The musings of a fourth year English medical student

Friday, 8 July 2016

THE FEAR OF FAILURE

I have finished all my Summer exams! Today was the second day of a two day OSCE assessment, where we are expected to carry out examinations and techniques that we perform in hospital, such as taking blood. However, this wasn't quite an average exam; it was an exam for candidates who were borderline in their first OSCE one month ago, and I was one of those borderline candidates. 

I think it is fair to say that everyone at medical school aims for a standard of knowledge that is not attainable. I'm sure that yearning resonates with many hard working people outside of medicine, but it is particularly prevalent among my peers. 

Before I came to university I had never failed at any serious endeavour or exam I had. And yet one year in, I was resitting two written exams. "I'll never get myself in this position again", I told myself. And yet today, in my second year, I am doing extra exams because I did not get a high enough grade first time around. We have been informed by the university that it is NOT a resit, but it feels no different. It is to test that all candidates can pass well above one standard deviation of the cut score - so that students don't just scrape a pass, but have clearly exceeded the bare minimum. Yet I do truly feel like I have failed.

What I think makes these exams different is not only the standard but what your result means. For me, I can't help but conclude that if I fail a medical exam it is a sign that I will be a rubbish doctor. I know that I shouldn't think this way, but I really can't help it. The realisation that the job you have dreamed to do you are actually not good enough to pursue, or will only ever be average, feels heart breaking at times. Particularly when you feel like you have given up time you could have spent with your friends and family. To invest all that time and then have it thrown back in your face. 

I can understand that people will feel I'm overreacting. I am aware that I'm too harsh on myself, but I don't really know how to change that. I know how I should feel and should behave, but how do you really change your thought process?

Worst case scenario, I do have approved mitigating circumstances for a resit, and if that fails then I will be allowed to redo second year. We had a few people in my year who were redoing second year, so I know I wouldn't be the first.

The fear of failure is real. I hope in time I will be able to let go. I know that I don't want medicine to take over my life, but when I feel so passionate about it I can't help but feel bitter when things don't go to plan. 


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  1. I hate OSCEs and didn't perform particularly well in them - which is really annoying because in real life I'm always told I seem to have a great manner and appear confident! Exams are a pain - in my opinion they don't really reflect your actual ability, they're just a hurdle to get over and on to the next step of medical school. And remember - average for medical school is still amazingly good in terms of the wider world!!
    Jennifer x
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