You didn’t learn about it in medical school and you probably rarely talk about it. But you need to be aware of a syndrome that’s all too common among physicians all over the world. It strikes regardless of specialty, income, or years in practice. Although there is no definitive data, it’s believed to have reached epidemic proportions.
What am I talking about? It’s the Impostor Syndrome! If you have Imposter Syndrome (IS), you may fear that it’s only a matter of time that you’ll be “found out” as a fraud. Despite abundant external evidence of success and accomplishment, you regularly find it difficult to believe that you are, indeed, a success. You may attribute your accomplishments to luck or chance, not believing that you actually have the intelligence, fortitude, and skills required to get to your current place in your career. You likely also have an inflated sense of the success and aptitude of others.
When the Imposter Syndrome Strikes
Whatever your professional status, you can still get IS. Listen to what Dr. Margaret Chan, Director of the World Health Organization, says about herself: “There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”
The emotional drain of IS is significant. It erodes your sense of confidence, and contributes to the emotional exhaustion and lack of sense of accomplishment emblematic of physician burnout.
The syndrome does not only strike physicians but is particularly common among this group. Why?
1) There are simply too many technological advances to keep up with. No matter your specialty, the body of knowledge is growing rapidly.
2) Medical training emphasizes perfection. You’re taught early on that you should know the answer to everything related to our field, and, if you’re not perfect, you’re a failure.
3) Physicians tend to be their own harshest critic, focusing much more on negative qualities than their strengths.
So, how do you make the diagnosis of IS in physicians? The criteria include all of A, B, and C:
A. The patient must be a physician.
B. On at least a weekly basis, the patient believes they will be “found out” as a fraud.
C. The patient believes that all other physicians in their specialty know more than they do.
Do you or someone you love suffer from Imposter Syndrome? If so, you can take comfort knowing that it affects almost all physicians. Once a diagnosis is made, knowing how to manage the syndrome is key. Stay tuned for Part II to find out more about treatment of this common disorder.