Most medical schools, due to the costs involved in training future doctors, will do everything they can to keep students from failing. But there are exceptions. So medical students definitely shouldn’t feel immune to the fact they might be asked to leave.
More often than not though, students crash out for reasons other than failing to meet the expectations of exams. Personal reasons, stress, illness and other factors? All can lead to reasons for not being able to finish.
But let’s explore more as to why students might “fail” in medical school and what happens when they do.
Failing Before Medical School
Most students fail before they even get to medical school. Given the competitiveness of entry – and the necessity to score high in entrance exams – the rate is much higher on the way into med school than it actually is inside it.
Read about American pre-med stories (only 41% of applicants gaining enrollment) and you’ll see that to be true. But the same can be said for UK-based students too (those falling short at the A-level or UKCAT/BMAT stage). Not to mention all the European students who fail to hit threshold scores either.
Getting into medical school then – although I’d say it’s much easier for European International programs or Caribbean med – is tough.
And often the first hurdle most students fall at.
Can You Fail Out of Med School?
So while failing at the first time of asking can be particularly crushing to aspirant doctors, it isn’t any less painful when you’re actually accepted onto a course.
Students failing exams at my own University, for example? Get plenty of chances to put things right. As well as opportunities to re-sit or carry outstanding exams over to the following year.
But there is a limiting point when Universities like mine say no. MU Varna’s policy for example, only lets you carry two outstanding exams over to each year. And then with the stipulation that the exam must be completed within the next two years of study (on a six year course).
Students failing to do that? Suspended from the course. Asked to defer until those outstanding exams are made up and passed. Meaning the cohort year they started in advances while they can not.
But they aren’t kicked out.
The truth is that most medical schools – US ones included – do their best to accommodate struggling students.
And give them plenty of chances.
Only in extreme circumstances, those including repeated failure, are students kicked off courses and barred from advancing.
Common Reasons for Failing Medical School
The most common reason for failing medical school has nothing to do with exams. And everything to do with mental health.
Eventually getting to a point where things get out of control.
Another reason for failure (although rare given the rigorous application process) might be due to lack of professionalism. Some students? Might not act ethically. Compromising the Universities reputation. Or damage relationships with professors, teaching assistants and colleagues.
To a point beyond repair.
I’ve personally heard of this happening with UK students who pass around pirated medical education materials. Although in that case several warnings were made to students first. Before things escalated and they were asked to leave.
Still it’s a good reminder to buy your educational resources first or second-hand. And not to share or distribute anything without legal permission.
If you want some good resource recommendations (which I’m really confident can help), then check out my list here.
Otherwise, remember to act both professionally and respectfully. Both in and out the wards.
Predictors of Success in Medical School
According to US-data, the strongest predictors of medical school success (and not failure) are a high pre-clinical GPA, MCAT and use of a variety of references.
For other international med students (although it’s difficult to corroborate given the differences in systems), I’d imagine it to be the same. The more resources you use to check and further your knowledge? The less the risk of failure.
The same goes for implementing a strong work ethic and building the habit and discipline to study. Things I strongly recommend first year med students take their time to work on.
Of course you can’t prepare for the unexpected however. So things like illness, bereavement and other personal circumstances, all factor in. The key thing to remember?
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you do have to drop out for reasons beyond your control.
Do Grades Matter in Med School?
There’s also the question of what constitutes failure. The broader part of this article? Talks about failing out of medical school and being unable to continue. Or having to repeat a year.
It doesn’t consider the following however. The fact that failure is something every medical student experiences at one time or another. Especially given the sheer number of exams and mid-terms and everything else.
The big thing to remember here? It’s really difficult to get a perfect exam score every time.
Or even a pass (depending on how your exams are structured).
But even those are no guarantee.
Final Thoughts on Failing Out of Med School
Obviously to avoid failing out of medical school you should ensure you know your Universities policies inside out. If you’re not sure ask the admissions office or student support. Or reach out to other students who might know.
Another key thing to remember is even if you do, for some reason, fail, it’s still not the end of the world. You can still be a doctor. And there are still many paths open to you (check out mine if you need some inspiration).
Failing out of med school, although rare, is not a reflection on you being a failure. Nor is it the end of the line.
The same goes for failing before med school too.
As this guy in the video below goes to show (the excellent Anas Nuur Ali), the resilience failure can build in you? Can make you all the stronger.
Didn’t stop him from still becoming a doctor.
Nor should it stop you.