Graduating and getting your first job in a clinic or starting a specialised residency in a large centre is a challenge. The responsibility that every veterinarian (or any health professional) has over patients can lead to Impostor Syndrome: believing that you don’t deserve to be where you are and that it was all a matter of pure luck.
Impostor Syndrome is a psychological pattern that mainly affects new graduates in higher education and also, unsurprisingly, in a career as demanding as veterinary medicine. The questions “Will I be good enough to finish my residency?” “Will I live up to the expectations that are placed on me?” and the statements “I’m not good enough like X or Y”, “If I got this far it was pure luck – when they find out that I don’t measure up I’ll be done for and will have to leave.” are doubts that can plague us at any point in our professional career.
According to Arizona State University, “Imposter syndrome is widely prevalent within higher education, with both graduate students and faculty reporting significant levels of experience with the phenomenon” and affects almost 70% of professionals at some point in their career.
Imposter Syndrome is widely prevalent in higher education and affects almost 70% of professionals at some point in their career.
How do recently graduated students with Impostor Syndrome act and think?
Whether you are doing training, an internship, a residency, or already working in a permanent position, it’s important to understand this phenomenon, as it can affect your career development. Impostor Syndrome can manifest itself in the following ways:
Tendency to avoid new challenges. You may tend to avoid seeking new challenges or engaging in tasks outside your comfort zone for fear of failure.
Minimising your achievements. If you are experiencing Impostor Syndrome in any way, you will tend to believe that your accomplishments are a matter of luck, even if the evidence suggests otherwise.
Questioning whether you are right for the opportunity you’ve been given. You may have an inclination to wonder if someone else wouldn’t do it better than you, even if your academic record and knowledge say otherwise.
8 tips for overcoming New Graduate Impostor Syndrome
- Know that you’re not alone. Impostor Syndrome is widespread, from recent graduates to Nobel Prize winners. It’s rarely talked about because people who are suffering from it keep it secret out of embarrassment or fear of being found out. However, when one person speaks up, others are relieved to see that they are not alone.
- Keep a record of your achievements. Keeping a record of your accomplishments is more important than you think. You can use it as a reference for your CV, for example, or to remind yourself on bad days of what you’ve done and what you deserve.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Take on challenges such as volunteering to lead a discussion or taking on a leadership role in a group.
- Seek out mentors. Find a mentor to listen, advise and guide you on your academic and professional journey. If you already have a mentor, talk to them about your concerns. They can help you identify your achievements and give you support and guidance.
Accepting your lack of experience, finding a mentor and keeping track of your achievements are little tricks to overcoming Impostor Syndrome.
- Accept your lack of experience. When you start out in a new job, clinical training or new role there’s always a learning curve. Remember that this is normal and those who’ve put their trust in you know this. A good boss will not make you take on responsibilities you’re not prepared for. And if they do, acknowledging your lack of experience in a particular subject will demonstrate your careful and responsible approach to your job.
- Accept that it’s normal to make mistakes sometimes. Remember how many times you fell before you mastered riding a bike or skating. Try not to let the fear of falling ever stop you from getting back on the proverbial bike.
- Remember to celebrate your achievements. Always remember to celebrate your success, whether it’s with a friend, family member or classmate.
- Save a little bit of Imposter Syndrome for the future. Keep this little bit of humility to strike a balance between IS and self-absorption. Genuine modesty will allow you to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground throughout your professional life.
Want to know more about Impostor Syndrome? Find out in the HappyVet Project article What Is Impostor Syndrome (IS) in Veterinary Medicine
- Naser MJ, Hasan NE, Zainaldeen MH, Zaidi A, Mohamed YMAMH and Fredericks S (2022) Impostor Phenomenon and Its Relationship to Self-Esteem Among Students at an International Medical College in the Middle East: A Cross Sectional Study. Front. Med. 9:850434. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2022.850434
- Best practice: Developing resilience and overcoming imposter syndrome. In Arizona State University
- Did I Really Do That? – Overcoming Impostor Syndrome as A Graduate Student. Fatim Lelenta. In NYU Wasserman Blog.