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How can we fight imposter syndrome and emerge victoriously?

“We’re bad at owning where we are and actually recognising that we deserve to be here”

“Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that overrides any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.” – Gill Corkindale, Harvard Review, 2008. Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance first described this “syndrome” in the late 1970s, recognising that it affects men and women alike, with more recent studies showing that under pressure, men may actually be more affected. Feeling like an imposter can be detrimental to good physical and mental health. The feeling can creep into all corners of our lives but is particularly rampant amongst medical students. I remember arriving in Brno, fresh-faced and naïve, struggling to keep up with the workload but suffering in silence simply because the environment wasn’t equipped to help me. I would see those around me buried in textbooks, answering anatomy questions which would impress the teacher and leave the rest of us stunned. How did they manage to learn the information and learn it so well? I am definitely falling behind and I certainly don’t belong in a place like this. Dissection at the end of the semester proved no easier with people avidly drawing schemes and diagrams on whiteboards and glass surfaces as if they were on the verge of cracking the enigma code. My conclusion was that everyone had mastered the art of studying abroad except for me. Imposter syndrome grows insidiously. It festers inside of you and grows with each twist and turn of your life, with every new test or project. Without acknowledgement and taking action to combat imposter syndrome, one can quickly find themselves falling down a slippery slope. Imposter syndrome has been associated with psychosocial disorders, burnout, and bouts of depression amongst medical students and physicians. Fast forward to today. I still feel anxiety when it comes to joining new teams and accomplishing ambitious goals, but I’ve been so involved in extra-curricular life and have completely immersed myself that I no longer feel out of place. So, what has changed? I recognised that the root of my worries in the first year stemmed from a feeling that I didn’t belong, didn’t fit in, and didn’t deserve to be there. I had the view that because I wasn’t studying at a prestigious institution in the UK, I would always be seen as lesser amongst my peers and seniors back at home. I had the view that I was somehow a fraud by just studying elsewhere with the promise of a medical degree at the end of the journey. The reality, however, is completely different. I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor when so many others do not. My life is whatever I make of it, and not what anyone views it as. Finally, not only do I deserve to be here, but it’s a privilege to study medicine and work alongside friends and colleagues in both a professional and a personal capacity. How can we beat it?

  1. Refocus the task – To who are you comparing yourself? Why did you set out to accomplish this task in the first place?

  2. Stop being a perfectionist or a procrastinator – Most tasks will never be ‘perfect’. Focus more on getting the task done rather than making it perfect.

  3. Own your own successes and accept yourself – Stop with the comparisons.

  4. Rethink how and how often you use social media – Social media can be both a blessing and a curse.

  5. Take a step away from medical school – Take up a new hobby or rekindle an old passion.

  6. Be vocal – Find a mentor to help you in a professional setting or a trusted friend in a personal setting. Talk about it.

Deelan Vadher is a 4th-year award-winning medical student at Masaryk University. He is the founder and chair of UIMS, president of MIMSA and holds several other positions both in the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.

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