By Chidoziri Conrad Nwokoro, OMS II
President Franklin D Roosevelt once said “the only thing we need to fear is fear itself”. Time and again in the journey through medical school, many students feel completely lost, develop fear or anxiety, and perhaps develop a feeling of insufficiency or low self-esteem. This is even more so when the exams begin to flow like the Hudson and the test scores keep going down with a somewhat inexplicable dissociation between studying efforts and scores achieved (academic input/output disjunction). Sometimes health becomes an issue as well. It may be a physical breakdown in health, or even worse, an emotional breakdown. Some students feel they can’t make it through medical school; some even start making alternative plans for “when the inevitable happens”. Some look down on themselves, etc. In those dark moments, or perhaps dark periods in time, when all hope seem to be gone, and despair seems to reign, I’ve got a message for you . . . it’s gonna be okay.
Let’s get some facts straightened up. Medical school is no picnic. It’s not going to be easy. It is one place in the world where very brilliant, hardworking students fail exams. It’s not for the faint hearted. However, one hidden fact is, as long as you passed your MCAT, you can do it. Yes you can. It takes patience, hard work, intelligence, persistence, organization and determination to pass the MCAT. Hence if you made it through MCAT, you have what it takes to make it through medical school. Remember, there are thousands of brilliant students out there, who have tried to get into medical school without success. But you made it. You are smart enough to pass through the medical school. You just have to believe in yourself. And by the way, this is not an opinion, it is a fact. Yes, it is true; you are good enough to make it through medical school.
Passing through medical school is fraught with lots of obstacles and potential pitfalls. Occasionally the medical student may have reasons to be disappointed at one time or the other. For the purposes of this write up, let me divide the disappointments into 3 or 4 categories.
1. When you pass the exam with fantastic scores but did not make the honors territory. This is usually not much to worry about. Having fantastic scores in exams is a great thing and worrying here may be a bit unnecessary. I’ll rather the student replaces the worry with determination because there is nothing to worry about in this scenario.
2. When you pass but your scores are not fantastic. Here, my advice is that the student should simply step up his or her game. It may mean greater focus, extra hours, going the extra mile or simply working a little bit smarter than usual.
3. When the student failed the exam. Well, it is normal to be worried a bit here, but more importantly the student must rise to the occasion because, there’s another exam coming, and very soon. Constant worry may become a hindrance and perhaps even tread near the borders of psychiatric disorders.
4. When the student fails a system. This is real cause for concern. The consequences may be heavy. However, there is no reason to be in despair. Problems need solutions, not despair, and one may do well to understand that many have remediated a system and still went ahead to do well in the boards. All it takes is determination and discipline, not despair.
5. When one fails two systems and has to repeat a year
6. When one drops out of medical school
In all of these cases, attitude makes the difference. The problem with problems is that the problem is not the problem but the response to the problem may be an even bigger problem than the original problem. The best way to respond to these difficult situations in a medical school is to have a firm belief in one’s capabilities. Every problem, or at least almost every problem, has a solution. My initial advice to students, especially new students in medical school is that they must know that they have what it takes to be a doctor. As long as they passed the MCAT, they can do it. Period. They have the necessary IQ. Now they must introduce discipline, persistence, patience, proper planning and time management, etc, to make it all work. When school work seems to be impossible, my dictum is. . . it’s gonna be okay.
Concerning exams, for success to come, students need to have a plan that works. Different students may have different ways of studying and there may be no single plan that fits everyone. However, the best time to prepare for an exam is to start as early as possible. It may be a good idea to read through the coursework twice or more before an exam. The student should also find time to relax and will do well to remember that good sleep enhances memory. So this mix of near extreme hard work and relaxation needs the skill of time management. Here my advice is for the student to have a plan on how to spend the day even before getting up from bed in the morning.
Eat; don’t forget good food, regular exercise, adequate rest, and good relaxation. Deficiency of these could bring physical or emotional breakdown in health. In medical school, you don’t want to get sick at all. You can’t afford to. No, you can’t.
Before I finish, let me address the last two categories of disappointment. If in the unfortunate event one fails two systems and drops out or has to lose a year, there’s still room for optimism. Yes I said so. Remember, losing one year is not the end of your chosen career. It is a challenge that must be confronted and overcoming may even give you the extra emotional ability to handle unexpected stress, which is never scarce in the medical field. If a medical student finds himself or herself repeating a year, he or she must take it as an opportunity to start afresh and use the experience gained to make things right this time. Keep moving forward because . . .it’s gonna be okay.
If in the unexpected event one is eventually kicked out of medical school, this is sad and I honestly don’t have much advice to give with regards to restarting the lost dream of being a doctor, but I know one thing, it’s not the end of your life. And my experience in life confirms that if you keep a positive attitude to life, without forgetting to think outside the box . . . . it’s gonna be okay.
Finally, let me end by advising, be strong, sit up, step up, work hard, relax when you can, smile, because. . .. it’s gonna be okay.