The Last Word

by Shanna Combs, MD, TCMS Publications Committee

This article was originally published in the May/June issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.

by Shanna Combs, MD, TCMS Publications Committee

I did not get into medical school.

I failed my oral board exams.

I lost my job.

It all sounds like the trailer to an incredibly sad movie.  But the reality of the situation is I am a board-certified obstetrician gynecologist who has the best job ever.  So how did I get here?

“Everything will be okay in the end.  If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

These are the words I discovered many years ago when a friend was going through a hard time, and it is still a phrase we shoot back and forth when times are tough and not going the way we planned.  This is the same friend that picked me up after receiving my rejection letter the first time I applied to medical school. I was not allowed to wallow at home alone—a night of dancing was in order.

Once the dust settled on the acute shock of “not getting in,” I had to decide if this is truly what I wanted to do.  I had been a ballet dancer for almost my whole life and was making my income as a dancer, teacher, and rehearsal coach, as well as working at the community college in the physics lab.  Such is the lifestyle of an artist and their multitude of jobs.

Upon not getting into medical school, I initially thought about working in education with the goal of teaching ballet.  Ultimately though, the call to Medicine was too strong, so I re-took my MCAT, took a biochemistry course, and set my path toward reapplication the next year.  I cast a broader net and, in the end, I obtained the privilege of placing “MD” after my name.

Fast forward a few years.  I completed my residency in obstetrics and gynecology, passed my written board exam, and began my career as an attending physician.  I found my way back into teaching as an assistant professor for medical students and residents.  (Guess that career in education was always going to be there.)  During this time, I collected my cases and prepared for the next step in board certification—the oral board exam.

Since you read the opening lines, you already know the outcome.  Let’s just say, I knew I had failed the minute I walked out of the exam.  “Everyone says that” is what I kept being told, but the following week I discovered the truth.  It was a difficult time for me.  I went through some frustration before I got to acceptance, and there were definitely times where I was not the best person I could be.  In the end, I dusted myself off again, pulled up my big girl pants, and began the process for taking the exam again the next year.  After multiple reviews of my case list, many practice exams/pimping/torture sessions, I walked in for my second try at the oral board exam.

I left the exam with a vastly different feeling.  I knew I had passed.  The following week, while driving back from Colorado with my parents, I got the good news that FACOG could also go behind my name.  My mom made me pull over, and somewhere on the side of the road in rural New Mexico we got out of the car to dance and celebrate my success.  

Fast forward a few more years, and we were hit with the global pandemic: COVID-19. The world as we knew it was changed forever.  Little did I know that my personal world was soon to change as well.  A few months into the pandemic, I was notified that the clinic I worked for had terminated my contract without cause.  I lost my job.  How does a busy obstetrician gynecologist lose their job in the midst of a global health crisis?  I will never know—that is the problem with the phrase, “without cause.”

In life there will be successes and there will be failures.  We always talk about the successes but almost never talk about the failures. 

Once again, I found myself wondering what the next phase in my life would entail.  I remembered not getting into medical school and wondering if I even wanted to be a doctor anymore.  I had worked so hard to get to where I was, yet I was questioning it all over again.  Soon after finding out I had lost my job, a friend told me, “You know, you really have not been happy for the past year or two.  Maybe this is just what you needed.”  Harsh words to hear at first, but in the end, she was right.  So, once again I dusted myself off, put on my extra big girl pants, and looked for what I was going to do next.  

I have found true joy in working in the field of women’s health, but I always had a special interest in taking care of kids and adolescents.  Too often this population gets lost in the shuffle.  I am now happy to say I have found a new landing spot in pediatric and adolescent gynecology.  Young ladies go through many changes during their young lives and even more so during the transition of puberty.  I frequently say, “Puberty is hard,” and I am now able to provide the care and support these young ladies need.

In life there will be successes and there will be failures.  We always talk about the successes but almost never talk about the failures.  However, it is within these moments that you learn the most.  So, why not talk about your failures?  I have truly found the honesty of my inner self when I fail.  I never thought I would be where I am today a year ago, five years ago, or 17 years ago.  Yet, I kept rolling with the punches and taking the next step forward always remembering, 

“Everything will be okay in the end.  If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

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