There are so many times on the tour when the mentors share their thoughts and feelings about belonging. Sometimes it starts with a question from a student while other times it’s a self-revealing moment when sharing other stories during a presentation. For me, it was the latter. My reflection on this topic came during a recent session. In it, I reflected on my study skills and time management techniques from college. I too often relied heavily on what got me through high school, without making adaptations to the new rigor I was faced with at Stanford University. Stubbornly, I held fast to what had worked for me, even though it was causing me new doubts about my abilities in comparison to my exceptional classmates. I didn’t think my educational background was deficient in any way; I thought I was deficient in some way and that I didn’t belong there at that point. (BTW, this is much easier to contemplate and realize in hindsight than in the moment.)
This is a very real feeling amongst medical students (and even college students) with multiple studies in the literature discussing imposter syndrome. The term was coined in the 1970s by psychologists describing high-achieving individuals who had a constant fear about “being exposed”, partly due to their inability to internalize their accomplishments. For us, it’s this feeling that someone let us into school when our scores/ resumes should not have allowed it. Maybe it hits once we hear others GPAs and SAT scores or when we see their accomplishments after a year of college. Sometimes it’s there once we hit the floors during third year of medical school. In any case, the isolation we can feel from it is very real. And unfortunately, while many may feel the same way, few actually speak up about it.
With the students we see on the tour, many express their feelings of inadequacy. Often, these come to light during presentations when students become overwhelmed with the entire process to health professions. In that, they hear about what others have accomplished and question if they have done enough. During one lunch, a student was uncertain about how her story translates to being accepted to medical school. The advice I gave was simple. You have to own your story before anyone else will accept it. It has been a process for me to realize the strengths in my story, which is #WhyIT4D. Without my own story and struggles, I wouldn’t be the long term professional student I am today (8 years into an MD/ PhD…and I wouldn’t change it for the world).
The key for individuals who hold these feelings is finding the best form of therapy for their needs. On a basic level, reflecting and writing can be a big help. Understanding your personal strengths and achievements is large step required to overcoming the feeling of fraud. Through writing, students address their accomplishments without dismissing them. However, some individuals may seek out professional help. Either way, people must look at their accomplishments for their worth and stop disregarding the significance of achievements.
Lastly, the image below effectively shares how many feel with imposter syndrome. What we have to realize is that our story and experiences matter in the context of reality. Having the confidence in ourselves is important, as is having the humility to appreciate what we don’t understand and having enough self-preservation to ask for help when it is needed.
Picture courtesy of @rundavidrun (Twitter)