Over a month ago now, I finished our junior physics course with a giant, awful feeling exam.
You see, in our program, junior physics is for the first and second year residents. At the end of the course each year, there is an exam. The pass mark is obscenely high relative to normal standard 65 or 60% and is 70%. We are told and treated as if it is impossible to pass in first year because, well, it is basically a ridiculously challenging course and first year is too busy and everything is too new to really do well. In second year, you have to pass. But, first year is pretty much a get out of jail free card. Everybody talks as if you are just expected to be in the class next year.
Having a physics background, the course wasn’t as horrific as I had heard.
There was a piece of me who planned to pass in first year. I mean, I did some of it before. I love physics. And I would study.
But, then the unthinkable happened. Okay, that is an exaggeration. The thing that I have been anticipating for years happened. My grandfather got sick just as I was supposed to take some much needed vacation. He died and all of the related festivities lasted until the weekend before I had to go back to work. I also had a manuscript for resident research day due. And that was supposed to be finished before vacation or at least at the start.
So, I didn’t start studying for physics (minus reading a textbook while chilling out listening to my grandfather struggle to breathe and listening to the staff in the hall debate my age) until after all of that stuff was done. Just a few days before the exam.
I tried. But, grief is a crappy thing that sucks the life out of you. Especially when the week before was so busy you barely had time to process all that went down. Plus, I was back to work, which was busy too.
The day of the exam came and I felt like I wasn’t ready.
It was the first exam I ever walked in to knowing I wasn’t ready. I had tried and I knew some stuff, but probably not enough. Nonetheless, I thought maybe I could stick things together.
I didn’t tell the program that I was dealing with all that stuff as an excuse. I don’t think that is fair. To make excuses. If I had to, I should have studied before all of that went down. I could have skipped the research day thing (though there was a ton of pressure to do that too).
So, I wrote the exam.
And it was bad, but not terrible. I could have passed. I also probably didn’t. I sat there like the big nerd I was and added up my possible worst-case scenario score and my best-case scenario score. Best-case, I passes with a good 6% to spare. Worst-case, I fail epically.
The physics instructor asked how it went when I was done. I laughed. Apparently, that was the other resident’s response too.
It was not the first exam I walked out of feeling terrible. It was the first that I knew that I could have done better had I studied more.
Patrick reassured me that I did indeed try my best. It is not what my usual best was, but it was the best I could do given the situation.
I wasn’t in a rush to get the exam back.
I got the results on Friday.
I, for the first time in my life failed an exam. In fact, it was indeed the worst score I have had on an exam (minus probably my IB history exam where I answered an entire question based on a misread version).
The email informed me that I scored 65%. According to our policy, you require a 70% to pass and therefore will be required to repeat the course during your PGY2 year.
I don’t know why, but this seemed harsh to me.
It wasn’t. I just have never failed anything before to know what it is like.
I got the paper copy of the exam. I actually got a 65.2%. That means I was only 4.8% off.
Bring on the what-ifs.
I mean, it isn’t a big deal. It is what I expected, having to redo the course and rewrite the exam. Nobody has passed the exam in first year. It is more like a practice for the year after. And it doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things.
Except I still feel like I failed myself and my goal for this year.
I know I could have passed. I know I could have easily had those extra 5% if I could have focused more or read through the notes one more time.
I could have asked to move the exam. But, I am too proud to do something like that.
But now, I have that behind me. And I will redo the course next year. Because that is what we do and what is expected.
I guess the other thing is that it bugs me that it is a 70% pass mark. I have taken courses with 80% pass marks too, but also ones with 50% passes. If it were 65% I would have passed. Barely, but still. And I know people want doctors who know lots of stuff, but this is just a piece of our baseline knowledge in a very specialized area. And we do more than just one course. And usually I am all about more than passing. But this year, anything would have been okay, I just wanted to get that 70.
I will call this a growth moment.
I have learned yet again that I am not perfect and that I am not immune to life getting in the way of something that, in the grand scheme of things, is unimportant. And I will do better next time. And maybe be more honest about how I am doing in life outside of the sheltered walls of the hospital.
And heck, almost passing an exam deemed unpassable is, in the grand scheme of things, pretty good, I think.