You’ve just performed the best surgery of your professional life. Or maybe you’ve submitted a brilliant study that will improve patient care. Or you’ve just opened a veterinary practise that is more successful than you’d anticipated. You’ve been congratulated and praised but you think you’re not good enough at your job and that your achievements are due to luck — that maybe you don’t deserve it.
Impostor Syndrome can occur at any time in a veterinary career. In fact, 70% of the population has experienced it at some point in their lives and many celebrities such as Michelle Obama or Neil Armstrong have acknowledged having experienced it as well.
It is a psychological pattern that occurs in response to certain stimuli. When we make progress or want to make progress in our profession, we may feel that we don’t deserve it because we are not good enough. This feeling can hold us back, generating anxiety and self-doubt.
According to Lori Kogan, a licensed psychologist and professor at Colorado State University, “Imposter syndrome is that feeling that you’re a fraud or that you somehow got this far because of your personality or by luck”.
What types of people are most susceptible to Impostor Syndrome?
- People who are perfectionists, are self-critical, afraid of failure, afraid of looking silly and who demand a lot from themselves in order to succeed.
- They are professionals who are up for promotion or in times of professional change. Transition periods can amplify the feelings of being an impostor. IS is very common in recent graduates, leaders and entrepreneurs, which shows that it can affect anyone, regardless of their professional experience.
Why does IS affect women more than men?
Generally, women are much more likely to experience IS. They are more sensitive to criticism and judgement from others to the point where their self-confidence is undermined.
In addition, society has traditionally raised boys to be strong, competitive and successful — traits that are considered unfeminine. Girls, on the other hand, have been raised to be empathetic, nurturing, subtle, quiet and unassuming.
Girls have been raised to be empathetic, quiet, nurturing, unassuming and subtle, traits that have become detrimental to women’s career development
These traits, which in essence may be positive, become detrimental to women’s career development when they themselves do not value their own knowledge and skills, believing that they are not sufficiently prepared to take on professional challenges.
If we consider that 70% of veterinarians are women, we can see that a high percentage of veterinary professionals are susceptible to IS at some point in their lives.
Further difficulties for female health professionals
Women in veterinary medicine are on a par with women physicians. The demands of the profession and the difficulty of reconciling it with personal life make both groups particularly vulnerable.
Both professions are based in a very competitive and demanding environment that begins as early as the university years and continues throughout professional life: research, courses, congresses, articles, competition between centres, between specialists, etc.
Balancing motherhood with work schedules or academic activity at the start of professional careers generates a feeling of guilt, which is also one of the factors that lead to the emergence of this problem.
Low self-esteem and high self-expectation create the need to work harder and better in order to be recognised.
Although it’s not a mental illness, this syndrome can be a risk factor for depression, anxiety, exhaustion and burnout, which can lead to professional inefficiency, higher absenteeism and an increase in workplace errors.
Other elements of the veterinary profession that can lead to Impostor Syndrome
In addition to being female, there are other career-specific reasons that can lead to impostor syndrome:
- The high standards required can make the inevitable “setbacks” of practice difficult to handle. Perfectionists are more vulnerable, as they base much of their self-esteem on achievement.
- Young veterinary graduates may suffer from anxiety when given big responsibilities. Without the support of a mentor, they may feel out of place, a very understandable feeling due to their lack of experience. This can have negative repercussions on their work and alienate them from the profession.
Signs that you’re experiencing Impostor Syndrome
According to Katie Ford, a UK vet and lecturer on IS, the signs that you are experiencing IS are as follows:
- Others may describe you as a perfectionist.
- You stay at work longer than is expected.
- You worry about “failing”.
- You often compare your successes with those of others.
- You focus more on what you haven’t done than on what you have. You have the feeling that you didn’t get what you wanted or that someone can take it away from you.
- You feel that your achievements were due to luck or that anyone could have done the same thing.
Side effects of Impostor Syndrome
According to Ford, the ripple effects of Imposter Syndrome can include:
- Anxiety and worry.
- Low self-esteem.
- Missed opportunities.
- Job dissatisfaction.
- Avoidance of new tasks.
- Career changes.
- Overwork and burnout.
- Feelings of frustration and isolation.
- Continuous worry about “being found out”.
What can I do to beat Impostor Syndrome?
Want to know if you are experiencing IS? Take the Clance IP Scale test for Impostor Phenomenon developed by Dr Pauline Clance with Suzanne Imes in 1978.
If the test results are positive, know for starters that it’s not an illness and that you are not alone. Many professionals experience it, women in particular: doctors, dentists, businessmen, sportsmen, teachers, etc.
Don’t try to “overcome” Impostor Syndrome so much as integrate it into your daily life.
Focus on the things that have gone well, be kind to yourself and encourage yourself to ask for help. Asking for help does not mean you are underachieving or exposing your insecurities. Talk to your mentor or a more experienced colleague to build up your confidence. Make a note of where you need to improve and where you have already achieved. This will help you increase your self-confidence.
Trust the process and with time and experience, things will get better.
Free resources available online
Katie Ford talks. https://www.katiefordvet.com/imposter-help
Katie Ford free resources. https://www.katiefordvet.com/imposter-hub
Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., ABPP website – https://paulineroseclance.com/impostor_phenomenon.html
- Imposter Syndrome in Veterinary Care: Risk Factors, Types and Symptoms. VetX International
- Imposter síndrome. What is imposter syndrome and how can you tackle it?. by Laura Woodward.
- What is Imposter Syndrome? By Katie Ford
- Imposter síndrome in the veterinary profession. AVA Australian Veterinary Association.
- What kind of impostor are you?. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified. Veterinary Practice News. Canada.
- Depresión, ansiedad, agotamiento y “burnout”, consecuencias de sufrir el síndrome del impostor en las mujeres médicas. OMC Organización Médica Colegial de España