I'm a Genuinely Positive Person, BUT.....What If I Fail?

I’ve taken Ryan’s advice to heart, and believe that a back-up plan will hurt my chances. 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 convinced beyond all shadow of a doubt 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 still small voice of doubt whispers in my ear a little louder than usual…what if I fail?

This is second trip through undergrad to earn my pre-reqs, and at the end of this summer semester my federal loan eligibility will cut off (factoring in my earlier undergrad years, there is a $57,000 cap I’ve now reached). 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, and am supporting myself almost entirely on private loans. I have a solid two years remaining before I can take the MCAT, and by the time I enter med school I’ll be on the hook for $100,000 in additional private loan debt to cover tuition and living expenses BEFORE I even start medical school! (As such, I’m strongly considering NHSC and entering a primary care specialty to remove the looming specter of med school debt.)

I have no qualms whatsoever about taking on this debt because I know this is what I’m supposed to do. But the naysayer voice within that says I can’t do this, that tells me just to give up after another sleepless night, simply will not stop asking WHAT IF I FAIL? I exercise regularly, try to limit caffeine, and eat healthy (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??


Can you define “through undergrad”? You don’t have to finish a second degree just to get the prereqs. Even if you’re enrolled full time, you can just finish the prereqs and withdraw from the degree program.

Please keep in mind that the volunteer/scribe/etc are things that are especially useful for someone coming straight out of undergrad, but as an older applicant you theoretically have experiences that have taught you more about life and yourself. You don’t necessarily have to check all of the “boxes” that SDN will tell you you have to have if you want a shot at getting into school. The goal is not to be a doctor before you go to med school, it’s to get you exposure to what you’re getting yourself into and learning what it means to be a human outside of the classroom setting (you’ll be surprised how many people lack some basic life/relationship skills).

I think a little self-doubt is a healthy thing and keeps you honest. If you think there’s a chance you’ll fail, you’re more motivated to succeed (at least I am). That part of your personality will be impossible to turn off in my experience. Instead, use it to force yourself to work harder, do that extra review problem, dive a little deeper into the question you had from class, etc. I have a military background, and contingency planning was a big part of my daily life. I break from Ryan’s belief about the backup plan and feel it’s good to at least consider some of the “what ifs” so you aren’t completely blindsided if things don’t necessarily go your way. That being said, consideration does NOT mean acting on them because of self-doubt, only knowing what you can do when this path has an obstacle that cannot be overcome. Some of that contingency planning shouldn’t revolve around completely bailing on the dream either but should include different ways of achieving your goal.

Here’s a financial thing you should think about. As far as I know, private loan payments do not defer while you maintain student status like federal school loans. The NHSC has a stipend, but like the medical school cost of attendance of student loans, it is intended to barely sustain a single person with no immediate debt. You may need some secondary income or figure some way to defer all payments until you start making money again. I don’t know enough about those options to offer any. I don’t bring this up to add to your “What if i fail” concerns, but money is a real issue for some medical students and it doesn’t hurt to develop a plan for that now.

I agree with Kennymac. That little voice which prompts you to think of the negative consequences is not something you want to silence completely. You want that voice when you’re a intern/junior resident in the ICU, dealing with the sickest patients in the hospital, overnight, with the attending at home (I mean you can always call the attending, but overnight they’re at home), and a senior resident who may/or may not be the most reliable and people start crashing and the nurses come to you asking what drip needs to be started or to place lines when you haven’t been certified. You need that voice that lets you know when to call in help. Knowing your limitations is a good thing, because then you know where to start pushing them SAFELY.I could write pages about failing and mistakes. Learning from past actions, etc, (it’s something on my mind after M&M this morning) but I’m sure you get the picture.

Some people need that mentality of “all in” in order to commit appropriately to achieving what they set off to do. Others may need that plan B. When I was applying I didn’t have a family to support, so I was able to dedicate all my time and energy to activities which furthered my goal of matriculating to medical school. Looking back I realize what a luxury it was. I approached applying to residency the same way. Again I didn’t have a family, except my spouse and he was fully committed to helping me achieve my goal of being a surgeon. Again I realize I didn’t have many of the concerns that a lot of my fellow applicants have when they have children or family members which restrict their choices.

Good Luck to you in your journey, keep us updated.

It sounds like you need a break. You are experiencing burn out. Something you dont need right now. Ensure that you still have hobbies and do things that you enjoy AWAY from medicine. Once you get into medical school, this still needs to continue.

Learn how to meditate. Do some Tai Chi, yoga, fish, box, compete, etc just do something else.

As the Attending in the ICU on the other side of that phone call, I do not want to think for you at 2am when the patient is crashing (yes I have to do that with very weak residents and it is not a good thing).