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Imposter Syndrome

Neda Frayha, MD, Arlene Chung, MD, Mizuho Morrison, DO, and Matthieu DeClerck, MD

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Miz and Declerk speak to two experts regarding imposter syndrome and how it can affect your clinical practice and career path.



  • Imposter syndrome is an increasingly recognized phenomenon that negative impacts the careers of thousands of medical providers, and women are more likely to be affected than men.

  • Imposter syndrome is important because it can affect not only one’s day-to-day work life, but also the entire trajectory of their career path.


  • Arlene graduated from medical school, matched into a great residency program, completed a fellowship and became Assistant Program Director at at highly regarded EM training program.  She suffers from imposter syndrome.  Not only did her imposter syndrome not go away as she progressed in her career, but it actually became more pronounced.

  • We all think the sense that we do not have the knowledge, skills or experience to do the jobs we have been given is just our problem, but in reality it is a well-described phenomenon both inside and outside of medicine.

  • Imposter syndrome: a term coined in 1975 by psychologists and researchers to describe people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments despite external evidence of their competence.

  • How do you differentiate between a syndrome that is pathologic compared to a person who simply has a lot of humility?

    • The primary differentiating factor is whether or not a person is limited by or suffering from the feelings that they have.

    • Humility is something we should all strive for because it opens us up to learning and to experiencing new things.

    • If, however, you cannot internalize your own accomplishments, and are limited in your career progression or satisfaction, your humility has crossed a line.

  • Imposter syndrome is important because it can affect not only one’s day-to-day work life, but also the entire trajectory of their career path.

  • Both men and women are affected by imposter syndrome.  However, studies have shown that women tend to be both more intensely affected and more limited by it

    • Lind DS, et al. Competency-based student self-assessment on a surgery rotation. J Surg Res. 2002 Jun 1;105(1):31-4 [PMID 12069498]

      • Looked at multiple 3rd year medical students who were going through a surgery clerkship.  At the end of 8 weeks, both the faculty and the students rated their performance.

      • Found that women consistently rated themselves as lower than their male peers rated themselves, despite the fact that their faculty rated them as higher performers than their male peers.

    • When men and women are offered the same position, men will tend to put themselves out there, even though they may not feel prepared.  Women tend to be a lot more self-critical, feel inadequates, and want time to prepare, and therefore tend to hold back rather than immediately saying yes to opportunities.

  • There are likely personality types that are more or less prone to imposter syndrome.

    • Tends to affect the type of person who goes into medicine: high-achieving,  perfectionist, type A, anxiety-prone people.

  • Neda is the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Maryland.  She encounters imposter syndrome every single day: with medical students, residents colleagues, friends and herself.  “I have imposter syndrome almost every single day of my life”

    • Awareness is important in both our learners and ourselves so that it does not limit our careers as much as it otherwise might.

    • If we listen to the voice too closely, we limit ourselves and our own career paths.  We limit our growth, our ability to advocate for ourselves for promotions, or for new roles and responsibilities.  The first step to combatting these effects is awareness.  

  • The only way to get from where you are now, to where you want to be is to make a leap.

  • We are part of a community of people who are incredibly accomplished and incredibly insecure.

  • Imposter syndrome is a very difficult thing to get over.  It helps to know it has a name and that you are not alone, but these recognitions are not curative.  Sometimes the best we can do is recognize when it is there and then move on.


Book Recommendations:

  • Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett: Discusses imposter syndrome in a variety of fields and how to combat it.  One strategy is WWJD: What would Joe do?  Where “Joe” is a random dude in the office with tremendous confidence, perhaps more confidence than his abilities.  If Joe would go for the opportunity, maybe I should too.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon:  Discusses growth and breaking out of your comfort zone.  You can either pretend to be somebody until you are somebody or pretend to be doing something until you are actually doing something.

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Game of Imposters Full episode audio for MD edition 181:59 min - 85 MB - M4AHippo Urgent Care RAP - August 2017 Written Summary 290 KB - PDF