Guest Opinion | The Doctor is In: Tips from a medical student on how to fight imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is common when students enter college, but there are steps you can take to be more confident in your academic journey.

Imposter syndrome describes a person’s feelings of inadequacy despite their many achievements and accolades.

This affects many students as they enroll in a professional or graduate program — first-generation, non-traditional, and students of color entering higher education also report experiencing imposter syndrome at higher rates. This may be because these demographics are not commonly represented within the faculty in higher education. Of all full-time faculty in degree-granting post-secondary institutions in fall 2018, 7 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander males, 5 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander females, and only 3 percent each were Black males, Black females, Hispanic males, and Hispanic females, according to the National Center of Educational Statistics.

Imposter syndrome is rooted in the context of our productivity-driven culture. We emphasize productivity above other values and believe that if we are not achieving at the same level that we perceive those around us to be, we are simply not maximizing our productivity. This can lead to an endless cycle of work, frustration, and comparison instead of growth, and self-reflection. While I have by no means conquered my own imposter syndrome as a medical student, these are some tips that have helped me feel more comfortable in my journey:

  1. Treat yourself as a Friend

While this sounds cheesy, it’s important we treat ourselves like we would treat a friend during times of distress or when feelings of incapability surface. When we comfort friends, we remind them of their past achievements and amplify their positive qualities. Yet, we let ourselves indulge in negative thoughts. Too often, we breeze past our accomplishments, in search of the next big goal, without taking time to reward ourselves with relaxation and fulfillment.

  1. Reflect.

If you are more of a logical thinker, it can help to reflect on your academic journey. Remember, someone specifically chose you to be here because they believed in your ability to succeed. For example, for medical school this process consists of a common application consisting of a plethora of extracurricular activities, GPA, MCAT, a secondary application, and an interview. This is not a process designed to let people slip through the cracks. If you were chosen among the thousands of other applicants, there was a reason.

  1. Ask for help

Sometimes there are qualms that can only be resolved by talking to other people, including friends. There will never be a time when you have as many resources at your fingertips than when you are in school, so take advantage of them. The University of Iowa offers counseling services and opportunities to meet with academic advisors or faculty in your program. Regardless of who you turn to, never be ashamed to seek help.

Higher education, especially during a pandemic, can create an environment of stress and comparison. Don’t let your mind take advantage of these feelings and trick you into believing you don’t belong. You are on the path you need to be, and you have all the tools at your disposal for success.

To schedule an appointment at University Counseling Services you can call (319)-335-7294, or email [email protected]

                        -Megan Sinik, MD Candidate, Class of 2024

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