Failed Medical School: What to Do Now?

If you are visiting this section, most likely you have failed medical school or may be on the verge of failing medical school.

If you are an US medical student, you will probably get a second chance, even a third chance. So make the most of it.

But if you have been dismissed from the school, I want to let you know that it is ok. You are not the first person ever to fall. Your life is not over, it will go on. Failure is a blessing in disguise.

Dale Carnegie, author of one of the most famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, said, “Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”

There are many people whom I admire that have failed at one point or another:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Winston Churchill
  • Thomas Edison
  • Albert Einstein
  • Henry Ford
  • Michael Jordan

You can read about how these people failed, but they did not give up. And neither should you.

I Failed Too

After college, I wanted to start my own business, Cut and Fit. It was supposed to be an online store selling items related to fitness, from supplements to equipments. I love fitness so why not sell it? I spent half a year developing my site. I programmed my own shopping cart, set up my merchant account, and made sure I can accept credit cards. I found a distributor who will ship out the products for me. Everything was set. And yet, I never made a sale. So I eventually abandoned my plans and got a job.

Even though I lost 6 months of my life and maybe a thousand dollars, I have learned that I hate programming. In addition, I learned how not to run website. You can be sure that I am not repeating the mistakes I made with my previous site.

failed medical school - angry

It’s ok. Let out the anger.

Now Back to You – What Should You Do?

You may be saying, “Now Alex, that is not a good comparison. Your loss does not compare to my loss. I lost way more time and money than you.” And you are absolutely correct. But there are people who failed even harder than you and yet became successful. Look at Henry Ford, for instance. He went broke five times before he succeeded.

What you have to do now is to examine why you wanted to go into medical school in the first place. If you love medicine, you can be a nurse, physician assistant, or physical therapist. If you love money, you shouldn’t be a doctor. But seriously, if money is your goal, there are other ways to get it besides being a doctor. You can start a business, write a book, or even invest. If you want to help people, you can volunteer or become a teacher. Being a doctor is not the only way of life. You now have total control over the destination of your life. Do something meaningful and fulfilling.

Some of the options I have listed are hard. Maybe your own ideas are even harder. But, you are smart, capable, and hard-working. That is how you got into medical school in the first place. The work ethic you learned in medical school will serve you well for the rest of your life, even if you failed medical school.

You should be concerned about the debt you have accumulated over the years you spent in medical school. Obviously, the earlier you failed medical school, the smaller your debt is. If you have a federal loan, you can apply for the income-based repayment program to reduce the monthly payments. Visit the medical school loan section for more information about managing the debt.

If Being a Doctor Is the Only Option for You

Personally, I would not reapply to medical school if I failed medical school. The financial and time commitment is way too steep, especially the second time around. But, if being a doctor is the only option for you, then I guess you have no choice but to reapply.

Let me just warn you that it will be a risky and costly path. You will most likely have to take the MCAT again and jump through 20 others hoops to get into medical school. Admissions don’t look at medical school failures in a positive light either. So even if your scores are good, you may not get an acceptance.

But you’ll never know if you can get in or not unless you try.

If you absolutely, positively must become a doctor, make sure you have a rock-solid study system. Without it, I don’t know if I could have gotten through medical school, especially with my non-science background.

I Envy You for Failing Medical School

There is so much I want to do that I do not have time for as a medical student. I want to become proficient in Spanish and Mandarin. I want to live in another country. I want to learn how to tango. Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to be free from medical school. You can even say that I envy you because you will now have time to try out all the things I have been missing out on. Remember, today is the first day of the rest of your life. You failed medical school, but that is in the past. Live life for the present.

Let me know what I’m missing out on.

Are you turning your back on medicine? If so, you may feel like you are alone. You may feel like you are a failure. But, you are not. Leaving the field could turn out better than you have ever thought possible. And here is why you should get out …

This article is part of the How to Survive Medical School series. Click on the link if you want more tips and hints about surviving academic hell.

Comments

  1. Hi, Alex. Just browsing through. We actually have sort of the same background! I was a business graduate who went straight into med school after one year of bumming and interning at an international organization for public health (never even tried to work after grad, which sucks for me). I did one year of med and actually joined a sorority while I was there. It was the most hellish time of my life. I quit the next summer, mostly after diagnosing myself with PTSD from all the hazing I had to go through. My grades certainly sucked too though, unlike yours. This probably went a long way towards dampening my enthusiasm for the field, I think (somehow I thought it would be a cakewalk..). It’s funny you mentioned learning other languages, as that’s exactly what I’m doing right now. While wondering what to do with my life – yet again – (I was glumly contemplating finance or operations) I got a random fun job to pay for French classes, which I wanted to start studying again after learning the basics during a summer abroad in college. Anyway, that job was -and is – at my country’s international trade office, where I now help to negotiate free trade agreements (Capital-side for now, but hopefully abroad in a few years :D ). And just like that my life turned upside down. So.. occasionally I browse online, to see if I find a solid enough reason to go back to med school in favor of this surprisingly novel and travel-wise rewarding career path that I am setting out on (so far I haven’t).. Just drop me an email, if you want to chat and compare career notes!

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Page,

      Thanks for sharing about your background. I totally agree with you that medical school is a hellish experience. Don’t go back to medical school. I wouldn’t if I was in your situation. Your new job sounds really cool. If they can send you abroad, that would be a blast! Some of the best time of my life was overseas.

    • Hi Page,
      I have also failed out of medical school and wanted to know a little more about your new career choice. It sounds like something I would also like to try out.
      Sandra

      • Alex Ding says:

        Hey Sandra,

        I did not fail out. But I know some people who either failed out or dropped out. One works as a teacher. Another works in finance. Another makes really good money with his own business.

        Personally, I would start my own business if I am not doing medicine.

  2. Hi Alex,

    I am on the verge of quitting medical school but I don’t know what to do with my life if I did. I got a degree in Biology for my pre-med and the career options are limited. I am interested in finance but I don’t know how to start. I am also interested in business but I don’t know how to start. Any tips?

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hi Trishia,

      No one can tell you what to do with you life. But I can try to guide you.

      First, a college degree (no matter the major) is worthless. Everyone has one. So it doesn’t matter if your majored in biology or business. Your future is still very, very bright.

      Second, you have to determine what you love to do in life. I’m assuming you are still young, so you may not have a good idea. So pursue finance. If you love working 60 – 80 hours a week working on spreadsheets and dealing with numbers, you’ll love it. If you’re doing it for the money, it’ll suck.

      But definitely try it out. You have to break into the field first. So offer to work for free. Maybe it means you should get an internship. If no one takes you up on your generous offer, start learning finance on your own. Borrow a book in the library or look up the information on Google.

      Learn how to create pro forma. Learn what a bond is, what a stock is, what a mutual fund is. Learn how to calculate intrinsic value. Learn about P/E ratios and whatnot.

      I truly believe you have to experience the varieties of life before you can find what you love. So go out. Live. Explore. Volunteer. Learn.

  3. Sage Compos says:

    Hey Guys!
    I am on the verge of failing out of my third year. The MCAT was HELL for me, and now the Step 1 is seemingly the same…There are a MILLION things I want to do with my life, but this is what I wanted for my FUTURE. It is extremely scary. I have not gotten the official kick out, because I am going to fight it, but life is short and we should all do what we love.
    Cheers.

  4. I failed dental school. I graduated top of my undergraduate class and was accepted to dental school on my first time applying. I failed my first year of dental school, was allowed to repeat on a decelerated program, passed boards, but ultimately ended up failing a class again and was dismissed. Now I’m 6 figures in student loan debt & trying to figure out what to do with my life. Even though I’ve considered reapplying just to prove that I CAN succeed and become a dentist, I have given up on dental school. Honestly, the years that I was there were absolute hell for me and I did not have support at the school. I was depressed. But I feel like I really let my parents and family down. I’ve considered nursing, physician assistant, physical therapy, teaching, getting a degree in public health/nutrition, etc. I’m just not sure what to do. I’m working full-time now in a job unrelated to my college major (biology), and although I’m thankful for the job, I’m not content. I really don’t know what to do. I’ve complete classes for teaching certification and I’m considering getting a Masters in teaching or biology or health promotion/public health. Any advice?

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Carmen,

      Maybe failing out is the best thing that happened to you in terms of happiness. Yea, the loans sure suck. But based on income-based repayment program or pay-as-you-earn program, if you make minimal salary, your repayment towards the loan is also minimal. (Assuming all your loans are federal.)

      To me, it seems like your life revolves around science of some sort: biology, dentistry, public health, etc. Is that what you really want to do?

      I don’t know what the hours are like for your current job. But whatever free time you have should be used to explore life. Try crazy things. Experiment with new things. Maybe go into computers or art or business or whatever.

      Your goal right now is to find what you love in life. You’ve probably been in school all your life, so why get another degree? That you may not even use?

      And once you find what you love, go after it. If you are passionate about your job, you won’t mind putting in the work. Therefore, you will succeed and you will be happy. And you’ll realize how trivial failing out of dental school really is.

  5. Hello,

    I failed out of med school. I am not sure my heart was into medicine, I think I was mainly there for the money and due to parental pressure since I am Asian. You eluded early to finding out what you love to do. How does one find out what they love to do? I majored in a Humanities subject (English/History/Psychology) along with premed. I was always more interested in the Humanities. I am trying to decide whether I should pursue a career in business/finance or go after what I really love (writing) even if i have to struggle financially. What do you think?

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Angela,

      You find out what you want to do by living life, taking risks, and trying new things. You asked about doing the sensible thing and working in a safe, stable job vs. following your passion. This is something I struggle with too. And to help you answer the question, here is a quote by Steve Jobs:

      “If you live each day as it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”

      If you were to die in a week or even a month, would you be happy with your life? Sometimes, when you live for the future, it may never come. Too many people think about money. Money this. Money that.

      But think about it … How much is a year of your life worth? Would you give up a year of your youth for $50,000 or even $100,000? If not, why would you take on a job you dislike (or even hate) just for money? Even though you may be struggling financially, you’re happy. You enjoy life.

      So I say, do what you love. And when you get so good at it, the world will reward you. Chase after passion and excellence, and the money will come.

  6. Thanks! What suggestions do you have for someone whose passion is for English literature and writing?

    • Alex Ding says:

      Are you reading and writing every day? If so, why not create a website of your own? Or write a book? Or teach people how to write? Or tutor people in English literature?

      There are so many things you can do with the power of words. Writing is my passion as well. =)

  7. How does one get over the bitterness of failing out of med school? I spent 3 years working as a research assistant at a hospital while completing organic chem classes and studying for the MCAT. I was admitted to med school at 25. I failed first semester and took a year off. I came back the next year to redo second year and was still struggling. I ended up failing some exams and since it was my second time around, they dismissed me. Now I am 27 and have no idea what I want to do with my life. I’ll be honest, I only went into medicine for the money and did not have a passion for it. I feel so bitter for wasting so much of my life and time.

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Melissa,

      You are still young. There are people who did not succeed until their 40′s and 50′s.

      One of my friends went from multimillionaire to bankrupt around 39 years of age. Got divorced. He thought his life was over.

      He made his money back. He’s married to someone who care about him. He has a beautiful family. He is happier than ever.

      The trick is to pick yourself up and to wipe off the dirty feeling of failure after falling down. You now know you and medicine don’t mix well. So stop dwelling on the past and move forward. Try something else. Find something you love and you too will be successful.

      And anyways, medicine takes away a lot of your time. You’ll have to sacrifice your relationships, and maybe even your love life. It’s for the best that you get out now than after a decade.

  8. I just failed my 1st year in medicine and I have been given a second chance to redo the year in the units failed. In my country we do the degree as an undergraduate within 6 yrs.
    To be honest my heart was in pharmacy as *I love chemistry* and topics to do with micro organisms in biology.
    My idea was to get my degree in pharmacy then work in a pharmaceutical company as an analyst then later go into research.
    However I was discouraged by some doctors who told me that most pharmacists end up just selling meds behind counters and never use their training during their job.
    Medicine was my only other option and I don’t mind the idea of being a doctor nor the stress that comes with it. My problem is that I suck at memorization as I am more of an abstract thinker and I’m very analytical.
    My problem is that my confidence right now is sooooo low that I’m afraid of repeating the year because of the ridicule I’ll get from my former classmates. And I’m also afraid of not succeeding in pharmacy because I failed med in the 1st year!!!
    Any advice on how I could get over this grave yard I dug myself into?! Do you know of any one who failed their 1st year and became successful physicians/pharmacists?!

    • Hey Paula,

      What a heavy burden on your shoulders. You know what? It is ok that you failed. It is not the end of the world At least you know that however you’re studying does not work.

      I had some classmates who failed the 1st year and had to repeat it. The majority of them will become doctors after this year.

      If you suck at memorization, you’re just like me. I wrote about how I study in great details at:

      http://www.medicalschoolsuccess.com/the-secret-of-studying/

      It helped me get through 4 years of medical school. I never failed a single exam. And it helped me pass my licensing exams all on the first try.

  9. I’m a 1st year who failed and has been asked to repeat. My confidence is shuttered and I fear being ridiculed by my ex-classmates. I worked hard and I thought I’d a fair chance of making it through.
    I had a flu during the exams and was unable to read but I remembered my exams being extremely fair and 53% of the class passed well.
    I have always had a passion for chemistry and anything to do with
    microbiology. Hence my heart was set out for pharmacy but I was discouraged from that path and was told that as a pharmacist I won’t use my training much but be more of a business woman. Yes I love the idea of making money but I love the idea of getting into medical research more and wanted to work as an analyst in the labs.
    My only option of achieving this dream was through medicine.However I SUCK AT CRAMMING AND MEMORISING (hence avoided law school). But don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind reading constantly, I just have no idea on how to go about the content without memorising but rather understanding e.g. physio and bchem were fine, anatomy was the problem. What’s wrong with me?! In knew med would be a challenge but didn’t think I’d fall under the 5% that fails. I thought that group was for medics that partied too hard not studied like I did.
    Please give your opinion/advice before I make the huge desicion to leave the “medic” family. I am paralysed.

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