In this episode, Andy is joined by our blog editor, Patricia Capone, and guests Molly Estes and George Willis to discuss the topic of imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is something that will affect all of us at some point in our careers. It is characterized by chronic feelings of self-doubt and a fear of being discovered as an intellectual fraud. Those suffering from imposter syndrome are not able to internalize a sense of accomplishment, competence, or skill, despite their being evidence of their abilities. They will also believe themselves to be less intelligent and competent than others perceive them to be. Imposter syndrome can cause increased burnout, social isolation, and fear of reaching out for help or admitting to failures.
Some contributing factors to imposter syndrome are frequent transitioning, having variable expectations from others, and being in new environments. This is likely why so many medical students experience this during their 3rd and 4th years. It is estimated that around 75% of residents will experience imposter syndrome. Initially, it was thought that females experienced imposter syndrome more than males. However, newer data suggests that imposter syndrome affects all high-achieving individuals equally.
Imposter syndrome can significantly affect medical education and unfortunately being further along in your career does not correlate with a decrease in incidence. Learners that are experiencing imposter syndrome are less likely to speak up or volunteer answers. The use of “shame-based” teaching styles will usually worsen these feelings and we should be shifting away from these styles. Instead, opt for more of an open and consistent educational dialogue. It can also help to have regular, timely, and positive feedback from instructors.
Among residents specifically, burnout has been associated with absenteeism, medical errors, and self-reported delivery of suboptimal care. One way to ease feelings of imposter syndrome is to carry out empathy rounds with an audience of their peers. This is an event where featured respected resident panelists share their personal stories. This is not to be held like a morbidity and mortality conference. The goal of empathy rounds is to normalize imperfections and recognize shared struggles among peers.
These are some strategies to minimize the impact of imposter syndrome (according to the Adam Persky article “Intellectual Self-doubt and How to Get Out of It”):
- Break the silence – talk about it
- Separate feelings from fact – feeling stupid doesn’t mean you are stupid
- Recognize the appropriate times for self-doubt
- Accentuate the positive
- Develop a new response to failure and mistakes – learn to be ok with making mistakes, learn from them and move on. You’re allowed to be wrong and ask for help.
- Visualize success
- Reward yourself
- Fake it ‘til you make it
- Remind yourself of the facts.
- Most, if not all medical students, residents, and physicians are feeling what you are feeling.
- There are people around you that know more about some areas of medicine than you, but just as they can teach you something, there is always something you can teach them
- You didn’t get here by accident. You got here with hard work and determination.
- We can optimize the learning environment in med ed to decrease the impact medical education has on imposter syndrome by:
- Regular, timely, and positive feedback from instructors
- Decreasing the amount of shame-based learning
- Empathy rounds
Shannon Caliri, DO PGY-2
About Our Guests:
Molly Estes, MD is currently the Clerkship Director, Medical Education Fellowship Director, and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Loma Linda University.
George Willis, DO is currently the Associate Program Director at UT Health in San Antonio.
- Langford and Clance. “The Imposter Phenomenon: Recent Research Findings Regarding Dynamics, Personality and Family Patterns and Their Implications for Treatment.” Psychotherapy
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