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Imposter syndrome is not a novel concept to most of us that have gone through medical school. I know that many of my classmates have experienced it at one time or another and I experience it at least on a weekly basis. It’s defined as a psychological state of inadequacy despite proven competence and achievement. People that have this syndrome are fearful that they will be “outed” as a fraud. There are several characteristics of people that may be affected by this.

High-achieving individuals that are not used to struggling may view their immense effort as evidence that they don’t belong. Using my classmates as an example, most come from places where they were at the top of their class. Coming into an environment where everyone around you was also “top of the class” can give you the impression that you’re not as smart as you thought you were. Perfectionists can also be prone since they set high expectations and any mistakes that occur are enough to question one’s value. Moreover, minorities are an especially susceptible population because it’s reassuring to be around a group of people that look and sound like you. Being the odd one out in a group is unsettling, which can spur impostor feelings. This is a common occurrence among women in STEM fields.

With my chosen specialty of interventional radiology, only approximately 10% are women. While interviewing at different residency programs, it was obvious to me the ones that lacked any female interventionalists on staff. My sister is a software engineer that happens to be the only female and also the youngest on her team. Over a conversation that she had with a member of the C-suite executive at her company – the only female on the board– they discussed pervasiveness of imposter syndrome, regardless of how high your ranking may be.

How do you deal with imposter syndrome? The first step is to acknowledge that you have these feelings. Then, take the time to remind yourself of your accomplishments. It’s not by pure luck that you’ve gotten to where you are. You worked hard, you struggled, and you prevailed. You are worthy! Also, know that it’s alright to not be perfect. Mistakes are part of being human and facing hardships is part of the learning process. Feeling doubt is a normal and everyone experiences it. However, these imposter feelings should not be limiting your decisions to reach towards your goals. Fear of failure and uncertainty will only undermine your efforts for success.

Like I mentioned before, I still have imposter syndrome. I don’t expect to be able to banish these thoughts from my mind but now I can usually quell the feelings after taking a few moments to acknowledge and process them. It’s a constant work-in-progress, but I’m finding it easier to manage over time.

Photo by Jason Hogan on Unsplash

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Stephanie Nguyen


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Stephanie Nguyen, MD

A blog about life as a young physician

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