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What Happens If I’m Worried About Failing?

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What Happens If I'm Worried About Failing in Medical School?

Session 78

This week, I answer a question from a nontrad who is worried about that little voice in his head telling him he may fail at this whole “med school” thing. What can you do about your fears of failing in medical school or even as a premed?

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[01:08] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

As usual on the OldPreMeds Podcast, our question is taken from the Nontrad Premed Forum:

“I’ve taken Ryan’s advice to heart and believe that a backup plan will hurt my chances.”

*Listen to The Premed Years Podcast Episode 213 where I talked about not having a plan B. If you have a backup plan of being a nurse, PA, or NP, you are less likely to persevere and achieve your goal of becoming a physician when things get hard.

“Not begrudgingly either, I was already convinced of this myself before I heard him say it several months ago, so it was great to hear my instincts confirmed. As a 35-year-old nontraditional student, I’m convinced that I’m called to serve others as a physician. I eat, sleep, and breathe this journey every second of every day. Yet there are those moments when the small voice of doubt whispers in my ear a little louder than usual: ‘What if I fail?'”

If you have a backup plan of being a nurse, PA, or NP, you are less likely to persevere and achieve your goal of becoming a physician.Click To Tweet

This is a second trip through undergrad to earn my prereqs, and at the end of the summer semester, my federal student loan eligibility will be cut off due to reaching the cap. I’ve needed to give up my full-time job so I can go to school full time as well as shadow, volunteer, and scribe. I’ve then been supporting myself almost entirely on private loans.

I have a solid two years remaining before I can take the MCAT. By the time I enter med school, I will be on the hook for $100,000 in additional private loan debt to cover tuition and living expenses.

I have no qualms whatsoever about taking on this debt because I know this is what I’m supposed to do. But there’s a naysayer voice within me that says I can’t do this, that tells me just to give up. It simply will not stop asking, ‘What if I fail?’ I exercise regularly, trying to limit caffeine, and eat healthily. I was a personal trainer for years, so I do all that I can to alleviate stress. What other suggestions do you have to shut up this voice?”

There's a naysayer voice within me that keeps asking, 'What if I fail?'Click To Tweet

[03:57] Fears of Failing on the Medical School Path

That inner voice inside you is most likely your limbic system saying, “Stop. This is scary. We don’t want to do this.” Unfortunately, it’s not very smart for the age we live in today.

That little voice in the back of your head used to help protect us from predators in the wild by making us more cautious. That was a great voice to have in the back of your head a hundred thousand years ago.

That voice in your head is most likely your limbic system saying, 'Stop. This is scary. We don't want to do this.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: From Nursing to Premed: A Story of Lost Confidence.]

Fear of Failing on the Path to Medical School is Okay

In today’s day and age, that little voice in your head always rears up when you’re on the verge of something great or tough. It’s never there when you’re sitting on the couch playing video games or when you’re ordering pizza or when life is easy. It’s always there when life is hard—when you’re making decisions that have the potential to affect you and everybody else in your life, as well as your future.

If your little voice is popping up and asking what happens if you fail, it means you’re doing the right thing because it should be hard. That same question, “What if I fail?” can be asked by every student, and it has nothing to do with you being a nontrad or all the loans you have. That voice is normal and everybody asks that every day.

Personally, when I release a new podcast, I still hear in my head, “What if I fail?” Despite having four podcasts already, my mind asks, “What if this new one isn’t popular? What if it’s not good?” This tells me to push forward.

In your case, “what if I fail?” should be telling you to keep going.

[Related Episode: MamaDoctorJones on Imposter Syndrome in Medical School and Beyond.]

[06:13] What Counts as Failing on the Medical School Path

As you’re going on your premed journey, define failure for yourself. Failure, to me, is giving up.

To you, failing could mean applying to medical school multiple times and not getting in, or needing to go to a Caribbean medical school. But actual failure, to me, is giving up when you know this is still your dream. If in two years, you still want to become a doctor, but you can’t take it anymore—that, to me, is failure.

Actual failure, to me, is giving up when you know this is still your dream.Click To Tweet

A rejection from medical school is not a failure. I was rejected from medical school on my first try, and it wasn’t a failure. I was just being told, “not yet.”

[07:05] Change That Voice Inside Your Head

Instead, change that saying of “What if I fail?” to “What if I succeed?” What would that look like? That would be awesome, wouldn’t it? That you’re in medical school and you’re a medical student.

Listen to that voice in your head because when it speaks up, that often means you’re doing something right. So don’t be afraid of it.

Listen to that fearful voice in your head because, when it speaks up, that often means you're doing something right.Click To Tweet

I know this is a very different show than usual, but I like the psychology of thinking. A business writer, Seth Godin, talks about “lizard brain,” which is that little voice in your head. It’s the deepest and oldest part of our brains that told us to stay away from saber-toothed tigers. And it’s your lizard brain that’s asking you, “What if I fail?”

[08:05] Side Notes and Conclusion

On a side note, be very careful with private student loans. They are much, much, much more strict than federal student loans.

I also want to question what’s taking you so long? Giving up a full-time job to shadow and everything else, and it’s still going to take two more years? This timeline seems to be off. I recommend you reach out to an advisor. Shoot me an email.

But to reiterate, the answer to your question “what if I fail?” is that it all depends on what your definition of failure is.

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