Imposter syndrome: The struggle of being good enough
By: Student Med Life
Medicine for me is a struggle. This is hard to admit because I’ve wanted to be a doctor for so long and I feel like I work too hard and study too much to be struggling. I have a twitter page full of memes and gifs about my struggle as a medical student, but the reality is there’s a lot of truth behind the humour. For anyone who has followed me on twitter or read my previous guest post for Lifeofamedstudent.com, you’ll know that I originally did nursing and ended up taking a long and non traditional route into medicine. That in itself was a struggle! But I’ve had the most trouble with the idea of “imposter syndrome” – a struggle to believe that I’m truly “good enough” for my place in medicine.
Why not medicine in the first place?
This is one of the commonest questions I get asked. Did you not get into medical school and do nursing instead? “No…” is the short answer. I chose to pursue nursing as my first choice. Why? I liked biology in school, meeting new people, something different everyday. I wanted to be a nurse….but deep down I didn’t want to put the work into getting into medicine. My biggest fear was giving it my all and not getting in. That is the first time I should have recognised my biggest struggle was not with academics, but with myself.
I luckily had no problem getting into nursing school. I received my first choice of school and a really competitive hospital working as a nurse when I qualified. Saying all this, throughout nursing school I also struggled. Not with the course work, not with my preceptors, not with knowing what to do in high stress emergency situations. BUT with my emotions, my anxiety, myself. I was tired and drained. Often thought I’d never make it – yet I did. I felt everyone was judging everything I did – when they were probably rooting for me. Constantly, I feared I’d make a mistake, a drug error, a patient would suffer, people would wonder how I ever even got in. I took my fears and worries home with me. I let them affect my relationships. Yet, I never failed an exam, I never put any patient in danger. There was absolutely no reason for me to struggle, yet I did. Why?
I was rejected from medical school three times before I got in. Every year I didn’t succeed I somehow picked myself up and tried again, tried harder. I began to see my resilience but I still didn’t really believe in myself. When I got in I was a couple of years older than most of my classmates. It wasn’t by much but it made me feel like I was stupid, like I had somehow conned my way into a place. That I didn’t belong there. I didn’t deserve to be there.
“Everyone here got in first time and I’m so dumb I had to apply three times”
“I’m too stupid to be here, I’ll fail all of my exams and they’ll all pass and it will be such a waste of money and I’ll be in so much debt for nothing”
“I’ll never make it through semester one let alone the whole thing”
Yet here I am in my final year. I have never failed an exam, I have never failed a placement.
So why do I still struggle?
As medical students we put so much pressure on ourselves to be the best. We thrive in competition but we also burn out in it as well. We are too hard on ourselves when we don’t achieve anything but absolute perfection. I feel dumb if I don’t know something someone else does on rounds. The reality is that I most likely know things that they don’t and our study schedules are different. We’re covering different things on different days and at different paces. We’ll all know it by the end (hopefully). The only person who is telling me that I’m too dumb to be a doctor, that I won’t make it, that I’m not good enough, is again… myself.
Coming towards the end of my medical school years I can honestly say the struggle has been and is worth it. I wish it hadn’t taken me years to realise that hey maybe I am a bit smart and maybe I do deserve my place in medical school but I’m glad that I’m finally realising it now. I’m sure imposter syndrome will strike again, almost definitely during my intern year. However, through learning the role I play in my own struggle I can help stop from putting myself down. So much of the medical school struggle is internal. For anyone who is just beginning this long and hard path I’d wish one thing to them:
Be kind to theirselves and to others!
Take time off study, push yourself but not too hard. Please don’t see every classmate as competition but help the people in your year get through it with you. Finally, to all of the others that struggle – you worked hard for your place and you belong. You deserve it. Don’t let imposter syndrome take over. You are there for a reason and you are good enough!
Follow me on twitter @StudentMed_Life to follow my daily stuggles and share the misery, joys, and humor of life in medical school.
Check out my previous post for lifeofamedstudent.com: From Nurse to Medical Student – Lessons learned from changing careers!
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JAMIE K. FLEISCHNER, CLU, CHFC, LUTCF, PRESIDENT