Nieszczur: Are you suffering from imposter syndrome?

November 7, 2018

“Welcome to your P1/M1 year. In a few short years, you will be out on the floors caring for patients. You are the future of our profession…”  


You look down from the professor speaking and blush a bit. “Surely he couldn’t be referring to me?” you ask yourself. “Maybe my classmates will get there, but I won’t. I don’t even want to listen and get my hopes up.”


It is the first day of your professional division schooling, or any first day of classes for that matter. You have made the grades, made the cut and have yourself a seat in that degree program. You print your notes before class, show up and are actively engaged in the presentation.  


You review your materials after classes and are active in organizations that will advance you as a professional and as a leader. Yet still, sitting in that class right now, you don’t feel like you deserve to be here. You are a phony, a fake; you’ve duped the administration into believing that you are apt to be here. You are an imposter.


If you can relate to the above scenario, you are not alone. A 2011 study found that over 70 percent of individuals will experience a bout of imposter syndrome at least once in their lives. So, what exactly is imposter syndrome?  


Imposter syndrome involves heavy feelings of self-doubt or worthlessness and a fear that others will expose them as fraudulent. People suffering from imposter syndrome often have numerous achievements and successes but feel that they are undeserved or given as a mistake.  


The affected person’s image of their true self may be blurred with an unrealistic self-image of a failure.


Suffering from imposter syndrome may be temporary, such as when starting a new job or beginning a new educational path.


However, for some people, symptoms of imposter syndrome are present for life. Imposter syndrome may be more frequently found in those in underrepresented areas, such as in a female in a historically more male-dominated field or in a student of color attending a historically non-diverse school.


Fortunately, there are many effective strategies for dealing with imposter syndrome.  Remember that imposter syndrome occurs quite frequently and that you are not suffering alone.

When you notice feelings of insufficiency coming on, don’t be afraid to ask for help before the continuum of negative self worth escalates.


There is always someone there who cares for you, that will not judge you and will listen. Surround yourself with those who lift you up and celebrate your successes. Avoiding competitive spirits and negative energy will help boost your self-worth.  


Consider keeping a journal or log of your successes or moments where you felt important or proud. You should not be ashamed to be your own best cheerleader! You’ve worked hard to achieve your accomplishments, and having a record of those events and the positive feelings you attributed to them can help you out of negative thoughts.  


The sooner you come to grips that perfectionism is not attainable, the more at peace you will be. Learn to strive for your personal best, learn from your mistakes and never let fear of embarrassment or disappointing others stop you from pursuing your dreams.


Remember that, no matter what, you are far from the “failure” or “disappointment” that you may currently see yourself as. You have accomplished many things, positively impacted many lives and will continue to be a light.  


As long as you are living as your authentic best self, there is no room for an imposter here.


Alexis Nieszczur is a fifth-year P3 PharmD student. 


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