeletal). Since then, I’ve completed my first year curriculum and Alhumdulilah, passed Block 5 (neurology). I’m currently studying to take my remediation exam for Block 4 in July. If all goes well, I’ll take this exam (and insha’Allah pass) and move on to second year with my class. If anyone from my class is reading this: no matter what happens this summer, know that I’m ever grateful for having been a part of your cohort. Thank you for the outpouring of love and support I received when I reached out to you all for help. So so much love for Class of 2018.

Any prayers and good vibes are greatly appreciated!

 
I failed.

I guess you could say that this is the first time I’ve really failed at anything. I’ve stumbled, sure. I’ve gotten my fair share of bruises. But I’ve never really experienced anything that has been termed with the word “failure.”

Block four, musculoskeletal, was by far the hardest for me. Most days we had classes from 8-5. Had to memorize 400 pages of our anatomy textbook; two things I’m horrible at: anatomy and memorization. All the second years assured us that the exams this block were easier than those we’d seen in the past. But that most definitely was not the case. If anything, it was the hardest set of exams we’ve had yet.

After finding out that I didn’t pass I went through this “why me?” phase. Throughout the first three blocks, I fell deeper and deeper in love with this school. And then block four hit. I knew that I put in the extra work to compensate for my weaknesses and got a lot of help from my classmates. I was frustrated because I tried. I really, really tried.

And then I sat down, told myself “shit happens” and figured out how to move forward. I excused myself from a few engagements, told my best friends and family to keep me in their dua’as to make sure I pass block five. I talked to my preceptor about what I can do in clinic to ensure that I pass.

And finally, I sat down and thought about why. Not “why me?” But why didn’t I pass? What stopped me from being successful? And most importantly: what changes can be made to make sure that students in the future do not have to go through the same thing?


By far the hardest thing about this journey so far has been anatomy lab. As I’ve said before, cutting up dead bodies isn’t really a normal part of a human experience. In most contexts, you’d probably be arrested for doing so. When we first started in lab, I was so frustrated and almost angry about why we had to learn in such a traumatizing way. Over time, and with the help of Body of Work by Christine Montross, I was able to put it into perspective and I realized how integral it is to us becoming better healers. But I wish it didn’t take me almost eight months to come to this conclusion. I wish someone, before we even started lab, had acknowledged how difficult and strange this all is. How we’re being forced to be pushed out of the comfortable distance from death that society had previously allowed us. I probably would’ve done so much better throughout the previous blocks, especially in anatomy, if I had been able to work through all these emotions.

This summer, I’ll be developing a series of workshops to run alongside the anatomy course that gives students techniques on healthy ways to manage emotional distress. As Montross said in her text, “Anatomy lab is a place where students must learn to tread carefully in the emotional minefield of medicine.” And it’s so true. We’re going to have to deal with so many emotionally difficulties throughout our careers as health care providers. This is only the beginning. And I’m so excited to be part of a team of people who will be teaching students how to navigate this emotional minefield.


So, now I can answer the question: “Why me?” Me, because I have no problem admitting to failure and when some poor little first year fails a block, he/she will know they can come to me. It won’t take them a week to figure out if there’s anyone else out there who had to remediate. Me, because teaching students how to healthily deal with the emotional difficulties of a career in medicine should be as much a part of the curriculum as chopping off a leg. Me, because I was losing sight of why I was here and I needed something to shake me awake and remind me how blessed I am to have the opportunity to do what I love.

Sometimes, life just happens. We don’t understand why or how or sometimes anything at all. But my whole life, I’ve believed that everything happens for a reason. That we plan but He plans better. And in a moment when I was starting to forget why I was here, I was reminded.

If that’s not divine intervention, then I don’t know what is.

11 thoughts on “failure

  1. Best luck
    Just to tell u .You are not alone with anat lab experience. I had hard time with death and smell and entire experience though I never fainted or stuff,I just couldn’t sleep alone .I used to sleep with mom ,travel 4 hours in a day just to be with,used to have bad dreams ,unless exs never studied at night.
    I just gave my university exams theory practicals are remaining.
    Just hoping I clear first year then will be done with anatomy. Next year will have to face postmortem for pathology but that will not be as bad experience as anat
    Never expected all this .

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    • Thank you! I definitely was not expecting to have such an intense emotional response to being in lab either. I would highly recommend you reading Body of Work by Christine Montross. It definitely helped me work through a lot of what I was going through at the time. Best of luck to you as well!

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  2. Hi! I came across your blog and was very fascinated by all your posts but this one particularly stuck out the most to me. I’m during going to start my first year of college in August but I like to plan a head and I already know that I want to go to medical school. My biggest fear is that I won’t be able to do good in college and get a high enough GPA to get into medical school. I was wondering if you can help me out a bit? Any study tips you have for me when I start college and continue my next 4 years. How to study for the Mcat? When to start studying? How can I come over test anxiety. I’m very dedicated towards my education and all of my teachers have told me that but I feel like tests bring me down a lot. Mentally they do. I graduated high school with a 3.2 GPA and I could have been on top of my class but tests brought me down a lot and it really affected me and now I don’t know how I’ll be able to overcome my test anxiety in college. I need to learn soon. I study in advance for every test but once I sit down, my memory goes blank or I mix other information together. Sorry for writing so much! I just don’t know people who are in the medical field and can’t personally ask them for advice.

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    • Hi Anaya! Thanks for reaching out. I’m glad that this blog could help you in some way! Congrats on deciding to pursue a career in medicine! It’s going to be quite a ride but all worth it if this is ultimately what you want to do:) I completely understand your fear regarding not doing well in college. I think the first thing you need to do is just take a step back from everything and take a deep breath. Pursuing a career in medicine is definitely a marathon, not a sprint so you don’t want to burn yourself out too early on. The most important thing you need to do after starting college is confirm that you do really want a career in medicine. You should take the intro bio and general chemistry classes to ensure that you’re at least somewhat interested in the material. And most importantly, join organizations that put you in a clinical environment (hospitals, clinics, etc.) so that you know what it’s like and you can decide if that’s what you want. I think it would be worth getting counseling to help with your test anxiety because it sounds like you’re very driven but your success is being impeded by how you feel before examinations. Many colleges offer free counseling to students on campus and they’d be better equipped to help you overcome this because they’re professionals. I usually do some breathing exercises before exams and get at least 6-7 hours of sleep the night before any test. As a general study tip: try your best to understand the material in your classes, don’t just memorize it. And remember that you do not need a 4.0 to get into medical school. I wouldn’t worry about the MCAT or anything right now because you’re just going to stress yourself out even more. Just do the best that you can and remember that there’s no linear path to getting into med school. Some people take a couple years off and do post-baccs, some have completely different careers and then decide to go to medical school and others go to med school right out of college. None of these paths are necessarily “right” but you just have to find what’s right for you.

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  3. Can you give me multiple study tips that could help me study better? Also how do you study for tests that require several months of studying?

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    • Study methods vary greatly from person to person and also depend on the subject you’re studying. The best way to get advice would be to talk to upperclassmen who have taken the classes you’re in (with the same professor) and talk to the counselors on your campus. I wouldn’t worry about exams that require months of studying because you probably won’t have to deal with that in college.

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