As I’ve written elsewhere, there is still a part of me that believes I should never have gotten into medical school. Long story, but I think I was in a depressive episode during the entrance exams and I underperformed. Yet somehow I got in. And never having failed an exam from med school to fellowship, I still believe it was fluke. The facts don’t agree, but facts never got in the way of a good neurosis. Still, this doctor impostor syndrome is with me, and I am not alone.
Impostor syndrome is a common phenomenon among physicians, where we feel like we are frauds in our profession and that we don’t deserve our success. It is believed that this feeling is often triggered by the high level of responsibility and stress that comes with being a doctor. Impostor syndrome can also be considered a risk factor for burnout and psychological distress.
Impostor syndrome is a common phenomenon in the healthcare industry, with a prevalence rate of around 30% among medical students and residents. Women and international medical graduates tend to have even higher rates of impostor syndrome.
The issue typically surfaces during transitions, such as starting new jobs, projects, or careers. Experienced physicians are not immune to impostor syndrome and may still struggle despite receiving positive feedback from our peers and patients.
Features of impostor syndrome include:
Source: Clance PR. The impostor phenomenon: when success makes you feel like a fake (1985).
There are several underlying causes of impostor syndrome in physicians. Some of the most common include:
In conclusion, impostor syndrome is a common issue among nearly a third of physicians, where we feel like we are frauds in our profession and that we don’t deserve our success.
Impostor syndrome in physicians is often the result of a combination of factors, including high expectations and pressure, comparisons to others, lack of feedback, perfectionism, and burnout. Understanding the underlying causes of impostor syndrome can help physicians better recognize and overcome the feelings of self-doubt and insecurity that can negatively impact their work and patient care.
In the next article – Overcoming Physician Impostor Syndrome, we will explore the impact on doctor and patients, and four steps to overcome it.