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Student and Resident Letters to the Editor: Professional Identity and Diversity and Inclusion

On Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Russell, Rebecca

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001801
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To the Editor:

During medical school, as we navigate the vast knowledge we are expected to absorb and begin to develop clinical skills, we may experience “impostor syndrome”—the fear of being exposed as a fraud as expectations and responsibility increase. Becoming a physician, however, involves incremental progress toward competence and mastery. We should recognize and celebrate our progress along the way rather than focusing on our perceived shortcomings.

I distinctly remember my first medical school interview. After traveling four hours in a car and changing in a McDonald’s bathroom, I sat anxiously in my suit as other interviewees gathered around me in the lobby. I was nervous about making a good impression, so I tried to focus on chatting with the people around me to distract myself. When our first session began, we were asked to diagnose a patient as a group. I was paralyzed in my seat. Others were scrambling over each other in an attempt to make a contribution and impress the professors. I, however, could not bring myself to utter a word. This is it, I thought, I would not be able to make it in medical school.

A year and a half later, with 10 of my classmates and 2 professors, we critiqued videos of our interviews with standardized patients. Suddenly, I realized that this was it. I was doing it. What seemed so impossible to me only a short time ago was now a part of my life. Two weeks later, I gave my first injection to a classmate who was terrified of needles. But the skills I had already learned helped us to get through it. Again, something that seemed so impossible to me was now just a part of my life.

I think this is a lesson for everyone in the medical profession. Currently, we are so focused on the “imposter syndrome” surrounding medical students. We focus on the moments where we feel that we do not have enough experience; we are just “pretending” to fit in. Yet, we hardly ever reflect on the moments when we are not imposters. Instead, we relentlessly focus on what is next or where gaps in our knowledge exist. But for every moment when we feel inadequate, there is another moment when we realize a previous challenge is now mundane.

I believe that this is one of the greatest sources of sanity in medical school. In an atmosphere where you are surrounded with pressure and often self-doubt, it is restorative to remember just how normal your abnormal life has become.

Rebecca Russell
Second-year medical student, Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; [email protected]

Copyright © 2017 by the Association of American Medical Colleges