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Ho to Avoid the Depths of Despair?

Discussion in 'Nontraditional Students' started by LessthanHopeful, Mar 16, 2012.

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  1. LessthanHopeful

    LessthanHopeful

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    This isn't an answer to the title, although, as a non-traditional student with nearly a decade's worth of depths-of-despair-avoiding techniques under my belt, it really should be. This unnavigable world of pre-med is really getting me down and I'm not ashamed to admit it. As I gaze upon the horizon that is my future, all I can see is this black wall (Lord of the Rings-esque, if you will) obstructing any attempt at procession in any direction including backwards. I can't seem to prevent myself from concluding that I'm just too old or too stupid or too alone, or too...something. My mind is capable of producing an endless list of excuses for failing, and I'm only in my first semester of pre-requisites!

    So, here's a little about myself to aid you in your attempt at understanding where I'm coming from:

    27 years old
    graduate degree in theology
    3.1 graduate GPA, 3.3 undergraduate degree GPA (graduate was distance learning degree, and most of the undergrad was earned via distance learning); I received three C's as a result of a computer virus (all in the same semester). I know, it's a pathetic excuse, but that's what happened. Will medical schools buy it, if I get that far, that is?
    Currently enrolled at CU Boulder for Pre-Health, MCDB, and Neuroscience
    I have taken absolutely none of the science prerequisites for medical school.
    No research of any kind
    I have worked 4 years in a hospital lab as a phlebotomist and lab assistant
    EMT-B/IV certification
    I've travelled abroad several times for Spanish language and medical shadowing
    volunteer with CU Boulder's student EMS organization
    volunteer with health fair
    volunteer teaching English with Intercambio once a week
    Currently attending CU Boulder. I expect 3 A's out of four courses.
    Failed one exam in INTRO to chemistry (the primary reasoning behind the creation of this entire post; failing this exam has thrust me deeper into The Pit than I've ever been), but am getting A's in the homework. Class average for exam was below 60%. This exam score is really causing me to re-consider moving any further with my possibly unreasonable aspirations.
    Oh yeah! I also had to drop out of school entirely last semester due to this little problem called Test Anxiety. I was failing courses left and right. How could anyone with test anxiety (the name hardly does this "issue" justice, by the way) possibly become an M.D./D.O.???

    So...I realize that I'm not a competitive candidate for much of anything at this point, particularly now that I have an F under my belt. As my name indicates, I really don't hold out much hope of success, and yet I just can't seem to convince myself to quit. There are far more intelligent and more capable individuals than I out there pursuing the same field; how do I compete with them? Medicine is what I want. I've had years and years to think about it, to try to convince myself that I wanted something else, and to always come back to medicine.

    What kind of support system did those of you who have been successful have? Did any of you have checkered academic pasts that you had to overcome? What was the reasoning you gave to medical school boards for past (and fairly recent) failures? What was your class load like and do medical schools consider this (I'm enrolled in 13 credits for the semester and am also working 30 hours a week)? What did you do to make yourselves competitive candidates? How did you prove that the extra time you had was well spent? And, finally, what do you think of my chances? Oh, and does anyone know of a good psychologist in the Boulder area? Thanks! I'm about to scream!
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2012
  2. jackzack87

    jackzack87

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    First to do is lose the username and change the attitude. Nothing you brought up is really worth talking about until you wipe out the anxiety and despair and get your head locked down straight. Lots of people who are less qualified intellectually than others make it in and do well, but they have other qualities like determination, character, perseverance and toughness that got them out of "the pit" when they were neck-deep. Take baby steps and push through if you really want it.
  3. scarshapedstar

    scarshapedstar MD c/o 2016

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    It sounds like your problem isn't so much test anxiety as everything anxiety. You do indeed need to get your head checked before you screw up all your prereq grades; a 3.3 is salvageable but you are on the wrong trajectory. It will be years before you have the luxury of worrying about admissions. Right now you need to be studying 24/7 because that's all you can do.

    If you get A's for the next two or three years, you won't need to despair. If you just can't focus on that then, yes, you should see a psychiatrist ASAP.
  4. Veritas86

    Veritas86

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    Woah. Back the trolley up.

    First of all, the mindset you're in is going to kill your chances faster than anything. As someone who has felt like that and suffers from depression and anxiety... Get. Help.

    Med school has long been compared to a marathon. To me, its more a long, long boxing match. You keep fighting, through whatever pain comes your way and its not about beating the other guy. It's about hanging in there and taking what chances you get to win.

    So keep fighting and don't lose faith. Because sometimes that's all we've got.
  5. LessthanHopeful

    LessthanHopeful

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    Thanks, Veritas!

    I completely agree about it being more like a never-ending boxing match and one I've only just begun! I think that's what's so frightening. I'm not even a quarter of the way through it and I'm already struggling and because of that struggle I start to doubt myself even more. I tend to use despair as a defense mechanism, I think; if I quit now, however distraught I am won't be as bad (I assume) as knowing for certain that I can't do it. I don't want to quit, but, man, I really don't want to fail after doing my best.
  6. LessthanHopeful

    LessthanHopeful

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    What if I can't get A's? For instance, this intro to chemistry class? I have four more far more difficult chemistry classes ahead of me! I will work my a** off if I know that it will prove fruitful, but that's what I'm doing now and I flunked this last chem exam. What if I get a B? What about research? I feel totally lost in this seemingly complicated world of pre-requisites and EC's, etc. I'm 27; I should know more and be better prepared, but I'm not in the least bit more savvy or experienced.
  7. hopeful22213

    hopeful22213

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    I'm posting in part because I appreciate the yin/yang of our respective usernames. To echo some of the earlier posters, you need to change your perspective. Don't lose sight of the ultimate goal, but you need to stop thinking so much at the macro and start looking more at the micro. Don't be thinking about classes months of years down the line- think about goals and next steps in more manageable chunks. Struggling in your chem class? That's understandable, plenty of students do when they're reintroduced to physical sciences. So what do you do now? Worry about the next step and nothing else.

    Maybe you need to reevaluate how you are studying/preparing for the class and improve upon the way you approach learning the material. But relax. 27 is not old by any stretch, and a 3.3 is a whole lot better than the many other folks out there trying to salvage subpar GPA's. Just stay focused on the next step and keep working hard. Best of luck
  8. darmalee

    darmalee

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    As are great and of course if you can get all As it's awesome. However, a B here and there won't make medical school impossible. I got many Bs in the past couple years and got accepted to several schools with a 3.38 GPA. I didn't do any research because I know that's not where my passion is and doing it just to do it seemed far worse than not doing it at all. There is a lot of information on this forum, and most of it is useful, but it is important to remember that there is no magical recipe for medical school admissions. It sounds like the biggest thing you need right now is to find a way to de-stress.

    As far as feeling like you need to know more and be more prepared, if you have specific questions, there are lots of people here willing to help answer questions so feel free to ask. A lot of information can be found by searching past threads. The biggest thing to know right now is that you aren't to a hopeless situation. If you can figure out how to get the anxiety under control you can definitely turn this around and get yourself to a point of being a good applicant.

  9. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member Moderator Emeritus

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    Hate to break it to you, but the prereqs are the easiest part of this journey. I have no clue why so many people with anxiety and other psych disorders seem attracted to medicine but it pretty much has the same end result as the moth attracted to a flame. You will be taking tests your entire career in medicine. You will be under constant pressure because errors you m in this career can hurt people. And you are going to have to maintain an even keel despite long hours, little sleep, and everybody yelling at you at times. If you are in the pit of despair over intro to chemistry, I'm not sure why you would want this for your life. It's really a career that requires you to be unflappable and very grounded. As others have said, get whatever help you need to fix the mindset or you are wasting your time.
  10. ChemMed

    ChemMed Curiosity is Fun!

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    First I am happy that you are aware that you may need to seek some assistance with emotional turmoil. Great first step! This is a long haul and you will have ups and downs that fluctuate more then you may expect. Knowing when you may need a little help and then asking for it takes courage. Now to answer some of your questions to the best of my ability:

    Please keep in mind that I am a first year medical student, but I am used to the hardships of academia in general and may give useful advise. How you wheight this information is up to you.

  11. ChemMed

    ChemMed Curiosity is Fun!

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    I have had to deal with test anxiety in the past. It sucks, but there are ways to learn to deal with it and be successful if you want to. It has not been easy to say the least, but it has been well worth it. Calming down came with age though and now I no longer feel anxiety toward written exams.
  12. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member Moderator Emeritus

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    My post was actually to the OP in a "pit of despair" over into to chem and looking for psych help.

    I will repeat though that medicine is a bit unique in that it attracts quite a few people who don't have the balance to be there. It's part of the reason substance abuse is so high in the field, among other things. If OP cannot get the anxiety under control as a postbac, I don't think pushing on s a very good idea. They are the easiest phase of this path.
  13. ChemMed

    ChemMed Curiosity is Fun!

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    I was simply implying that things can be done to deal with anxiety and despair. You are right concerning balance. If the OP can't find his or hers the path of medicine may not be a good idea
  14. Veritas86

    Veritas86

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    Ok, I was going to let this one slide, but that's uncalled for. You aren't God. You don't have the right to decide who is and who isn't "balanced enough."

    There have been successful BPDs, depressives, and others in medicine and other high stress fields. It's case by case. Your post sounds like you assume we who suffer from it are all the same. Regardless of your intent, that's how you made it sound.

    You can't categorically represent all people who have issues in a single statement any more than you can say doctors are heartless or lawyers are greedy.

    Beyond that, yes. It is something the OP needs to get under control. And possibly rethink the decision about due to difficulties in the prereqs. But I find your statement offensive, derisive, and ignorant.
  15. scarshapedstar

    scarshapedstar MD c/o 2016

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    The proof's in the pudding though. I overcame a bout of major depression and was pretty open about it in my app, but I also had the grades to prove that I'd recovered.

    If you can be competitive then by definition you're balanced enough. If you're a nervous wreck and dropping half your classes then you're not gonna get in to medical school so talking about your ability to practice medicine is putting the cart before the horse. :shrug:
  16. QofQuimica

    QofQuimica Seriously, dude, I think you're overreacting.... Administrator SDN Senior Moderator Lifetime Donor

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    You're right that L2D could have been a little more tactful (ok, a lot more tactful). But his point is a good one. Medical training is incredibly stressful, especially once you hit the wards your third year of med school, and all the more so once you hit the wards as an intern. The pressure is enough to make some people with *no* past history of psych disorders go down in flames. I unfortunately already know two residents who developed substance abuse problems and one who committed suicide. So those of you who do have a past history of psychiatric problems need to have a really good support system in place and enough insight to recognize when you're heading for a meltdown. That's especially true for bipolar types, because the constant sleep deprivation and changes in schedules that disrupt residents' circadian rhythms are known risk factors for precipitating manic episodes.

    As an intern, I have two competing responses to your posts. First, I have empathy for you, because of course the coursework is stressful, and it does sound like you have a bona fide anxiety problem. Which, BTW, OP, I agree with the others that you should see a psychiatrist and maybe an educational specialist too to get this problem under control before you take a single additional class. Because the whole road to becoming a physician is fraught with one exam after another, and those with test anxiety are going to have an especially difficult time of it. However, that doesn't mean that you can't overcome your anxiety with professional help.

    On the other end, I also kind of want to shake you silly. You're worried about not doing well on a few stupid tests; I'm sitting here in the ICU, just me and a senior resident, hoping that we manage to keep everyone alive until morning and that the ED doesn't punish us too badly by sending us half a dozen more critically ill patients to deal with all at the same time. The exams and "what ifs" I'm dealing with revolve around not doing something stupid that kills someone because I don't know enough to know my own limits, or because I'm not experienced enough. You want to talk about anxiety? Heck yeah, I'm anxious. I still break into a sweat every time I stick a big needle into someone's neck even though I've successfully done it several times now. :hungover:

    The thing is, a small amount of anxiety is a good thing. You need some stress to motivate you to study like you need to in order to take good care of patients, and to give you that sense of urgency to learn as much as you can each day when you're in the hospital even though you feel tired and cranky. You need to know that every time you do something to a patient, there is a chance you could "fail," because that possibility of failure keeps you humble when you're starting to get a little too prone to patting yourself on the back. However, too much anxiety can be paralyzing. And this is not a career you can succeed at if you're being paralyzed by fear. If you want to be a physician, you do have to be capable of functioning under pressure when the situation calls for it.

    In any endeavor in life, there is always going to be a possibility of failure. The good news is that you don't have to be a genius to be a medical student (or a doctor either, for that matter). You don't need to know all there is to know about chemistry. (I have a PhD in chemistry, and I don't know anything close to all there is to know about it!) But you do have to have enough confidence (and enough courage) to be willing to *try* to be a physician. Because if you don't even have that, you definitely will fail. So get yourself some help, and once your anxiety is under control, give those prereqs another go.

    Best of luck :)
  17. JackShephard MD

    JackShephard MD

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    Agreed with L2D and QofQ. Pre-reqs are the easiest part. It gets much worse and intense each step you take down the road.

    I wish you the best. I've learned to deal with anxiety through faith, we all must manage it because there are endless challenges on the road ahead.

    One book I own, Time Warrior, has a good quote:

    A bit strange, but the general idea is great: be present.
  18. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member Moderator Emeritus

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    um, my saying medicine attracts "quite a few people" people with problematic issues is simply not the same as "categorically representing all people". If you want to engage in debate, you need to challenge me on what i actually said, not what you are construing. Sorry but you are out if line here. I was blunt and tactless, sure, but I absolutely have personally seen a larger percentage of people with psych issues going into medicine than my prior professions, and would suggest that this path is simply much harder on the emotions and psyche, and that it creates more problems for certain people than many other paths. Medicine has real problems with things like substance abuse, which usually result from a lack if balance and grounding. You are going to be sleep deprived, yelled at, overworked, not have time for friends or family. You often won't have time for the best diet or exercise or other things you need to do to unwind. You will be breaking bad news, pronouncing people dead, etc frequently. It's emotionally trying, physically exhausting, and quite stressful at times. So yeah, if an Intro to Chemistry test is the kind of thing that can put you into the pit of despair, then you really aren't ready for this path. That's fine, a lot of the population isn't. Thats all I'm saying. I never said "all" people with certain issues can't be doctors. But I did say "many" need to get themselves into a very different place to even consider this.
  19. JackShephard MD

    JackShephard MD

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    I know he is being tough here, but I think he is right.
  20. LessthanHopeful

    LessthanHopeful

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    Thank you for your honesty. I value that above all things.
    I believe that, at this point, my anxiety, as high a hurdle as it has proven itself to be, is not the greatest of my concerns. While I did drop classes last semester, I have gotten A's in everything but that chemistry exam. Granted, an F is as bad as it gets and doesn't aid me in overcoming this anxiety issue, but if, as some of the others who have taken the time to respond to my post have written, I am not the only one to have ever failed a chem test, I am somewhat encouraged.
    My primary concern is whether I have what it takes, with or without the anxiety to make this dream of mine come true. I think more than anxiety I struggle with inferiority and a lack or absence of confidence. I'd rather quit while I'm ahead, so to speak, than know that, even after trying my best, I just can't cut it. I am not questioning the reality that I am currently in the easier stages of a career in medicine; what I am questioning is the likelihood of my getting any farther than this with what I've already "accomplished".
  21. LessthanHopeful

    LessthanHopeful

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    It's not the Intro to Chem class or even receiving an F that's put me in the pit of despair. It's the thought that, because I earned an F in what I consider to be a very simple class, I don't have what it takes to even get into medical school. I have worked as an EMT for two years. Granted, it's nothing remotely like working as a doctor, but I've had to make split-second decisions, watch a doc pronounce someone on whom I've performed CPR for 45 minutes, leave the side of a kid who's leg was severed in an accident and watch him/her be carted off to surgery, triage patients, avoid being attacked by a combative diabetic, transport POC in a biohazard bag to a hospital lab, etc. It's odd, but real-life stuff isn't what gets to me; it's the little things like poor intro to chem grades that don't reflect the work I've put in as I strive toward a goal I may never attain that drive me nuts! If I knew for certain that my past failures, present mistakes, and eternal shortcomings would not count against me, then anxiety would be a foreign concept to me. I can't help but have this gnawing feeling ever inside me telling me that all of this work will be for nothing. That's the source of my anxiety! That's why I posted this question, not to hear about how much more difficult medical school will be; I'm well aware of that. I posted it to ask whether anyone else had similar shortcomings and whether those same individuals overcame them and made it to where they wanted to be. I can and will do anything it takes, but only if there's hope of having my efforts rewarded. If there's no hope, what's the point?
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2012
  22. scarshapedstar

    scarshapedstar MD c/o 2016

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    Okay so failing a test along with everyone else is a warning shot across the bow. It sounds like in your other classes you're being rewarded for hard work which is all any sane person can ask for.

    In my gen chem class the final was divided into sections that could replace your test grades if you improved, and so I went from a D to an A. It sounds like you can at least manage a B for the class even if there is no second chance policy like that.

    But you gotta take responsibility for your own grades. Proper studying works a lot more often than CPR. Are you preparing yourself for test questions? I can believe that you studied and then blanked because the questions didn't correspond at all to the way you learned the material.

    But I can't believe that you worked 200 practice problems and still freaked out. The only way to get over this test anxiety is to test yourself, thoroughly. Do every problem in your book, and from one or two other textbooks - you can easily find .pdfs of them online. Student solutions manuals and test banks are also out there. You need to throw the kitchen sink at this class. That way, unless your teacher is an evil genius, you will have worked a half dozen problems similar to any given test question. In gen chem there simply aren't many variations.

    This approach got me an A in P. Chem, a class I was forced to take and was terrified of, because I absolutely needed that A and I had nothing but C's in physics and calculus. Work every problem on earth and I bet those tests will suddenly be a lot friendlier.
  23. econ2med

    econ2med

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    To add to scar shaped star

    Getting nervous on a test is natural. But at the same time, you have to believe in yourself - dont ever ask "what if i fail" dont ask it. Period. Dont imagine yourself failing. Ever.

    Instead visualize the outcome of the exam. Believe in yourself. And bury those thoughts of doubt.

    A person can be extremely intelligent but self doubt will devour that person. You gotta control your mind and program it for success
  24. vitanuova

    vitanuova

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    I too struggled with test anxiety when I first started taking science classes again. I actually started a thread on it last semester and got some great tips. If you try a search for test anxiety on this forum, you can see what people said.

    I found that what really works for me is to immerse myself as much as possible in the material itself and not on the long term consequences of my performance on the exam. Focus on mastering every concept that was covered in class and try not to think about the consequences of failing. There is nothing inherently frightening about chemistry. Failing it what is frightening.

    Do practice problems until you are bored to death and exhausted. Then keep practicing.

    I also found that for me, the advice of getting a full 7-8 hours of sleep before a test was not at all helpful. The alertness from a full night of sleep did nothing but give me more energy to use to worry. However, when I arrived at the exam exhausted from a night of practice problems, all I had energy to do was focus on the material itself. I was too tired to worry.

    So start studying and stop posting about the depth of despair.
  25. wholeheartedly

    wholeheartedly Moderator

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    It's really not that odd if you think about it. The real life stuff you're talking about are things that you don't really have time to freak out about the same way and once they're over they're pretty much over. Grades you can obsess about beforehand because you know a test is or something is coming and after the fact because they'll still continue to impact you.

    I do think it would benefit you to talk to some people about the anxiety, it really is important to deal with that. It can turn into something that hurts patients in ways other than freezing up and not being able to handle a crisis.

    This path can be pretty daunting to think about, so one thing that helps is to not get too far ahead of yourself. You get to medical school one good grade or accomplishment at a time. Try to turn every failure or set back into a learning experience. It is what it is and you can't go back, but you can use it to help you move forward. What didn't go right and how can I fix it? should be the question you ask at every point.

    oh and stay away from all nighters induced by caffeine, it'll do nothing for your anxiety.
  26. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member Moderator Emeritus

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    LOL - you just described most of residency. There's going to be no staying away from this.
  27. wholeheartedly

    wholeheartedly Moderator

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    Yeah, I know that's the norm. I heard one resident who doesn't drink caffeine say that he started carrying a coffee thermos with water in it to fake people out because they kept giving him looks of distrust and suspicion when they realized he wasn't drinking coffee non-stop to stay awake. :laugh:

    But at least cutting down a bit before big tests might be helpful to the OP if that's something they do. I work full-time on nights and commute to grad school during the day. I have an average of one or two 24 hour awake periods a week right now and don't drink caffeine, so it is possible. Residency is going to be a different challenge because it's going to be bit harder to manage sleep the rest of the week. :(
  28. OneLeven

    OneLeven

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    :thumbup:
  29. popopopop

    popopopop

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    You're not in Texas are you?
  30. Jamie561

    Jamie561

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    I would definitely quit now. You have some good grades under your belt and so you're definitely ahead of the curve. Why risk all of that on medical school? Better a quitter than a failure right?

    Sent from my HTC Sensation Z710e using Tapatalk
  31. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member Moderator Emeritus

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    Residency is residency. I'm betting they abuse coffee in TX too.
  32. popopopop

    popopopop

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    Lol, no no. I was curious because there is an ENT resident on my floor who went from law to medicine. It would have been a great coincidence.
  33. LessthanHopeful

    LessthanHopeful

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    I'm hoping that this statement is what's commonly called reverse psychology, because you completely got my blood up!
  34. Jamie561

    Jamie561

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    SDN 2+ Year Member
    Well good, because I intended to illustrate how absurd it would be to quit while you're ahead (which you are)

    Sent from my HTC Sensation Z710e using Tapatalk
  35. MedPR

    MedPR

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2011
    Messages:
    18,692
    Status:
    Pre-Podiatry
    Might be harsh, but this worked for me.

    In no particular order:

    1. Be honest with yourself (and others, if at all possible) about your gpa, mcat, competitiveness for matriculation, and whatever else you have not yet accepted as reality. Don't hide from it.

    2. Man up. You might have to put in a few more years of work to get into medical school, but it's not impossible.

    3. Man up, seriously. If you honestly think you can get through medical school and be a good doctor, you should be confident that you do everything necessary to get in. If you go into an undergrad or post-bacc class worried that you might not get an A, you should probably also be worried that you won't pass medical school. If you are worried you can't set aside all of your outside commitments and other stuff preventing you from getting As, or taking classes, or doing research, or whatever, you probably won't be able to do it once you get into med school either.

    4. Man up, or quit.
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