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The Imposter

Have you ever had the feeling that you do not belong? Have you ever had thoughts of inadequacy when around a large group of prestigious people? Have you ever felt like you are not as smart or as capable as your peers?

If so, please know that you are not alone, and in fact, this is an extremely normal phenomenon called imposter syndrome that many high-achieving students from underrepresented backgrounds face. Imposter syndrome can take hold and create anxiety surrounding your education and social situations, and this makes you feel like you simply got lucky to be in the position you are in. As an “imposter,” one may suffer from a sense of intellectual deception that supersedes any external validity or proof of competency. Imposters often are unable to embody their accomplishments and feel like they do not deserve their success or professional achievement.

As a first-generation college student from a rural community, I remember the first time I proudly put on my white coat, eager to begin my journey as a medical student. However, that moment did not prepare me for the several days of uncertainty, feelings of inadequacy, and the challenge of finding my identity in the mix of it all. Throughout the first two years of medical school, I struggled to find who I truly was outside of my family, friend group, and athletic career. I was not confident in my endeavors, as I was beginning to question my purpose within medicine and doubting if I could make a difference in this world. While serving in a multitude of leadership positions I often strived for perfection, which resulted in being too hard on myself and negative self-talk whenever I made a mistake. I often felt as if I just lucked out and did not deserve to hold such capacities or titles.

My turning point came one particular evening at a formal banquet, where I was surrounded by world-renowned physicians and individuals of utmost importance. I remember feeling that I did not belong in the same room as them. I stumbled across my words and overanalyzed every conversation until the night was over, where I sat in my car wondering if I was good enough for this career path. With tear-filled eyes, I called my family to see what could possibly be wrong with me. It seemed as if no one understood what I was experiencing and felt as if I was selfish for not appreciating the gift of professional education.

During my third year, I realized that I had fallen victim to imposter syndrome. Once I recognized what had been plaguing my existence for the last couple of years, I was determined to overcome it. I became cognizant when these thoughts emerged and intentionally trained my brain on how to approach such thoughts and situations. I learned to stop thinking like an imposter and started separating those feelings from the concrete evidence supporting self accomplishments. I rediscovered my purpose within medicine, my desire to help those around me and found my niche. Through patient care and interacting with my peers and future colleagues, I regained my self-confidence and understood why I was put on earth to serve those around me through the art of medicine. When I became kind to myself, it expanded to every other aspect of my life, and I started living a life of authenticity and fulfillment.

If you are having similar feelings, please know that several high-achieving individuals suffer from this, even though it is not widely discussed. Rising up and breaking free of the chains of imposter syndrome starts with recognizing it within your life and working to free your mind of those thoughts. Every person you talk with is not overanalyzing your conversations. Your patients trust you. Your colleagues believe in you. You can do great things. You can change the world. You deserve to be where you are because it was you, who studied those endless hours, took each exam and earned each award. You are the one, who has the passion to serve and the drive to accomplish anything you set your mind to.

Image credit: mountain by barnyz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

CJ Hornback CJ Hornback (1 Posts)

Medical Student Contributor

University of Oklahoma College of Medicine

Hello! I am a fourth-year medical student from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine hoping to go into dermatology. I am passionate about serving underserved communities through the art of medicine and providing specialty care to those who need it most. I enjoy learning from my fellow students' experiences and hope to help someone along the way with my story.