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How To Use Imposter Syndrome to Your Advantage

Wooden letter blocks arranged in such a way they spell out "Imposter"

“They’ll realize you’re not as skilled a surgeon as people think you are.”

After doing numerous procedures for over eight years, I still occasionally question my ability as I scrub in for a simple, routine dog spay. I don’t always think of myself as good a vet as people think I am when they come to see me and trust me with their animals. This does occur from time to time.  No matter how experienced you are, we have all fallen victim to imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome alludes to the belief that you don’t deserve the things you have or the level of skill others attribute to you. Your accomplishment seems like a fluke, and you feel like a fraud. According to research in the International Journal of Behavioural Sciences, over 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. It seems to affect women more frequently. Ironically, top achievers appear to be more susceptible to this feeling. Imposter syndrome may result if your degree of confidence is lower than your level of competency.

If you ever experience it, you may feel that this syndrome is crippling. You may question whether you are making the right decisions as a veterinarian. You feel like you cannot think clearly or are incapable of making an accurate medical diagnosis for your patients. It can be quite aggravating.

For years, Basima Tewfik, assistant professor of work and organizational studies at MIT Sloan, has investigated the phenomenon. According to her research, there is no appreciable difference in competence between those who have imposter thoughts and those who don’t. As we realize this, it can help us perceive this feeling in a new light. If you learn how to use imposter syndrome to your advantage, you can become confident that it’s not all negative and that it won’t prevent you from succeeding as a veterinarian.

Here are some strategies for utilizing imposter syndrome to your advantage:

1. When in Doubt, Learn

An image of a quote that reads "Imposter syndrome will not only drive you to be more knowledgable as a veterinarian, but it will also enable you to focus on risk assessment and give you the capacity to envision and handle any worst-case scenarios that may pop up in the future."

On days that I experience imposter syndrome, I find myself questioning my existing knowledge. I assume I haven’t prepared myself well for a particular procedure. I’m anxious about doing something wrong or having a procedure go wrong. 

If you have days where you feel like this too, try to sit with your books and learn something new so you can avoid thinking about how much you don’t know on such days. 

Some other ideas you can try: Enroll in a course. Obtain some continuing education points. Be well prepared before undertaking a procedure. Go over it in your head. Revisit past failures and see. what you can learn from them. Utilize this feeling to better yourself. Make use of the nagging voice in your head to push you toward your learning objectives.

Imposter syndrome will not only drive you to be more knowledgeable as a veterinarian, but it will also enable you to focus on risk assessment and give you the capacity to envision and handle any worst-case scenarios that may pop up in the future. With self-doubt, you take your time making decisions and are more likely to act rationally rather than acting on impulse.

2. Fulfill Your Ambitions

Imposter syndrome ironically affects high achievers and ambitious people. Although they are skilled, sometimes, they do not feel that way. If a young veterinarian looks up to you because you’re a great internist but you feel unworthy of their admiration, it tends to motivate you to put in more effort until you feel worthy. 

Allow your imposter syndrome to serve as a source of inspiration and drive you to move a little bit closer to your objectives and aspirations. Play into that ambition. It may be to your advantage to occasionally experience imposter syndrome since it will prevent you from becoming complacent. Complacency is the enemy of growth. Keep moving forward. Get used to being outside your comfort zone. Embrace your imposter-like feelings. Allow it to be your motivator.

A woman proudly holding a flag at a mountain's summit as the sun sets in front of her

Your sense of purpose will be driven by your incessant urge to demonstrate your expertise to the outside world. Set achievable goals that you can take baby steps towards when experiencing this phenomenon.

3. Be a Better Teammate

Imposter syndrome sufferers are frequently not egotistical. They are much less likely to act arrogantly because of their lack of confidence. When it comes to working in teams, this can be handy as humble people are more equipped to respond positively to criticism because they are motivated to improve themselves. 

Imposter syndrome might also make you a more effective team player as people struggling with the syndrome can feel the need to go over and above to impress other members of their team. Because that ridiculous voice in their heads keeps telling them differently, they want to make sure that people think highly of them as team players. 

So, don’t worry. Imposter syndrome will keep you humble and competent enough to be a good leader and team player.

4. Mentor and Be Mentored

You can feel like you are alone when you suffer from imposter syndrome. I most definitely felt that way. That is until I started working with younger vets who occasionally expressed similar sentiments. That’s when I understood this is a rather typical occurrence, particularly in our industry.

Virtually everyone is aware of how challenging it can be on days when you feel like an imposter. Find a mentor that you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with. Let them help you navigate your way through the moment. The same goes for the younger veterinarians in your clinic. Be the one they can turn to. 

Share your experiences; we can all learn a lot from one another. To learn more about being a good mentor and mentee, you could read more from fellow VetX contributor Samyra Stuart-Altman here.

5. Display Your Empathy

Close up shot of the word "empathy" highlighted in pink in a dictionary

Professor Tewfik discovered that “imposter students” were more sympathetic, better listeners, and better questioners while researching the phenomena among late-stage medical students. According to the same study, those who experience this syndrome typically have a higher level of empathy than others.

This potentially makes you more adept at communicating with clients and your teammates. It signals that you are more empathetic toward your patients. You will be able to take a better history and work up a case more efficiently. The next time you experience imposter syndrome and its pressure, keep this in mind. Be confident in your ability to communicate while you approach clients. 

Even if you feel like a phony, you will do a fantastic job of putting your clients at ease because empathy will show through.

6. Obtain a Different Viewpoint

I’ve discovered that taking a step back might be helpful on days when self-doubt clouds my head. Feeling under-confident? Observe someone else working. You can shadow a coworker or observe another veterinarian doing surgery. Just beyond the fear of being found out, lies the curiosity to explore and grow. Channel that curiosity and grow as you become more inquisitive and receptive to new knowledge.

Gaining this new viewpoint can help you realize that you generally handle situations and follow protocols correctly. You might even learn that you perform as well as, if not better than, the other members of your team. And you will almost certainly  pick up fresh information from them that you can include in your body of knowledge. I immediately feel more confident and can see clearly through the haze of imposter syndrome when I watch someone else perform the same task.


I once told a colleague that I did not feel confident doing an operation that was scheduled for later in the day. “You’ve done this before, he told me. You’re capable of doing it. Simply scrub in. You will be fine the moment you touch the scalpel blade to the patient.” And I did just that. As soon as I was scrubbed in as a surgeon, I immediately became the surgeon I am used to being and the surgery went well.

On days like this, when you don’t feel your best, try not to be too hard on yourself. Simply follow through. In the process, you’ll discover that imposter syndrome will keep you grounded and serve as a motivator to give everything your best effort, as opposed to being the barrier it initially seems to be. 

Embrace imposter syndrome. You probably experience it because you are highly competent. 

If you found this post useful and would like to access our comprehensive guide to becoming a successful and happy veterinarian, why not check out our twelve-module 'So You're a Vet... Now What?' course and build a sustainable career in veterinary medicine:


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