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Impostor syndrome is defined as ‘a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud’1 or an ‘internal experience of intellectual phoniness’.2 It should come as no surprise that impostor syndrome thrives in the intellectually demanding environment that is academic medicine: it is prevalent not only in medical students3 but also in practising physicians and faculty members.4 Even if not all readers may be familiar with the term, most should be familiar with the feeling.
I would like to explore the connection between impostor syndrome in medical students and the quality of their education. Although there is no empirical evidence to prove it, I propose that impostor syndrome can stem from a defective learning environment, where educators fail to guide the students from basic concepts towards complex thinking, presenting them instead with their own knowledge and blaming them for not being prepared or smart enough to follow. A second hypothesis I would like to introduce is that students who are most affected may be the ones most invested in growth and learning, and the impostor feelings could signify a tendency to simplify, understand and explain essential concepts. This belief was morphed by a personal experience, which I narrate in the next few paragraphs as a ‘case report’ that could benefit medical students and healthcare professionals with similar perceptions. Please bear with me as I explain how my passion for medical education came from my impostor syndrome.
Let us imagine a medical student having subconscious impostor feelings during a lecture where the lecturer engages in a fast-paced, monotonous reading of slides, …
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