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I Passed STEP 1 Because First, I Failed

In my college admission essays, I wrote about my shortcomings as a high school athlete

and student in pursuit of one day becoming a doctor. In my medical school personal statement, I

again wrote about many failures I experienced as a collegiate athlete, still in pursuit of medical

education. Today, as a newly dubbed “Student Doctor” after officially passing the USMLE Step 1

board exam, I again feel compelled to rehash the most devastating, embarrassing, humbling, I-

might-just-quit-this-dang-thing moments of my life. Why, after an objectively exciting

achievement, would I choose to remember these darker days? Simply put– because I now

realize the only reason I passed is that first, I failed. 

I set goals and didn’t reach them.

I chased dreams which at times felt nightmarish.

I made sacrifices and often wondered if it would ever be worth it.

From age 10, I pursued my dream of becoming a US Olympic swimmer, which required

almost every waking moment of my time outside of school. I remember standing in my baggy

one-piece suit, cap and goggles on, as the national anthem played loudly over the natatorium

speakers. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and heard the crowd roar as my mind carried me

to Beijing 2008, a gold medal around my neck. I completed two-a-day practices in middle and

high school, traveled to train at the Olympic Training Center over summers, and missed almost

every social event of my teenage years. “Sorry… I have morning practice” was the mantra of my

youth. After eight years of swimming, I committed to an NCAA Division I program and swam all

four years of college, training year-round for the equivalent hours of a full-time job as a pre-med


Swimming shortcomings. School failures. Gap year positions I didn’t get. I enjoyed a

successful collegiate swimming career but inevitably fell short of my dream. After 12 years, I

graduated and retired from swimming, never having become an Olympic athlete. When my

swimming career ended, however, I didn’t feel like a loser. When I was accepted into medical

school I remember thinking “My hardest days are behind me… nothing will ever be as

challenging mentally and physically as being a pre-med D1 athlete.” In preparing for an Olympic

career that never materialized, I became mentally and physically tough. I became an expert time

manager. I became a master of the details, a realizer that integrity was my most important

asset. I prioritized the team’s needs above my own, and all of these things brought me more

success in medical school than I could have ever imagined.

As I now celebrate the end of my didactic years and soon prepare residency

applications, I remember my greatest failures and cherish them. I hope I continue to fail so that I

may continually increase my expectations of myself and pride in myself for getting up and going


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