“Help! I’m just a junior”- How to deal with Impostor Syndrome
These are just some of the things most doctors (if not all) have said at least once during their life as a Physician. As luck would have it, and as with most phenomena in medicine, there’s even a syndrome assigned to it – the infamous ‘Impostor Syndrome’.
What is Impostor syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is described as a feeling of inadequacy, where a person doubts what they know and what they are, with the constant fear that their accomplishments are dubious, and they may be exposed as pretending to be someone they’re not – a fraud.
In simpler words, Impostor Syndrome represents self-doubt, and the anxiety that comes along with it.
Feelings of uncertainty and perceived diminished value effectuate consequences not just for the doctors themselves, but also for their patients and those around them. In medicine, healthcare providers often find themselves living inside a constant bubble of necessary perfectionism – where we agonize over each and every one of our moves, constantly reminded of how people under our care could very well live or die through our actions.
This notion does not spare anyone. Students, residents and even attendings are all vulnerable, mostly because the nature of our job involves making sure everyone is satisfied, healthy and alive. Thoughts that creep into our minds frequently take form as ‘Did I write the proper history in the notes?’, ‘Did I examine the patient accurately?’, ‘What if my plan is not good enough?’, ‘What if I could have given this instead of what I thought at the time?’
Self-questioning and doubting is not always a bad thing. It is, after all, quite natural, and for some it even serves as a source of motivation to do better. However, when it encroaches your life, negatively impacting your mental peace and leading to signs of burnout, that’s when you know it needs to stop.
Here are some ways that physicians have shared that have helped them overcome Impostor Syndrome!
1. Focus on the positive side of things
The attending did not approve of your plan? The nurse had to remind you twice about an order? You didn’t get a question right when asked by an attending? Will you be spending the rest of your day thinking about these things? We as humans, tend to credit ourselves less on the good things, but focus majorly on the things we did wrong, so this is the first thing we need to work on.
At the end of each day, think of at least 2 things you did that lead to a positive impact. It could be as simple as greeting a patient kindly or giving way to a car on the road. This way you tend to value yourself more, and shift your attention towards the positive.
2. Seek Feedback
Human nature makes us want to criticise ourselves and question our abilities. It is difficult to accept compliments. How many times have you presented in rounds or during a conference, thinking you did your absolute worst, when someone came up to you and said it was an excellent presentation! The best way to overcome this harshness against ourselves is to seek honest feedback from a trusted mentor, or someone you spend a lot of your time with, and ask them for areas of improvement.
You’d be surprised with how your view of yourself contrasts with how others see you, and how your weaknesses could be a sign of strength to others.
3. Talk to others and express your feelings!
Talk to your colleagues, your friends, and let them know about your feelings. Chances are they must be going through the same, and sharing your strategies to overcome it may help not you alone but them too!
4. Draw a line between feelings and facts
There is a difference between feeling stupid and being stupid. You may have said or done something that you may feel was stupid, but that doesn’t mean that you are! The realization that you did something wrong itself shows that you have insight and you can work on not repeating it.
5. Remember where you started
‘Started from the bottom, now we here’ applies to this situation. Think of all those years you spent at your desk studying. All those hours practicing OSCEs, the countless exams you gave, the interview process you went through, and the fact that you were chosen out of a pool of candidates, because someone thought you were worth it. You did the hard work and you deserve every inch of being where you are. There’s no substitute for hard work, and you know it better than anyone.
6. Recognize where and when you feel like a fraud
If you’re the first from your family or society to become a doctor, if you belong to a disadvantaged racial group, if you are a person of determination, if you come from a different social class, you are more likely to feel added pressure. You may feel the need to carry all the weight on your shoulders, because you feel like you represent not only yourself but all those who identify similarly to you.
It is important to accept that it is normal to feel this way, but instead of taking this self-doubt and viewing it as something negative, take it as an opportunity and look at it as something to celebrate as you have opened the doors for many children in your society to accomplish what they believe in. So many people may find it easier to access healthcare, thanks to you!
7. Go easy on yourself
If you feel like you need to have the answers, and asking for help will make you look inferior, recognize that all of this is normal. Life is not a competition, and most of the people you are surrounded with would jump at the opportunity of helping you. They wont judge you for not answering, but they’ll definitely appreciate your eagerness to learn.
8. Fake it till you make it
courage comes from taking risks, you don’t always have to feel confident before you say or do something. How many times have you not answered in class thinking your answer is wrong, only to find someone else giving the same answer and getting it right? Put yourself out there, and confidence will follow.
- Overcoming Imposter Syndrome In Medicine”. Com, 2021, https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/expert-insights/overcoming-imposter-syndrome-in-medicine.
- “10 Steps You Can Use To Overcome Impostor Syndrome”. Impostor Syndrome, 2021, https://impostorsyndrome.com/10-steps-overcome-impostor/.