Imposter syndrome might showcase itself while you're in medical school. It might also occur when you're a fully-fledged professional as well. Regardless, unwarranted feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy can limit your potential at work and at home.
Let's take a closer look at imposter syndrome, why doctors struggle with it, and how you can tame those troublesome thoughts.
When a person experiences imposter syndrome, he or she doubts his or her accomplishments and becomes worried about posing as a "fraud." One paper published in Academic Medicine showed that people with perfectionism, excessive anxiety and self-doubt usually suffer from imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome was described in 1978 by Clance and Imes. They found imposter syndrome in 150 high-achieving women, who were CEOs, leaders, and business owners. They had difficulty with internal validation of success. However, there's good reason for doctors to feel imposter syndrome: Medical mistakes can result in serious consequences for patients.
It's fairly common among many adults — not just doctors. One study estimated that 7 in 10 adults experience imposter syndrome at some point or another.
Let's take a look at why some doctors struggle with imposter syndrome.
Reason 1: Stress
Anxiety and stress can cause imposter syndrome. There's also a fine line between inadequacy and motivation if you have continuing feelings of self-doubt and negativity. A positive mindset in the face of stress and anxiety matters, and complacency can also occur if you experience those feelings of self-doubt.
Reason 2: Competitiveness of medical school
It often starts in medical school. The exhausting pace of medical school and competition for research and leadership experiences can lead many of those in medical school to feel “not good enough." Students often question their abilities and can experience social isolation, academic difficulties, and more.
Students who feel like an imposter may have trouble recognizing their successes in the medical field as well. The consequences of imposter syndrome can also lead to burnout.
Reason 3: They experience other mental health disorders
Imposter syndrome can occur alongside depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and self-sabotage. Researchers at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University learned that 87% of incoming medical students had a high degree of imposter syndrome.
Medical students nationwide also report alarming rates of depression, anxiety, and burnout.
It's possible to change your psychological well-being by using a variety of methods. It's important to normalize this distorted perception of self, especially after you experience it. Let's take a look at the following ways you can avoid imposter syndrome.
Tip 1: Identify a goal each day
Identify a goal each day that you'll achieve, no matter what happens. This way, you can feel great that you achieved your goal. Constantly identifying reach goals or impossible goals (such as large goals) can become harder and harder to attain.
Once you meet your goals, celebrate your wins.
Tip 2: Implement a routine of daily affirmations
Identify your strengths and keep reminding yourself of those. Identify ways to focus on the positive and do that every single day. It sounds simple but identifying these goals and positive affirmations daily can really help you battle imposter syndrome.
Once you begin identifying your positive attributes, you'll find it easier and easier to live out your strengths and positive attributes. Replay your affirmations in your head as soon as imposter syndrome and self-doubt threaten to creep in.
Tip 3: Grow a support team and seek constructive feedback
Even the most accomplished doctors need mentors and peers to support them. You're almost always your own worst critic, so talk to mentors and peers about how you can improve and who can also encourage you.
However, you can't be the best doctor possible if you're always agonizing over your perceived inadequacies. Others can help you keep your skills and excellent qualities in perspective.
Tip 4: Collect positive memories and mementos
Many physicians receive feedback in writing. Keep positive thank you notes and emails in a special location to read when you're having a tough day. These will help you remember that you have done great work by helping patients who have hit incredible milestones. Doing so can be an effective tool to propel you forward.
Tip 5: Educate yourself
Medicine can make you instantly feel like you don't know everything because there's so much to know and absorb. As soon as you're confronted by a patient's puzzling symptoms or if you can't understand what went wrong with a patient, you may be plagued by anxiety and self-doubt.
You can still admit you don't know everything. When that happens, it's okay to stop and ask questions of your attending or another supervisor.
In addition, don't be shy about using a learning style assessment to learn more about your strengths, emotional intelligence, and learning style assessments, such as Gallup’s CliftonStrengths. It can help you learn more about how you work with others and how others can best work with you.
If you suffer regularly from imposter syndrome, commit to a personal wellness plan. You can work on a combination of identifying goals, creating daily positive affirmations, growing a support team and a collection of positive memories, and educating yourself. You've worked really hard to get where you are, and you should never stop reminding yourself of that fact. They don't just "hand out" medical degrees to anyone.
If you find that your imposter syndrome has become debilitating, you may want to expand your support network to include individual counseling and/or group counseling
Melissa is the owner and founder of College Money Tips. Formerly the editor at Benzinga Money, she has also written for Investopedia, The Balance and Personal Capital. Melissa writes fresh, thought-provoking content (with a touch of humor) about topics in personal finance, higher education, and travel.