Imposter Syndrome: Dealing with Feelings of Self-Doubt and Inadequacy in a Doctorate Level Program

written by Rachel Harrison, SPT

Imposter syndrome (IS): a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.  Imposter syndrome is something we have heard about from professors, mentors, and advisors. They tell us that it is a normal experience for many graduate students, especially those in the field of healthcare. They tell us that this feeling may stick with us well into the first few years of our practice. While this is a well-known and widely experienced issue for many students of physical therapy, it feels anything but “normal.”

On any given day of any given week, I’ll turn to any fellow classmate and we’ll crack a joke about how underprepared we feel for our next exam, clinic session, or rotation. It seems it is a constant feeling of under-preparedness, or lack of readiness, that weighs heavily on our shoulders.  All this, despite the fact that we have made it well into our second year of didactics, and may even have a 4.0 GPA. We perform well in the classroom, but this does little to nothing to boost our confidence as proficient practitioners of physical therapy. How can we best deal with this feeling of inadequacy?

An article from Psychology Today discusses tips on how to handle IS, and even make the best of it. First, appreciate your position as a novice. Consider that your perspective is fresh, and that of an outsider, due to inexperience. Therefore, the questions you ask may be very original, since you have not yet bulked up on conventional wisdom.

Next, try to shift your mindset from one that focuses on performance, to a mindset that focuses on what you are learning. Realize that we learn the most when we make mistakes, so stop seeing mistakes as failures or inadequacies, and instead view them as opportunities to enrich your knowledge base.

The third tip is to realize that perspective holds a lot of power. You may perceive yourself as the only one in the room who is truly experiencing IS, or that you are the person least worthy to be in the room. In reality, it’s likely that the majority of people in the room share that perspective, or have at some point in time. Realize that you are not alone with this feeling, that this is common, and that this is normal.  This third tip feeds into my personal experience in dealing with IS. Positive perspective has helped me deal with IS thus far, and will continue to in the near future. I had never heard of the term “imposter syndrome” before grad school, even though I had experienced it personally from time to time in the past. Thankfully, as mentioned above, our faculty was quick to address the issue of IS early on, during our first year in the program. Hearing this coming from faculty, in a non-judgmental manner, was somewhat comforting. In a way, simply being made aware of IS from the get go made it a bit easier to accept, process, and handle moving forward in the program.

 

The Impostor Syndrome and How To Handle It. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/adaptation/201611/the-impostor-syndrome-and-how-handle-it