Resilience

On Being Crushed, Pruned, and Humbled

I was crushed.

I sobbed like something had died in me,

like THIS might be the end.

I felt BROKEN.

I had been feeling on top of the world for the past few months:

  • I had honored my first 2 rotations of 4th year thus far
  • Just last month, I found out my Step 2 CK score increased 27 points from my Step 1 score
  • My letter writers had informed me they were uploading glowing letters of recommendations for my residency application

I felt like I was finally approaching harvest season, that all my hard work was FINALLY starting to pay off.

Then this happened.

This was the biggest blow, the biggest CRUSHING I could receive.

Up until that week, I had NEVER, I repeat, NEVER failed a medical school exam.

Yet, here I was, thrown the biggest curve ball.

I didn’t just fail any medical school exam, I failed the United States Medical Licensing exam (USMLE).

And no, not Step 1 or Step 2 CK, both incredibly hard 8 – 9 hour exams that test your basic science and clinical knowledge, respectively. No, the exam I failed was USMLE Step 2 clinical skills. An exam that was reportedly so easy and had a 95% pass rate on first attempt, that there was a petition for it to be eliminated. An exam that a friend called a “glorified English exam” to “make sure you can speak English, and have good bedside manners.” An exam that cost me over $1700 ($1290 exam fee + travel) and here I was staring at a “FAIL”. And not just that, but the fear of my future career, my dreams, and everything I had worked so hard for, possibly going down the drain…

I was DEVASTATED

I had been waiting for my result for a while. It typically takes 6-8 weeks, and it was exactly 9 weeks on that day – late. I wondered if something had gone wrong with reporting, if this was a bad sign to not have received the email by now, so naturally, I was obsessively checking my emails. That morning, I was heading to the gym when my husband, Ric came home from a overnight call shift. We were both working out when I got the email alert – excited I went to the website, heart pounding.

I clicked “score report”, and my jaw dropped.

I had failed. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I got off my machine in utter shock, I began repeating “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh” over and over again as I walked over to Ric. He could see from my facial expression that something was wrong, yet I couldn’t find the words to say it. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh” I kept repeating as I thrust the phone into his hands.

This CAN’T be happening, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE!

He gave me a hug as we rushed out of the gym.

Y’all I sobbed SO HARD in that car. Through the blurry eyes, I dialed my mom. Yet, I couldn’t utter the words. “What is it Derin? What happened???” My mom kept repeating, but all I could do was cry until Ric took the phone and explained what happened.

To me, this result was unexpected. I had prepared for the exam – practicing clinical scenarios with a classmate, practicing my note writing on the website interface, doing my school’s practice session…I had prepared. And on the day of my exam, despite the rough start due to a random rain storm, and no power at the test site initially, everything had gone well. Or so I thought. I left feeling, Yes, I had conquered this! Last licensing exam of med school “DONE!”

So yes, this was a curve ball.

To make this even worse, since my result was out, every single residency program I would be applying to would see that score. I was submitting my application in 2 weeks!

WHY NOW?

WHY ME?

WHY, GOD?

I had several conversations with God. This couldn’t be the end. There HAD to be a reason for this. Yes, I have a blog called “Curveballs and Med School,” maybe this was an experience I needed to have, maybe this was a curve ball meant to inspire others. Perhaps I wasn’t supposed to hide in shame, but rather tell of this test turned testimony. THERE HAD TO BE A TESTIMONY. Maybe, just maybe, this experience was supposed to humble me. Perhaps, I was feeling like I, Derin, have GOT THIS. Perhaps, I needed to remember that I needed God all the way, that all this was not my doing, but God.

That people will know THIS can only be God.

THIS, my success at the end of it all, can only be God.

Having this revelation, I posted this quote on Instagram the following day:

Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. OWN IT.” – Oprah Winfrey

And I got to work. Studying and preparing for my retake. For the next few months, I read through the entire First Aid Step 2 CS book. I prayed. I fasted. I simulated the testing environment at home, using Ric as my standardized patient, and then I retook the exam. 

I was waiting at the airport to board the flight back home when I came across Bishop T.D. Jakes book “Crushing: God Turns Pressure to Power” at a book store. I had just finished the 8 hour exam earlier and was feeling crushed in that moment. I had no idea if I had passed. Shoot, the first time I took the exam, I felt good and THOUGHT I had passed, but yet failed! The book captured my attention. It was timely, perhaps a sign from God, just what I needed at that moment. So I bought it.

I found inspiration in its pages.

  • “Even in the moments of your greatest anguish, you often find unexpected blessings alongside and commingled with your losses.”
  • “There is purpose to your stumbling.”
  • “God’s pruning, those events He allows us to endure even though they cause us pain and discomfort are never intended as punishment…God allows such pruning just as a loving father disciplined a child so that the child will mature and reach her full potential.”
  • “Without the crushing, there would be no crowning.”
  • “Your crushing is not the end, it is only the beginning.”

The book was a blessing during those weeks of waiting, praying, and hoping. And you know what?

[Drum roll!!!] I passed the second time around. Yep, I sure did.

I hope this post encourages someone. Your crushing is NOT the end. I passed, and this is my testimony. Hallelujah!

For the Lord God helps me,

Therefore, I am not disgraced;

Therefore, I have set my face like flint,

And I know I will not be ashamed.

Isaiah 50:7

 

 

Grit: You Better Get You Some!

I really want to talk about the importance of Grit in achieving your goals. For all my folks on this pre-health journey, I’m sure you can relate. If you were ever an athlete or ever had to overcome adversity to accomplish a goal, well then you’re most likely familiar with this term:

Grit

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” – Angela Lee Duckworth

Personally, I am convinced that to accomplish your goals, whether it’s a fitness goal, a career goal, or an academic goal, you need Grit.

photoIn her Ted Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth, a Psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, describes Grit as the key to success. She studied kids and adults in very challenging situations i.e. West Point Military Academy, rookie teachers in tough neighborhoods, and private companies, and observed that:

In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. It wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t I.Q. It was grit.”

Now if you ever struggled with a course i.e. Organic Chemistry, this is good news. One obstacle doesn’t predict your success as a future Physician. Your ability to persevere and keep striving towards your goal does. In other words, intelligence is not the sole predictor of academic and professional achievement.

According to Wiki, Grit can be described as a powerful motivation to achieve an objective. “This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.”

When you think Grit, think:

  • Perseverance
  • Resilience
  • Ambition
  • Need for Achievement
  • Conscientiousness

Folks have asked me why I choose to do seemingly painful activities like obstacle racing or long distance running. Besides loving the sense of accomplishment I get, I personally believe it helps to strengthen or reinforce that grit within me. On some runs I have thought to myself:

“Derin don’t stop. Keep going. You can slow down, but don’t stop. NEVER stop. You can do this. Just like you can beast the MCAT. You WILL be triumphant. Just keep trying. Keep pushing. You CAN do this!”

So yea, want to accomplish some goals? Get you some Grit.