Fake It Till You Make It? A Reflection on “Impostor Syndrome” in Professional School

As a new semester dawns upon us, a new cohort of eager and motivated students begin their journey of professional school, in hopes of becoming (but not limited to) future physicians, lawyers, pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, audiologists, speech language pathologists…to name a few. We have often completed an undergraduate degree. Some have had to endured gruelling and stressful standardized testing. And all of us had to experience an exhausting and nerve-wracking interview process. But we are also passionate, dedicated, hardworking and motivated to achieve our dreams, no matter how long it takes or what we may have to sacrifice along the way.

So why did I feel so inadequate when I started medical school? What happened to all the self-confidence I had going in?

I realized I wanted to be a doctor in my 3rd year of undergraduate studies at UBC. Like most medical school applicants, I was pretty ‘Type A’. I focused largely on my academics, studied hard for exams, spent countless sleepless nights trying to perfect papers and lab repots, and did extra-curriculars I enjoyed, but also those that I thought would make me a strong applicant. I wrote my MCAT, applied to multiple medical schools, interviewed, and waited to hear the news.

The day I heard I was admitted to UBC medical school was the happiest of my life. I remember checking the results in my room and having a huge celebration that night. I was so excited for my first day, to start the road of becoming a doctor, and to see the payoff that all the hard work before was for.

On the first day, I caught up with a few friends who I knew from undergrad who were also admitted. But as I looked around my class and met more of my classmates, I saw all these amazing people who had already achieved amazing success in personal and professional lives. One represented team Canada at the Olympic games. Another used to TEACH computer science at Cornell (Yes you read that right), and another was married, had 1 kid and another on the way, and had the work-life balance thing mastered. A few were practicing pharmacists who basically already knew half the curriculum, and a few were nurses, who continued working despite being in medical school.

The more I spoke to other individuals, the more I felt that …I was admitted by mistake; that I was the average person they had to admit to show that “anyone can do it”; or that all the amazing applicants who were better than me went to other schools, and that was only the reason I got in. I felt like I was an imposter. I felt that I was drowning in lectures and notes, while the rest of my classmates were swimming along just fine. They seemed to always know the answers to my questions, and I never knew how to answer theirs.

I struggled with this feeling all throughout the first 2 years of medical school, and having spoken to a few friends in other professional schools, having “Imposter Syndrome” is not universal to medicine. It took time to accept and reflect on this feeling, but in time, I believe it has made me into a more mature student and will ultimately contribute greatly to my future career.

As a student admitted to a professional school, it is important to reflect and realise that you are there for a reason. It may not be, and likely wasn’t, the same reason as your other classmates, but you were chosen because of your strengths, aptitude and promise in your chosen profession. As a successful matriculant, you have to realize that there is no cookie cutter approach to selecting applicants, but rather, you made your own cookie cutter and proved that you had something unique and special to bring to your education, and to those of you peers.

Professional school students come from all different backgrounds and apply to those schools for a variety of reasons. Whatever yours reason for pursuing your profession is, don’t lose sight of it. During the hard, stressful and sleepless nights, it will be your guide and motivation to keep pushing. You never have to justify or compare yourself to anyone else other than yourself.

All professional school’s want the best students, but “best” is completely subjective. Your strength is very likely someone else’s s struggle, and vice-versa. Some people will know lots of things; others will know very little. What you or your classmates did to get in is in the past. You are all starting a new journey together, as a class, as friends, and as future colleagues. No matter how you feel, there is likely someone else in your class feeling the same way. But that is why you are not in school alone. You are all together for a reason – to balance each other out, to help each other grow, and to develop each other into the best that you can be.

As a wise blue fish once said,

“Just Keep Swimming”

And you will most certainly find your way.


Image Credit: Charlotte Brown

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