Jan 14, 2012

The Imposter

I'm still a little surprised that my name badge says Doctor. I've seen prescriptions filled that I've written, pausing momentarily to look with surprise and marvel that my name- Dr. A. Kennard- is on the label. And not as the patient. It's in the top corner; the doctor's spot on the label. I'm always surprised in the operating room when I say "knife, please" and they hand it over.

My mother laughs, and tells me I have Imposter Syndrome. She says its common in young professionals, and probably most so with a very important job, as I have. So, I looked it up. I thought she was making it up, but apparently it is actually a described and studied entity. Imposter Syndrome is described as " is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence [ie, my name badge], those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. It is commonly associated with academics and is widely found among graduate students and especially in high-achieving women" (Clance, et al, 1978 and Lucas, 2008).

Huh. I wasn't aware I had given consent for researchers to observe me and exactly describe my thoughts and behavior.

I think part of my reluctance to realize my success is that I am in a group in which I am very, very average. I am definitely not the smartest. I am not the prettiest. I am not the most athletic, the thinnest, the tallest, the shortest, the hardest-studying. I am probably not the most insecure. And I'm quite sure I am not the only imposter.

I watch in awe (and jealousy) as these residents give presentations at world-class perinatal conferences. They run marathons. They have beautiful, highlighted hair, smart clothes, designer shoes and bags, toned arms, tight abs. They are mothers. They seem to effortlessly go through working twenty-four hours with a plan to go for a run afterwards, as I am blindly grabbing for my coffee, planning a workout I won't do, and stumbling towards bed. They spend hours pumping breastmilk so their babies can have the best nutrition possible while they are away at work. My dog is lucky to get his scoop of dry kibble.

What normal person wouldn't be an imposter, wouldn't be intimidated, by this group and this job? But my mother points out, I am not a normal person either. I belong here too. It would have been impossible to fool enough people for me to be here just on luck, so I must be here on my own merit, despite my veil of inadequacy. And the fact that it took a prestigious residency- one of the top in the country- to make me average is pretty un-average.

I'm back in the operating room, after reading this research. "Knife, please." They hand it over. I look at them suspiciously and with surprise. Are you really sure you want to do that?

I'll keep working on it.

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