Imposter Syndrome is when one starts doubting his/her abilities and denies accomplishments. In other words, the person does not feel like he/she belongs in the field and feels like a “fake”. This syndrome presents in different ways: some individuals can overwork themselves, others will never be satisfied, some fixate on flaws and dismiss positive feedback, and others may isolate from people.
Imposter syndrome most commonly presents among medical students. Medical students are placed in an institution with equal or higher achieving individuals and feel inadequate with their abilities due to comparison. Many students manifest this syndrome through self-doubt leading to low self-esteem. With the copious amount of material a medical student is responsible for, imposter syndrome can hinder one’s learning and prevent him/her from enjoying the field.
As a medical student, starting medical school was not an easy transition as I also faced imposter syndrome during the first month. Often, I compared myself to my colleagues and felt inadequate if I was not on the same lecture or did not study the same way as they did. Further, coming from a South Asian community, mental health was not a popular topic discussed. Hence, I could not understand the emotions I was feeling, such as feeling out of place, and why I kept on focusing on my flaws rather than the things that I did well. After, receiving my first grades, I knew that I had to change my mindset and embrace my feelings. My first step was letting go of the idea of being perfect, as medical school is not a race but a marathon. I have a long way to go and must learn through my mistakes each day. My next step was to focus on the positives and track my wins rather than my losses. It is also reassuring knowing that I am not alone in this journey. It was helpful to talk about my feelings with my classmates. This made me connect with them on a better level and led to a strong support system at school.
Imposter syndrome is often overlooked but recognizing the signs can help reduce anxiety and increase productivity. Start by reflecting on how you are feeling and why. Then, get the support you need either through your school or outside services. Further, acknowledge your accomplishments. Getting into any graduate school or occupation is not an easy task. It took an immense amount of work and dedication. Take a step back and admire how far you came. The only one who is on this journey is you. Finally, talk about it. It might be nerve-wracking to express how you feel at first but know that you are just one piece of the puzzle. Start opening up as others too might have the confidence to speak about their emotions. Together, we can create a positive environment and support one another by ensuring that we all belong where we are supposed to be.
By Bairavi Maheswaran
Medical student at NYTICOM pursuing a DO/MS dual degree, in hopes of going into psychiatry or neurology as well as academic medicine
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