Because I’ll never be good enough.
That creeping feeling that lurks in the back of your mind. Always present, but never too loud. It whispers in your ear, sowing seeds of doubt throughout every action.
Because they’ll find out that I don’t know anything.
I fight off this noise as I present my next patient during morning rounds. I dart my eyes up to seem like I am a robot reading word-for-word off my notes, focusing on my confidence while reciting my systems-based plan for my ICU patient.
Because I have one more mistake until I am exposed.
I am quickly interrupted by my attending. She asks me about the mechanism behind a dropping electrolyte level, and I respond with hesitation. Fortunately, my answer is exactly what she was looking for, and I continue on with my presentation. But that noise creeps back in my mind as the resident begins presenting the next patient.
The noise is the constant feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt. It manifests itself like a huge sea within the mind. Some days, you are just standing on the shore, with the tides low and the waves calm. Other days, you are washed away in the middle of a storm, struggling to stay afloat, surrounded by waves hundreds of feet high. The deeper you are pulled into the dark abyss, the harder it is to swim to the surface. It pressures you to think that no matter how strong you are, you’ll never overcome the strength of this force.
This phenomenon of imposter syndrome is prevalent in many of us pursuing medicine. Especially for those of us who are first-generation physicians, we are left to fend through uncharted territories. While we try to do our best to navigate this difficult path, we are left feeling that there is someone else better suited for our spot in medicine. We feel that we are not deserving of this privilege. As we pass through these high obstacles — basic sciences, board exams, core rotations, even electives — we stew in self-doubt after each success.
Because it was probably pure luck that I did well.
Feeling like some imposter overall takes a toll on our physical and mental health. While our successes are displayed on paper, we can never celebrate it, let alone take credit for it. Such behaviors are key factors that lead to the ever-growing problem of physician burnout. Due to burnout, more physicians are overwhelmed with emotional exhaustion, lack empathy and become cynical.
Because they are way smarter than I am.
We are constantly competing against our peers, regardless of the subtlety. Whether it is the class rank, or getting the best evaluations in our rotations, this age of social clout puts undue burden on its participants. The exhaustion due to the juggling act of extra-curriculars, research and licensing exams deprives us of the empathy and excitement that we once had when we first began our journey. This culture of competition roots itself deep in medicine, and truly begins before the first day we step foot in the hospital or clinic, let alone a medical school classroom. The worst part of imposter syndrome is the idea that you are alone in exhibiting these emotions. But it is important to remember, you are never alone.
Because we are going to get through this together.
Don’t let anyone tell you that they haven’t experienced this before. You will always find someone who has doubts in their own abilities and accomplishments. It is realizing that your journeys are unique to you and cannot be compared equally amongst your peers. While you may think that they have everything figured out, you truly do not know what may actually be going on behind the scenes.
Because I am accomplished.
Reminding yourself of your successes is key. You were not given an acceptance to medical school by chance. You worked hard to pass through all the obstacles in your path, so celebrate it! Read through your old recommendation letters, read through your awards from year one, read through the essays you wrote at the height of your passion for medicine. Relish in the fact that you have come so far from where you first started. And remember to focus on self-love as you move up in the field, as that is the most infectious way to uplift ourselves and our community.
Because I am NOT an imposter.
From the outside, medicine is a grand profession — physicians and trainees work together to help those that are in need while saving lives. However, every day we are faced with darkness that does not get shown to outsiders. How we deal with these obstacles truly shapes our experiences within this profession, often leading to physician burnout. This column will focus on some of Rohan’s personal experiences facing the dark sides of medicine, while shedding light on how one can overcome these challenges. After all, there is always a silver lining through the darkness.