Ep 8: Proven Ways to Beat Imposter Syndrome
Today’s episode of the Dr. Momma Says Podcast focusing on some proven ways to beat imposter syndrome. We all have it. The key is recognizing it and working through it.
Impostor syndrome is simply the idea that you are only successful because of luck and not because of your talent or qualifications! It is a relatively new concept, first described by two psychologists in 1978. At first, it was felt to only occur in women but later men were also found to have the problem.
I never had imposter syndrome when I was younger
Although many people describe feeling imposter syndrome as a child (Like this excellent physician), I don’t recall ever feeling it until after medical school.
Before that, I was a super type A, hard worker who made plans and worked until I achieved my goal. After graduating in the top percentage of my high school class, I was accepted into many colleges and medical schools and completely felt that I earned everything I had.
Imposter syndrome made its debut in my life
After medical school, I moved to Hawaii, rented a home in the suburbs, and on July 1st, walked proudly into my hospital, Tripler Army Medical Center. I had lived this day in my mind, many many times! It was going to feel just like the tv shows.
The first day or two, I was on call. For those of you who don’t know what that means, I was the physician to be called all night for all the problems for the patients on my service since all my other teammates were home.
On that first night of call, in the middle of the night, there was a code blue. Yup just like on tv. Everyone was racing to the room, someone was doing chest compressions, the medication cart was pulled out, drawers open, I rushed to the bedside and asked “What do you need? What do you need? Let me know what I can do.”
Then I noticed that the world shifted to slow motion when everyone looked at me and asked ME what medications I wanted them to give.
I remember freezing like a deer in the headlight. What? ME? I looked around the room and saw that I was the only physician there. That put me in charge! This must be a mistake. I was new. Surely they are not asking me. There has to be some grace period to let interns adapt. Right? Nope.
I knew the answers because it seemed like I had done this a million times. However, it felt different when I was making the decisions without someone standing next to me, nodding their approval.
Internship imposter syndrome is common but does not reflect true knowledge
I went through a few more months feeling like a fake physician. I did the right things, all the things my brain told me to do, but my heart was scared because somehow I didn’t feel like I was ready.
This is why so many people make awful jokes about avoiding hospitals in July because new doctors are starting.
This is a sad way to think because there are NO better-trained healthcare providers in the entire hospital than a physician! Any physician. The amount of book knowledge we have stuffed into our brains during school along with the long hours on clinical rotations, we had been on teams learning how to think about disease and weigh all our options before making any choices.
There may be other healthcare providers who have worked at hospitals longer but make NO mistake about it: every physician has exactly what it takes to care for you or your family. Ask for your provider’s credentials!
Do not simply count the years that someone has worked, but instead, count their education quality, mentoring hours, and hours of progressive decision making they were required to have BEFORE making decisions alone!
I recall seeing other interns walking the halls, who looked shell-shocked. It is true that misery loves company, and I hate to admit it, but it made me feel better that I was not alone on this overwhelming journey.
Hiding imposter syndrome is common and part of survival
My Twitter page currently has a pinned post that describes my life: fake it ’til you make it. And That saved me. It can save you, too.
You are in a certain position for a reason, so let your brain take over and just do the job. Put on a smile on and pretend like there is not sheer terror just under the surface.
There are only two outcomes to these events. You either work through it and come out on the other side or you duck and hide and turn back.
Never give away your chance to succeed due to fear. That would make you turn back, to do something easier or safer.
Do not let fear control you. Keep it tucked away and cover it up with a smile. A smile is distracting and pretty much tells the world… nothing to see here. Everything is fine
My brain always was always ready, but my heart and soul just were not there, held back by fear. So I faked it til the rest of me was good.
You will know when you finally beat imposter syndrome
And I still remember when I finally beat that imposter syndrome, and it was glorious. It was during my emergency room rotation. We used to get military airplanes that would bring patients from United States territories, like Guam and Samoa. Places where healthcare was not as advanced as ours.
I felt equal with other physicians because everyone was shocked nearly every day when we met our patients and had to make treatment plans. We regularly treated diseases that are not seen much in the USA, and it made me understand how much we take for granted.
Like strep throat which was not treated with antibiotics and was causing something that I thought was only possible in my textbooks. That simple throat infection attacked the heart valves, and I would regularly hear 3-4 different heart murmurs in young kids. I was preparing kids for heart surgery due to damage heart valves…due to strep!
We also learned every problem could actually be full-blown Tuberculosis. How often do we see TB here?
I can tell you for sure that during that ER rotation, I beat that imposter syndrome and embraced being a competent physician! I made it and never had to fake it again.
Imposter syndrome can happen repeatedly during your life
Don’t get me wrong, I had that imposter syndrome repeat itself other times in my life, but I knew the way to win. You work through it. And you also need to recognize that no matter how many happy and smiling faces you see, many other people feel the way you do. You are not alone.
AND, no matter who you are, you may encounter imposter syndrome. Take the time to figure out how to handle it.
It is extremely important to NOT keep those inner screaming moments to yourself. That is not sustainable. You cannot beat imposter syndrome alone because it will consume you.
To successfully beat the syndrome you absolutely need a support system. Family, friends, or mental health experts. Anyone who can help you see what you are having trouble seeing.
Let me say again: You cannot do it alone. Do not try. It will break you.
5 key things you need to remember to beat imposter syndrome:
Recognize that you have it.
I had no idea that there are actually 5 types of imposter syndrome! This might explain why some of us do not recognize it in ourselves. Stop thinking you are just not good enough…because you are. You just have not owned it. One of the things I constantly tell my daughters is to OWN YOUR GREATNESS. And you should too.
Dig deep and find the skills you need to successfully complete tasks.
One step at a time. Whether or not you think someone will discover you are a fraud, just keep moving forward. Do the work. Earn respect and let your work speak for itself.
Keep a smile on your face and fake it til you make it.
No need for everyone to see terror and self-doubt every day. Save those emotions for your quiet times or at home. You need to instill confidence in those around you. But you also need to release those feelings in private or with your support system. Do not keep them in.
Find a few key people to unload all your insecurities and LET them pump you up.
Do not correct them when they tell you how awesome you are. Stop the negative self-talk. Others can often see what you cannot see in yourself. Let their positive words wash over you and internalize them. My mother’s favorite phrase to me was: YOU CAN DO IT. It worked magic for me.
And don’t forget to celebrate your successes!
No matter how big or small, they all count! Remember the glorious feeling of success because another imposter syndrome may be coming.
Imposter syndrome can be terrible for your mental health, so you need to acknowledge you have it, find a small team of warriors to help you fight it, and fight ’til you win! It may not be easy, but most battles are not.
When I decided to open a solo private practice I felt overwhelmed. How could I be successful? I called my mom on New Year’s Day to tell her I was quitting my job and was going to start a new private practice. She didn’t miss a beat. I thought she would caution me about the risks since I had two young kids.
But she calmly told me: “You can do it”. And then she added, “I’m going to send you vitamins.”
Yes, vitamins. She had them mailed to me every month for years! They were sent to keep me healthy, but they served as my motivation and reminder that I COULD do it.
So, go out today and find your person who will mail you vitamins.
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