I was shocked when I realized my first medical school exam marks were below class average. And it still bothers to me when my class marks are below average. Medical school is humbling experience where half of the students, all who excelled in their undergraduate degree, find themselves below average.
There is an old phrase that asks “what do you call the medical student who graduates last in his class?” The answer is still “doctor.” In a way, medical students regardless of their ranking in the class are still bright hardworking students. They have already been selected from the cream of the crop, what really is the difference between 99.0% and 99.5% percentile in comparison to the entire population? When you’ve been in the rat race for so long, it’s hard to forget about the rat race mentality. To compensate, many schools use only a pass/fail system for grading to avoid unnecessary stress and competition.
So is it reasonable for a person to be upset about receiving below average grades in medical school? For me, I use this feedback to find my weaknesses, as a reminder to not let my ego get the best of me, and as a way to challenge myself. After a while in medical school, you realize that your preclinical grades don’t really predict whether you’ll be a good doctor or not. Similarly, there are so many vital skills that are learned but aren’t tested, like history taking and physical examination skills that are essential in medicine. I’ve realized that I may not be the best at memorizing pathophysiology, biochemistry and clinical guidelines, but I have discovered I have a strong understanding and visualization of anatomy. I’ve realized I may not be able to explain detailed molecular mechanisms quickly and I often confuse drug mechanisms, but I can summarize complicated cases succinctly with all the main points. You realize that you are below average in some areas and above average in others.
Through this whole journey, I’ve set my goal to be simple. Improve in my weak areas and minimize mistakes that can happen from them. Become better at recognizing places where I can err in and take action to prevent it from happening. Use my strengths to the best of my abilities and to compensate in my weaknesses. And in the process discover yourself and work on improving yourself.