Imposter Syndrome: When Will They Realize I Am Not Supposed to Be Here?
Cambridge Dictionary describes Imposter Syndrome as “the feeling that your achievements are not real or that you do not deserve praise or success”.
Imposter syndrome, a term I was unfamiliar with before entering medical school. Prior to this I was confident and proud in my efforts and accomplishments. I was no stranger to not fitting in or being the odd man out. I grew up with three brothers and became accustom to being the only female on the playground. As a volunteer firefighter, I was used to being the “weak link”. But I figured out how to use my unique set of skills to my team’s advantage by learning that I was the only member on the crew that could fit into attic crawl spaces. So yeah, I thought I was confident enough in myself and my abilities to adapt and adjust to all situations with self-assurance and grace.
Oh boy, was I wrong.
All of my self-esteem, thoughts of self-worth, and feelings of security came crashing down around me about the third week into medical school. I started having constant feelings of doubt, shame, and uncertainty. I had never been surrounded by such a large group of brilliant and remarkable people until I met my classmates. Suddenly my own light seemed dim and bleak compared to the vivid gleaming lights of the other students. I doubted my place here. I started thinking the admissions team must have made a mistake…surely my spot should have gone to someone more deserving. Looking around I thought everything was coming so much easier to everyone else because they were smarter, happier, surer of themselves. These thoughts were isolating and they continued to drag me down. The little voice in my head constantly nagged at me, “they are going to find out, they are going to find out that you’re not supposed to be here”.
It wasn’t until my dad sent me an article from The New England Journal of Medicine called “Letter to a Young Female Physician” that I realized what I was experiencing was “imposter syndrome”. In this article addressing female physicians the author writes “not only do we tend to perseverate over our inadequacies, we also often denigrate our strengths.”
I suddenly realized I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. This discovery empowered me and I made changes to regain my confidence and self-worth. I’m still working on these changes, but they are helping. Maybe you have imposter syndrome also. If so, I encourage you to tackle those lying demons saying you are a fraud head on. Here are a couple gems that I have found to help.
1. Do things that make you feel good.
I mean things outside of medicine. After starting med school, it took me a while to realize I still needed to do things that I love and make me feel good about myself. So, go for a run, take a nap, drink a beer, walk your dog. Find time for the things that feed your soul, I promise it’s worth it.
2. Don’t brush off compliments
I admit I’m the person who gets extremely uncomfortable and awkward when people compliment me. In the past, I’ve always brushed these compliments off, now however, I’m taking them to heart. If people take the time to compliment you, they mean it, and you should appreciate and realize it. It should make you feel good. Then go ahead and compliment someone else. Spread the love.
3. Open up
This one I still struggle with, but I’m trying. If you open up, just a little, so will someone else and there is always comfort and feelings of comradery if we are all just a little honest and vulnerable with each other.
I still have days or weeks that I feel like I don’t belong here, the difference is now deep down I know that I do. So please, if you take anything from this please know that your light is not dim or bleak, it may just be sometimes hard to recognize because it blends into everyone else’s equally bright and shiny light.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 1st year (OMS I)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences