Lessons Learned Through Rejection and Friendship

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Rejection, once an unwelcome guest, has transformed into a catalyst for growth and redirection in our careers. While our initial reaction to rejection was reluctance, we have evolved to not only make peace with it but actively seek and advocate for it.

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Morgan J. Hopp, Creighton University School of Medicine, Class of 2025; Denise Nemeth, University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine, Class of 2025

Morgan J. Hopp

As medical students, the opportunities to build up our curriculum vitae are extensive. They all sound wonderful and pivotal for securing a competitive edge in residency matching: leadership roles, scholarships, travel stipends, research, and the list goes on. Yet, amid the pursuit of these opportunities, the sting of rejection looms large. Each denial cuts deep. Asking your mentors to submit yet another letter of recommendation, particularly when the last few yielded rejection, becomes difficult. And then, the spiral, and self-doubt sets in: “What if this pattern continues?” “What if a ‘yes’ never materializes?” “What if I don’t match?” It is easy to catastrophize. Unfortunately, this cycle is all too familiar. Thankfully, over the years, the spirals have lessened, and so have our fears of rejection and application.

What started as timid participation in a national professional organization, transformed into a genuine cross-country friendship synergistically supporting professional growth and fortifying the need for professional peer support. Not just colleagues or mentors, but genuine friends in the field who celebrate our success, fostering growth rather than competition. They are our true allies, urging us to take risks and dream big. With their support, we have learned to cherish the application process and recognize it as vital for our professional growth. It allows us and our peers to reflect on our current experiences and future aspirations, providing a platform to align our goals, skills, and ambitions, transforming setbacks into opportunities for self-improvement.

Denise Nemeth

Rejection should be normalized, expected, and openly discussed. Despite it feeling counterintuitive, students should embrace the journey of rejection with optimism and resilience.  Denise found that reading Jia Jang's book, "Rejection Proof," and absorbing his TED Talk on “100 Days of Rejection”, was a key moment in her process to make amends for rejection. Jang, outlines initially fearing rejection then embracing it by intentionally seeking it out, and putting himself in amusing yet challenging situations, like requesting a “burger refill” at a restaurant. Inspired by his journey, Denise incorporated rejection-seeking into her own life—by negotiating for a high starting salary at the beginning of her career, applying to medical school, seeking research opportunities, vying for leadership roles, and pursuing scholarships and awards. Morgan has boldly applied to very prestigious opportunities despite initially worrying she was not qualified. Denise has followed suit.

To our surprise, we encountered much less rejection than anticipated, and each instance has imparted invaluable life lessons. We have been fortunate to be granted remarkable opportunities and experiences beyond our wildest expectations. Every rejection has made us more resilient and resourceful. We often encourage those we mentor to fearlessly pursue their dreams, welcoming rejection as a companion on their journey. We ask, “What is the worst that can happen?” and guide them through verbalizing the worst-case scenario. Once articulated, the perceived challenges often appear more manageable.

This mindset took a significant amount of time to come to, but we are grateful for all who have helped us along the way. If you have not found the friend(s) and mentor(s) needed to shift your mindset, then at least be that friend or mentor for someone else. Sometimes, being that friend can be more empowering than finally having that friend. To anyone perusing this reflection: Seek the discomfort of rejection. Get comfortable with it. Make it your goal to extract lessons from it. Challenge yourself to look for opportunities that seem too good to be true or too “out of your league”. You might just surprise yourself.

Morgan J. Hopp is a third-year medical student at Creighton University School of Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona, and has earned a bachelor's and master's from the University of California, Los Angeles. She leads multiple research projects in surgery, with a focus in trauma surgery and palliative care. Morgan is most proud of the high school research skills workshop series she developed in partnership with Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers. Morgan is an active member of the Association of Women Surgeons serving on multiple committees, and an active student member of the Arizona Medical Association and American Medical Association. She aspires to build a career as a surgeon-scientist. Outside of medicine, Morgan crochets blankets, is in book clubs, enjoys traveling and loves being an aunt and big cousin.

Denise Nemeth is a third-year medical student at UIWSOM in San Antonio, TX, and is engaged in multiple medical organizations like the Latino Surgical Society, the Association of Women Surgeons, and the American College of Osteopathic Surgeons, amongst others. Passionate about Latinx health and serving marginalized communities, she advocates for healthcare access. Outside of medicine, she enjoys traveling, reading, and writing.

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The views and opinions expressed in this collection are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Association of American Medical Colleges.