Image above from Riverside Community College District
Failing an exam is not easy, especially if it’s one of your boards. However, these tests have been failed many times before by multiple students who go on and become very successful in their field. So what do you do when you get the crushing news? We take it step by step…..
Know You’re Not Alone
Considering the countless exams you’ve taken throughout your schooling, you’re sure to wind up stumbling on a few. And none of the boards have a 100% pass rate. So there are numerous students right now in your same shoes. The majority of them succeed on their next attempt so odds are in your favor. Failing a set of boards should never stop your path of becoming a physician, because odds are you will succeed next time around.
Expect to Go Through the Five Stages of Grief
As soon as you receive the failing grade you will immediately be in a state of denial. As described above you will also feel isolated, but remember, you’re not alone. Then you’ll become angry that a testing service or grader thought you were not worthy to become a doctor. You’ll learn that’s not the case but it will still ruin your day, week, or month nonetheless.
Next you may go through a period of bargaining, thinking you could reach out to the testing center to appeal the grade, or pray the grade away, and when the score doesn’t change, you may fall into a depression. Finally you realize the grade is here to stay and you reach acceptance, which is a good sign and necessary to recover and eventually succeed. Once you’ve accepted what has happened you can start planning how to rectify the situation.
Many students feel they shouldn’t go through the above stages, but how else will you begin to heal from a such a traumatizing incident? Which brings us to….
Take a Moment for Yourself
Being told you fail a test hurts, and you’ll want to scream or cry. That’s normal, being you busted your butt in school for years and an exam is trying to get in your way of you reaching your goal. But when we fall we need to get back up and brush ourselves off. The most satisfying thing you can do at this stage is prove the testing centers wrong by passing it the next time around. Remember you are in your final years of medical school and you overcame much bigger obstacles than this. You got this. So now what do you do next…..
Notify Your School Immediately
Some programs are made aware of a time frame in which test scores come out but may not know what exact day scores are released. So if you failed and are expecting to hear from them checking in on you, don’t. Reach out to them first but realize that not hearing from your medical school is not a sign of indifference. Once they know you failed they can start setting up a remediation program if they have one or get you in touch with valuable resources.
Be Open To Criticism and New Instruction
Medical students are told their whole life how “smart” they are so we sometimes persist in the disbelief that we failed a test. However, if you failed, chances are you did something wrong. So take instruction and learn from it. Even if other doctors in your clinical rotations have taught you differently, those professors in your institution who understand the boards will have insight to help you pass the boards, which is your primary goal.
If you failed humanism/communications – practice bedside manner, confidence building, questions patients commonly ask their doctor, as well as making sure the patient understands what you’re thinking and about to order for them.
If you failed SOAP notes – practice typing speed, write out notes for multiple cases, have others grade your work to see what you’re missing.
If you failed data gathering, practice coming up with differentials or body systems and common questions to ask, and review cases of all chief complaints offered in study guides.
Passing a test is a game..it always has been. We learned how to play the game early on in our grade, middle and high school years but now we’re playing pro and the stakes are higher when it comes to medical boards. Realize you need help and be open to it.
Phone a Friend
You will need support from those you love and have your back. Don’t be embarrassed discussing this one stumble in a long line of schooling successes. No one makes it through medical school alone, so leaning on someone is par for the course. Plus you feel better opening up. I’ve heard from countless students who failed their PE and CS and am here as well.
Medical students and professionals aren’t perfect and shouldn’t be expected to be. But we are strong, resilient, and hard working. So approach your board failure as you’d do anything in medicine. Evaluate, assess and treat…….You got this!
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.