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Failing a Class: Success is not final, Failure is Not Fatal

By: Selina Hoffman

You never think it will happen, you tuck the worry of such a possibility to the back of your mind, and when life seems chaotic and you doubt anything could make it more difficult, BOOM! it happens. Your student finds out that they didn’t pass one of their sections. For us it was Endocrinology, and it was right after our son had been born. Our son was about a month and a half old, we were sleep-deprived, our house was a mess, my husband was studying at home due to the pandemic still preventing people from going to campus. Our life was chaotic, to say the least, and I was struggling with postpartum depression which was causing really bad insomnia. Then my husband found out he had failed Endocrine by half a percent, by one point. We weren’t only devastated, but downright furious! A few days before we had talked to the school counselor, which I highly recommend, and she had helped us to figure out a better system for balancing his duties as a medical school student and his responsibilities as a father and husband. We were hopeful and feeling rejuvenated from developing our new plan, and then got crushed by the news of his grade.

People say that in marriage when one person has a lot on their plate, the other person takes some of the load. Well what is supposed to happen when you both have a lot, you don’t have any family nearby, and you’re having to isolate due to a deadly plague? For us, we reached out to friends and our community for help in any way they could during the pandemic, and put some things on the back burner. We talked to my doctor about getting me a therapist to help with my postpartum depression, and we factored in extra study time for him to feel more confident in his studies. But I won’t lie, there was a lot of sadness and anger. Of course, you must keep moving forward, but you also can’t ignore your feelings. We cried, we yelled, we prayed a lot. Once we had grieved and processed, we tackled the plan ahead with acceptance.

The school had him meet with an advisor a few times to help him reevaluate his studying. Then they made a plan for him to take a remediation test at the end of spring break. We weren’t able to have a real break, again, but it worked out. He was able to smash his remediation test, and it gave him an opportunity to study the topic further in-depth. Now that he is studying for his boards, that section is not an area that he feels he is unprepared for. Looking back at the whole ordeal it makes sense why it happened. He became more resilient as a student, which he will need when he is a doctor, and we became stronger in our relationship.

One of the hardest things about medical school is that, sometimes, this is the first time our student has been faced with failure. It’s not always failing a section, but maybe not doing as well as they did in undergrad, or failing a test, or even failing the Boards exams. It’s truly a disheartening experience that can make them question their whole life. But if they are going to make it as a doctor, they have to learn how to deal with failure and keep going. You will also need to learn a lot through this process. As long as you both keep growing, both as a couple and individually, you will get through this together and come out stronger. Failure will be one of the most trying tests of your relationship on this medical school journey, but when you come out on the other side it will also be one of the most rewarding. Failure is not the end, in a way, it’s only the beginning.

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