Imposter syndrome

Impostor syndrome is a collections of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite clear evidence of professional success. It happens when the individual has the skills, but gets trapped in thoughts that they are not competent. Those thoughts generate a lot of anxiety. This can then lead to confirmation bias, when every knock-back is interpreted as further evidence that they are not competent, despite the fact that everyone else faces exactly the same challenges. Even worse, not feeling confident can actually negatively influence your performance. Those with imposter syndrome are not able to accurately relate their success to their competence, instead attributing it to luck. It may co-exist with anxiety or depression, and is also associated with burnout, low job satisfaction and poor workplace performance.

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Impostor syndrome is common in high-achieving and highly-successful people. It is probably more common than we recognise. One review found it in 75% in clinical nurse specialists and in 44% of internal medicine trainees, whilst another found it in 22% to 60% of doctors and medical students.

As healthcare professionals, we are expected to know everything, be certain, and supremely confident at all times. We rarely talk about our worries, feelings of inadequacy, and the anxiety of having to get it right. Impostor syndrome isn’t a medical diagnosis, but it is a common thing that affects many of us.

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