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3 Ways Physicians Can Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Written by: Alex Brown
Published on: Dec 13, 2022

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Imposter syndrome is a term used to describe an internal psychological experience whereby a person believes they are not as competent as others perceive them to be – characterized by an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt.

If you’re struggling with insecurity as a new doctor, you’re not alone: research shows that physicians experience imposter syndrome more often than any other U.S. occupation. The dangers of imposter syndrome are more than just a drain on your morale. It leads to feelings of depression, deteriorates mental health, and can even prevent career advancement.

While experiencing this syndrome may be common, most physicians don’t know what strategies to adopt to overcome these feelings of inadequacy, nor do they get outside support, so here are three critical ways to recognize, address, and overcome imposter syndrome yourself as a new doctor.

1. Recognize the Symptoms
It’s essential t recognize the symptoms of imposter syndrome and assess whether your self-doubt is holding you back. Common symptoms include:

  • Fearing being viewed as a failure
  • Feeling unworthy of appreciation or attention
  • Attributing luck or other uncontrollable reasons to your success
  • Overworking as the only means to meet expectations
  • Downplaying any achievements
  • Holding back from achieving reasonable, attainable goals

For physicians, the condition often presents as overworking in order to reach impossibly high standards. It results in a level of perfectionism that can lead to burnout and depression.

2. Cultivate a Growth Mindset
One of the drivers of imposter syndrome is the worry that it’s only a matter of time before others find out that you don’t know what you’re doing. A key way to combat this is to reframe your thinking by appreciating your learning potential and understanding that you will continue to grow as a healthcare professional as your career progresses. A growth mindset is the belief that knowledge and skills are cultivated through continuous effort instead of innately provided at birth.

Practicing medicine is an ever-evolving endeavor with new information routinely revealed. As a physician, you should try to develop a mindset that embraces continuous learning and skill development in your specialty, no matter how long you’ve been practicing.

Nurturing a growth mindset can be aided by reframing how you view criticism and approach challenges. When those experiences happen, take them as an opportunity to learn, refining your skills as a result.  The more you learn and grow, the more you’ll overcome feeling like an imposter.

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3. Find Your Support System
Imposter syndrome thrives in the shadows of shame and secrecy. One of the best ways to help overcome it is by talking with a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor. You might find that they can empathize and may even share ways that they have dealt with imposter syndrome themselves. Also, many healthcare organizations offer peer support groups where you can connect with other doctors who are likely dealing with similar issues, too.

It is interesting to note that, while anyone can experience imposter syndrome, physicians from certain population segments are more likely to be impacted by this condition. So if you qualify, you can seek out community and support from groups such as physicians of color, women in surgery, doctors with disabilities, and medical mothers.


Take Steps to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome can seriously impact your career, mental health, and life in general, but why let it get that far? Recognizing the symptoms, cultivating a growth mindset, and seeking out support from your peers are all critical steps to ensure you continue growing throughout your career as a physician.

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