How to Deal with Failure in Pharmacy School


Although we can all agree that failure is something we simply must endure at some point, it continues to be a taboo topic in academic culture.

Do you know anyone who failed a class or was academically dismissed? Many pharmacy students would be hard pressed to answer “no.”

Although we can all agree that failure is something we simply must endure at some point, it continues to be a taboo topic in academic culture. Just think about the general characteristics many pharmacy students possess. “Highly motivated,” “determined,” and “overachiever” are a few phrases used to describe the typical student. Many of us worked for years to get into pharmacy school and were the cream of the crop in both high school and undergrad college.

However, that same success can be a double-edged sword if pharmacy students aren’t performing as well as they thought they would academically. The competitive nature of many pharmacy programs doesn’t lend itself well to students who are having trouble but afraid to seek help.

I know all about failure in pharmacy school because it happened to me in the final semester before I was set to go on my APPE rotations. It was devastating at first, but I was able to persevere through the following steps, which I hope will help other students going through similar situations:

1. Allow Yourself to Feel Bad, But Not for Too Long

Failure can be a tough pill to swallow, so it’s normal to feel a deep sense of loss and maybe even inadequacy. My advice is to allow yourself to feel that pain. Friends and family may tell you it isn’t the end of the world (which it isn’t), but at first, it can be hard to hear that from those who don’t really know how you feel.

When I found out I failed my remediation exam, I told myself I’d beat myself up for one day and then I’d develop a game plan to move forward. Do what you need to do to cope in a healthy way, whether it’s balling your eyes out, being alone, or talking to a mentor.

2. Take Action

Now that the pity party’s over, it’s time to think of your next move. I’m very fortunate to have a supportive and understanding family, but I knew other classmates who were afraid to tell those closest to them about their failure. My advice is to let your loved ones know as soon as possible. Nothing is worse than stretching out the news to soften the blow, only to have the plan backfire.

Next, figure out your school’s policy regarding failed classes and how it will affect your progression in the program. Mine dictates that if you fail a course, you must wait an entire calendar year until the course is offered again, thus adding on another year to your matriculation. Other schools allow students to make up the class through summer courses or online classes.

At the point when I failed, I’d already taken all of the didactic coursework the school had to offer, so I decided to take a few classes at the local business school until the class I failed was offered again in the spring. I suggest consulting your school’s student handbook or the academic dean’s office about what courses you would and wouldn’t be eligible to take.

3. Deal with Embarrassment

Facing my peers at school was a challenge when my failure first happened. Trying to come to grips can be difficult when you know your peers are talking about the fact that you couldn’t hack it. My advice is to do your best to ignore the negative comments and just be forthright about the fact that you failed.

For almost a year, one of my colleagues attended courses he wasn’t eligible or officially registered for, just to keep up the façade that he’d passed the class. However, when you stand in your truth, no one can hold it against you. When I was open and honest, my colleagues were very understanding.

4. Take Responsibility

After I failed, I introspectively looked into what happened and took full ownership of my failure. Many of us are guilty of complaining that the professor was unfair, or that the exam went beyond the scope of what was taught in class.

I had those racing thoughts at first, until I realized most of my classmates were able to pass a class that I couldn’t, so taking personal accountability was necessary. When I took the blame off of others, I was able to assess where I went wrong in my studying, and for the year leading up to me retaking the class, I spent every day studying the material that previously gave me trouble.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year, it’s that I’m capable of handling more than I ever thought I could. I had to deal with having my entire APPE rotation schedule dropped and not being able to recover it, figuring out how to finance another year of pharmacy school, and agonizing over what it would mean for my future endeavors. But, through this experience, I discovered a strength within myself that I didn’t know I possessed.

I surrounded myself with pharmacy mentors, attended every tutorial session imaginable, and spent my time engaging in community service activities like planning my school’s first HIV point-of-care testing program. By doing the things I knew I was good at, I was able to bolster my confidence and prepare myself to retake the class.

I can’t say what failing a class in pharmacy school will mean for my future endeavors, but I do know that despite the challenge, I was able to earn an “A” in the class that I previously failed and am now on track to graduate in May 2017.

Failing isn’t something I’d wish upon anyone, but if it ever happens to you, just remember it isn’t the end of the world. Keep in mind that failure is simply a part of life and your ability to overcome it speaks volumes to your tenacity as an aspiring health care professional.

I don’t know if my failure will ever come up during a job interview, but I know when I’m asked about a time when I overcame a challenge, I’ll surely have a lot to say.

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