Imposter syndrome is something we’ve all heard of. It’s often a label thrown around and assigned to people who doubt their abilities. I’ve seen time and time again people expressing their fears about being a doctor, and someone replying that they simply need to stop having imposter syndrome.

So what exactly is it?

Imposter syndrome: feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. Doubt of skills, talents, achievements and persistently feeling like a "fraud"

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve definitely doubted my skills in medicine. Do I know enough? Are my clinical abilities up to scratch? Do my supervisors think I’m competent? The fears can really be endless.

I don’t feel ready to be a registrar this year, even though the majority of my peers are.

Features of imposter syndrome

  • Need to feel special or the best
  • Fear of failure
  • Discounting praise and/or denial of ability
  • Feeling fear and guilt about success
  • The imposter cycle
  • Trying to be superman/superwoman

Research suggests that you need at least two of these features to be experiencing imposter syndrome.

The Data Incubator –
Six Steps to Break the Imposter Syndrome Cycle

Where does it come from?

Originally this concept was applied to high-achieving women, but it’s now accepted to be more widely experienced.

  • Family upbringing – certain parenting styles can foster this syndrome. Overly critical or protective parents, who highly value achievement
  • New work/school opportunities – new roles can trigger this feeling. Medicine is full of transitions (often every three months), so it’s no wonder we can feel out of our depth
  • Personality – low self-efficacy, perfectionism, neuroticism
  • Social anxiety – this often overlaps with imposter syndrome

Medicine has an added unique dimension, in that your skills directly affect people. It is higher stakes, and mistakes can possibly hurt someone. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, worry and not being sufficient.

Another reason why doctors are particularly prone to impostor syndrome is the fact that we are often high achievers and perfectionists, both characteristics that can exacerbate such feelings.

It’s really normal. Almost everybody experiences impostor syndrome at some point.

Mr Hugh Kearns, a researcher at Flinders University, the author of The Imposter Syndrome
Verywell / Theresa Chiechi – do you identify with any of these?

The effects

Imposter syndrome may be a motivator at first, but it can lead to feelings of anxiety. You may over-prepare or work harder to feel better at what you do. Despite doing well, you may still dismiss past successes and wonder why you have the right to be there.

You might even feel that you only do well out of luck, which I often hear from colleagues.

It can become exhausting to constantly feel not good enough in what you do. These feelings of anxiety can even lead to depression. Many people with imposter syndrome struggle in silence.

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

What can we do?

Number one, awareness. It’s much more common than you think! Almost everyone has struggled with imposter syndrome at some point. It’s normal.

Some techniques to help:

  • Share your feelings
  • Focus on helping others in similar situations to you
  • Write down your skills and achievements
  • Question your thoughts
  • Stop comparing
  • Practice gratitude
  • Finding a good GP and/or psychologist can help – automatic processes can be challenged easier with the help of professionals

Resources

Very Well Mind – What is Imposter Syndrome?

Wikipedia – Imposter Syndrome

News GP – ‘I thought it was just me’: Registrars and impostor syndrome

Australian Service Caring for Doctors – Drs4Drs

Freehearted Medic – Doctors suffering from PTSD, anxiety or depression – more common than you think