Navigating Imposter Syndrome

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If you’ve attended even one day of medical school, you’re probably familiar with impostor syndrome and how it may feel. You may think, “How did I make it here?”, “Do I deserve this spot?”, or “Everyone will find out I’m not good enough.” Impostor syndrome is that nasty feeling where you doubt your ability or intelligence and believe that you’ve fraudulently achieved your way to your current point in life.

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Matthew Law, McGovern Medical School, Class of 2024

I’m here to remind you that feelings of impostor syndrome are pervasive in many people. The phenomenon has been studied across gender, occupation, and other demographics. Even Albert Einstein was described to have it!

As medical students, we are particularly prone to impostor syndrome due to the rigors of our academics and the high-stakes environments we enter during clinical rotations. Raise your hand if any of these scenarios and thoughts sound familiar:

  • You were a 4.0-student in undergrad, but now anatomy lab is killing your confidence. Was med school a mistake?
  • You just finished a ScholarRx/UWorld block and only got 25% of the answers correct. Did I even learn anything during this block?
  • Your attending just cold-called you on rounds and you gave an embarrassingly wrong answer while your peers have been impressing them all morning. Am I the worst student on this team?
  • I still feel like I know nothing.  How can I be a doctor in less than a year?

Navigating the medical school journey is humbling, to say the least. However, it’s important to remember that you are not walking this path alone. I want to remind you that you certainly deserve to be in medical school and that you belong. The admissions committee recognized something special during your interview: qualities that enrich your community. There are so many people at your medical school that want to see you thrive. Don’t forget that.

Here are our other tips that I’ve found helpful to combat impostor syndrome:

  • Introspect–separate feelings from facts with mindfulness: Talk it out, journal, or meditate. Whichever way you best practice introspection, use that method to focus on where your negative feelings may be coming from and separate them from truths about your achievements and intrinsic value. Try to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine.
  • Seek feedback: Sometimes, it can help to have an objective observer provide feedback. Maybe your professor or attending thinks things are going great, and you just haven’t asked them yet. Don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Encourage open dialogue: You aren’t alone. Tap into the counseling services at your school or private mental health resources. Speak to your friends, residents or attendings. Talking about impostor syndrome can help normalize these feelings and help you build strategies to overcome it.

Remember, you deserve to be here, and you probably deserve more credit than you think. I hope you enjoy these YouTube videos that I used for inspiration on the subject:

Matthew is a graduating MS4 at McGovern Medical School in Houston, Texas. He has been an active member of his school’s Wellness and Resilience Committee since he started at McGovern. He will pursue anesthesiology residency at McGovern starting in July 2024, with aspirations of becoming a teaching faculty and mentor for future fellows, residents, and medical students.

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The views and opinions expressed in this collection are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Association of American Medical Colleges.