Author: Shweta Madhusudanan
In my first year of university, I found myself asking when medicine would become who I was instead of what I did. I wanted to be the kind of doctor who was so connected to their work that it became a part of them. Later that year, as I wrote my re-sits, I resigned myself to the fact that medicine wasn’t my calling. I told myself that it would be the means to an end, instead of the end itself. 3 years later, a mother thanked me for making her baby and herself feel safe amidst the weekend brawl of paediatrics ED. She told me I would make a fantastic doctor. That evening, I found passion coursing through me as it had back when I first started.
“Imposter Syndrome” was a term coined by psychologists in the 1970s. It’s a decorative phrase for a common man’s problem – an inability to internalize one’s accomplishments. It’s what happens every time you look in the mirror and feel out of depth.
Medical students are deeply intimate with feelings of false fraudulence. But what many don’t realize, is that those feelings don’t always go away. As a student, I’ve seen the shadows of uncertainty plague even the highest-ranking doctors in the room. Coming into the final year of my studies, my biggest takeaway hasn’t been the brachial plexus but rather, the art of turning discomfort into drive.
The symptom, not the cause
As exams creep around the corner, an all-too-familiar truth is that wave of unproductivity that follows anxiety, self-doubt and sheer mental exhaustion. But, those feelings are the symptom of a much larger disease. Fear of failure and vulnerability. A fear that any second, someone will show up at your door telling you that your time is up. Fear of not belonging. We expect to drown those feelings out without ever noticing that in being shackled to them, we drown ourselves too. As the future generation of doctors, we need to embrace the uncertainty and the humility that it brings. Second-guessing yourself isn’t always a bad thing. It means being more thorough and taking the time your patients deserve. Some may say, in searching for optimistic reasoning, that I’m forcing a glass half-full; I don’t see a glass at all.
Asset or assailant?
Imposter syndrome, like the name suggests, can be a chronic problem. And as we’re taught, chronic conditions can be crippling. It can take over every aspect of your life, from work to family and friends. Feeling like a fraud can shelter you from new opportunities. It can result in you looking back, 10 years on, wishing you had done things differently. But what else are we taught about chronic diseases? With the right management, patients can live long, healthy, happy lives. The same rings true for Imposter Syndrome. Our perception shapes our reality and how we choose to gain from these inescapable feelings will pave the path for the doctors we become. Next time you find yourself feeling less than, ask yourself why? Look at a picture of yourself from when you were a little child. Would you talk to them the way you talk to yourself now?
Imposter Syndrome can drive ambition, desire and discipline. Use it as a motivational crutch. Or better yet, use it as a testament to your drive. Remind yourself that while those feelings aren’t new, neither is your ability to overcome difficulty.
As I move closer to the end of my days at medical school, I’m reminded of how uncertain I felt at the beginning of it all. I’ve learnt so much. But the one thing medical school never taught me is that anyone can, on any given day, revamp their mental dialogue. The fact is, you’re good at what you do. Even if nobody else takes the time to remind you.