The Impostor Syndrome Part II: What’s the Treatment?

The Imposter Syndrome

Part I of this post explained this common disorder, which strikes physicians in their primes, leads to chronic low self-esteem, and contributes to the epidemic of physician burnout. What else do we know about it?

Many physicians have some form of the Impostor Syndrome (IS) but almost all suffer in silence and isolation. This isolation actually feeds into the syndrome, making physicians focus more on the belief that others are more competent than they are. And the vicious cycle repeats or even intensifies.

Furthermore, IS erodes confidence and sense of accomplishment. There are so many pressures on physicians, so many things that weigh you down. Given this, in order to survive you need to limit or eliminate anything that can contribute to the weight of these pressures. Walking around waiting to be “found out” is definitely in this category.

Here are a few ways to manage IS:

  1. Realize that many of your peers also suffer from IS. You can derive comfort from the knowledge that IS comes with the territory of being a physician. It is an occupational hazard, unrelated to your actual skill or expertise.
  2. Try not to expect yourself to be perfect! No physician is, so stop berating yourself for being human. We would have been much better served if we had been taught this in medical school.
  3. Remind yourself that you’re selling yourself short by comparing yourself to others. You bring unique strengths to your work.
  4. When symptoms hit, consciously shift your focus to at least one specific way you excel professionally.
  5. Regularly acknowledge that there is so much new information out there, you cannot possibly keep up with it all.

Like many treatments, this prescription will not take effect immediately. It must be practiced consistently. Old thought patterns are difficult to change. Take care of yourself in this way and you will promote your well-being over your entire career.

This week, if you experience symptoms of IS, try the methods above. Do they relieve your suffering?

Gratitude: How It Can Decrease Physician Burnout


Gratitude is something you may not pay much attention to. It’s easy to take the good things in life for granted. If you’re like most people, the focus is often on the glass half full, on the things you don’t have or the things you want to be different. Both internally and externally, you can be overwhelmed on a daily basis by negativity, challenges to overcome, and by all that seems to be going wrong.

For many, it is those moments where something occurs that shake you out of the bubble you live in, and brings you into the awareness of true gratitude. For example, when you hear about a bad outcome, a colleague diagnosed with advanced cancer, or a friend’s teenager getting into a significant car crash. For that moment, you may find yourself overcome with gratitude so intense that it overshadows all negatives. You realize how fortunate you truly are, and experience a strong wave of relief and calm, thankful that you and your loved ones are safe and in good health. In that moment, your worries melt away. Perhaps you tell yourself that you’ll always feel appreciation for the good things you have in your life. But, no sooner have you had this realization then your focus shifts to something in your life that you find wanting.

Yet, if you can tap into these brief interludes of gratitude you may find a powerful antidote to many negative states of mind, including worries, fears, resentment, and anguish.  The power of authentic gratitude can give you centeredness and balance that staves off feelings of overwhelm. The power of thankfulness is almost like a magic wand!  And, it doesn’t even matter what you’re grateful for.

Research shows how gratitude can benefit your life

How do we know that gratitude is so powerful? Much research has been done to determine the effects of gratitude.

For example, a 2009 study of 400 adults found that grateful people had better sleep quality, were able to fall asleep faster at night, and also had less daytime tiredness. A 2013 study of 1000 Swiss adults found that gratitude correlated with improved psychological health that then translated into greater likelihood of engaging in health-promoting activities.  There are dozens of other studies, well catalogued at a University of California, Berkeley site.

Give gratitude a try

What are some ways to see the benefits of gratitude in your life? One way is when you find yourself fixated on a worry, ask yourself what you’re grateful for right in that moment. Stop for 10 seconds and focus on that sense of gratitude. Another way is to start or end every day with a gratitude list. Ask yourself: What 3 things am I grateful for today? Try each of these exercises for 7 days in a row. What do you notice? Any decrease in your sense of burnout?

Pin It on Pinterest