What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome Explained: What is it and do you have it?

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Have you ever felt like all your success as a doctor was a result of luck? Do you doubt yourself as a clinician and wonder how you even got here professionally?

There’s no hiding the ruthless demand, exhausting pace and high standards of Australia’s medical industry. When you are constantly surrounded by accomplished minds and seemingly ‘perfect’ people – it’s not surprising that the prevalence of Imposter Syndrome (or Imposter Phenomenon) continues to rear its ugly head.

In the final part of our wellbeing series, we sat down with Lysn’s psychologist Noosha Anzab to answer the most pressing questions from Australian doctors on Imposter Syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome and how does it affect doctors?

Essentially, imposter syndrome is the feeling of being intellectually fraudulent. It is a sense of enormous doubt – no matter how successful you are – that makes you think; how did I get here?

The phenomenon is relatively new and is increasingly prevalent in high pressure professions such as doctors. If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you may have an innate fear of being ‘caught out’ or attribute your success as a doctor to external factors or luck. A surgeon might be operating and suddenly think - I can't believe this person is letting me do this to them.

Is a feeling of inadequacy the only indicator of Imposter Syndrome?

Not typically. We recognise that the feeling of inadequacy can often be paired with anxiety and stress – particularly in the medical industry. Stress and anxiety are produced in the same part of the brain. So, if you have one you naturally have the other. If you are stressed out over time, you’ll become quite anxious. If you are anxious over time, you will become quite stressed out. People tend to forget that anxiety is very much a physical illness. Anxiety symptoms like excessive sweating, muscular tension or stomach unrest can be associated with imposter syndrome.

What if a sense of inadequacy motivates and drives me to be better?

There is a fine balance between the emotions of inadequacy and motivation. It is the type of inadequacy that really matters. If you maintain a genuine sense of self-doubt and negativity, it can be debilitating. On the contrary, the desire to do more is a motivating factor.

We all have a unique cause for action – striving for achievement or the desire to fulfil potential is perfectly healthy. You can be curious and driven, but it’s the positive mindset that matters. Complacency is dangerous to doctors. To be successful you must know what makes you tick – but it’s important to maintain a healthy drive.

As a doctor, what can I do to safeguard myself from imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a feeling, it isn’t a representation of fact. If you question your value and worth as a doctor, trust the fact that you deserve to be where you are. Trust the judgement of the people that helped you progress professionally. Shifting your focus from feelings and internal thoughts to factual information allows you to step back and see yourself for what you truly are.

Many people experience symptoms of imposter syndrome for a few weeks when they start a new job, whereas some can experience it for a lifetime. Being aware of your own self-doubts and inadequacies is the start to tackling imposter syndrome head on.

We hope you have enjoyed reading our Lysn wellbeing series and have learnt something new to help resolve any complexities of your mind. If you feel like you need further help or just someone to talk to, do get in touch with Lysn here.

If you missed some of our previous Lysn wellbeing articles, you can still read them here ‘Understanding resilience and happiness’ and ‘3 ways doctors can manage stress and burnout’.

At Wavelength we devote ourselves to finding useful resources to help our doctors professionally and personally.

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