Failed one of your GP Fellowship exams – now what?
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”Michael Jordan
Have you recently found out that you failed your Fellowship exam, like the RACGP KFP, AKT or CCE exams, or the ACRRM MCQ? How are you feeling? You may be feeling hurt, confused, angry, ashamed, embarrassed, all of these at once or something else. You may be thinking that all that time and effort preparing for the exam has been wasted.
What to do
After we have experienced a significant disappointment like failing an important exam, there’s a few things we can do – some are more healthy than others.
Embrace how you’re feeling
It’s ok and perfectly natural to feel disappointed if you have failed…. after all, no one sets out or plans to fail. Accepting how you’re feeling is a healthy place to start. However, often we try to cope with uncomfortable feelings by rejecting or avoiding them through overeating or drinking alcohol, or other bad habits that surface in our endeavour to not feel what we’re feeling. Don’t try to push your feelings away with maladaptive behaviours, distraction or busyness. Accept hurting for a while. Acceptance means processing what has happened and being able to let it go and move on, rather than feeling moody, pessimistic, angry or sad…or having those emotions return at unexpected times. Embrace how you are feeling as it can be the spark needed to motivate you to start again.
Failure is a normal part of life. It happens to everyone – especially successful people. Think of Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein – they all failed at one point or another in their careers.They likely wouldn’t have been so successful today without having first failed in the past. The important thing to consider is what they did after they failed.
You may feel tempted to catastrophise what’s happened and feel there’s no coming back from this. Common catastrophising thoughts include… I’m a total failure! I’ll never pass. I should never have dreamed of being a doctor. I’ll never get my Fellowship!
Remind yourself that doing anything of value or importance in life brings with it the possibility of failure.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”Michael Jordan
Due to uncomfortable feelings like shame or embarrassment, it may be tempting to push away responsibility for the failure onto others, like your spouse and family (my partner wasn’t supportive enough) or the College (this exam is so unfair or why do they make it so hard?). Although it can temporarily relieve how you feel, blaming others is self-defeating and denies you the opportunity to learn from the experience and do better next time.
Think back to the exam(s) and work out what you can do differently next time. Reflection is the first step to work out how to achieve your goal (Fellowship), and what you need to do differently or change. See the exam as valuable feedback and something you can use to improve your performance, rather than it being a judgement of your value as a person or a doctor. Give yourself some time to grieve and get over the disappointment. Then when you’re ready, reflect on what went well and what didn’t, and where you can make changes. Ask yourself questions like, what undermined my performance? Was it exam anxiety? Was it knowledge gaps? What can I do differently next time? Do I need support to achieve my Fellowship goal? Do I need to use different study resources or different study techniques?
Increase your knowledge and self-awareness in the areas you have identified, get the support and assistance you need (whether from family, colleagues, your supervisor, medical educator, a study group, a performance coach, or us), and then continue your Fellowship journey. Remember… you’re not starting again. You know much more about the exam(s) this time than you did before! Use that experience and knowledge to your advantage.
Once you have reflected on what and how you can make changes to improve your exam preparation, start. Today. Write out a study plan of what, how and when and start today. Still struggling or unsure where to start? Then let us help you to get started on your exam preparation path again.