Last week, I received three different newsletters in my inbox about Imposter Syndrome—Perhaps a sign from the universe?
Imposter syndrome was first defined by scientists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970s.
According the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Imposter Syndrome is “a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.”
It baffles me how prevalent this amongst Physicians. In fact, a recent study on Imposter Syndrome from Stanford Medical School, revealed that Physicians are at a “30% increased risk of reporting imposter syndrome symptoms compared with all other U.S. non-physicians and at an 80% increased risk relative to people with a doctoral or professional degree in another field.”
Although I did not take a traditional path to becoming a Physician, if you are not familiar, here is a compilation of what someone may go through to become a Physician : “I want to go to medical school. I pray I don’t get a B in organic chemistry which would only cause my GPA to plummet (by plummet, I mean a 3.9). I will do every extracurricular activity under the sun and beg any doctor to let me shadow them and write me letter of recommendation. I study to my wits end, while my undergraduate colleagues toss frisbees on the lawn. I spend all of my free time studying for the MCAT. I take the MCAT. Maybe I take it again. I get into my first, second, or third choice of Medical School or maybe I have to apply again the next year. I spend the first two years of Medical School learning anything and everything I can about so much I may never apply in reality. I study for my Step 1 boards which will define my fate. I start to rethink this career decision. I start over again at the bottom during my last two years of medical school, trying to apply a lot of abstract to a human being, and somewhere in there I throw in Step 2 of my boards. I then apply to Residency, and hope that the complex algorithm allows me to train at my first choice hospital. I then spend another minimum of three years of my life making less than minimum wage, to be constantly told I am not doing something right, but in the end learning how to truly take care of people. I take the boards for my specialty. I pass my boards, apply for my first job, and I am out in the “real world,” arrived at last. But did I?
Now, if this isn’t an accomplishment enough, I don’t know what is. Not to mention many Physicians go on to be the experts in their fields, leaders, innovators, literally changing the face of healthcare, saving millions of lives, yet, they still think: “I am a fraud, and Y is going to find out!” ”You shouldn’t take me seriously.” “I am not really accomplished.” “I need to reach “X” goal to be considered successful: only to still think “I am not good enough” when I reach “X” goal.
I am certainly guilty of having Imposter Syndrome. No matter how much I have achieved in my career, I have often felt, “This is not good enough. I am not good enough.” “What if they find out it’s all a lie?”
I am certainly guilty of having Imposter Syndrome. No matter how much I have achieved in my career, I have often felt, 'This is not good enough.' Click To Tweet
So how do you overcome this? Like many things in life, there is no permanent, one-size-fits all solution because we are not robots. We are human beings with minds and emotions. However, with practice, you can catch this syndrome in the act.
Recognize which circumstances in your life trigger these thought of inadequacy. Determine what feeling that provokes. Acknowledge what you do and don’t do when you feel this way. Notice what result it creates in your life. And then, decide what you want to think or feel about your situation, and eventually, you will develop a belief system that will allow you to stay true to yourself, know your self worth. And then share your experience with others. Community is everything. Create one if there isn’t one.
Remember, you don’t have to cure cancer. In fact, the person that cures cancer will very likely have imposter syndrome. You just have to choose the thought that serves you best.