Impostor Syndrome



We have a test coming up next week, and it is a huge one. Normal and abnormal stuff for hearts, lungs, kidneys, and blood. There is a lot of stuff that is supposed to go right and a lot of things that can go wrong. (See? I’ve been studying!) The test is three days long, starting on Tuesday.


Around test time, every test time, I develop Impostor Syndrome. Impostor Syndrome is the feeling that you don’t belong where you are, and that you aren’t possibly smart enough to keep up with your classmates.

To be fair, I experience this sensation regularly – approximately as often as I eat Chipotle. (My inability to resist the lure of the burrito is, perhaps, linked to this syndrome). Mere months of organ recitals and physical diagnosis sessions with standardized patients have already inured me to the sense of a relative idiocy. (If you read this blog regularly, this should not come as a surprise). Usually I’m cool with it. Though on occasion, I pass a faculty member I know sits on the admissions committee, and I wonder if they think about that line from Anchorman: “I IMMEDIATELY REGRET THIS DECISION.”

During test time, though, it ramps up. While reviewing, someone might lean over and ask, “pop quiz: why can’t you give someone who has Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome a beta-blocker?” They are met with a blank face and a stony silence from yours truly. After a few seconds, the helpful med student turns away, in search of a more up-to-speed study buddy.

The following two minutes are a frantic scramble for Wikipedia (“WHAT THE HELL IS WOLFF-PARKINSON-WHATEVER SYNDROME?”) and old class notes buried in a forgotten folder. Eventually, I’d stumble on the lecture and find my handwritten notes.

“WPW Syndrome: ?? accessory pathway – AVRT” A meandering, squiggly line is drawn across the page, culminating in a picture of a stick figuring administering a cardiac thump to a lifeless body. Presumably this is the ECG tracing. I am nothing if not an excellent stick figure drawer.

Thanks 2013 Nate, that really helps!

Impostor Syndrome wasn’t as big a force during the last test, which covered microbiology and immunology; perhaps that’s because I developed a mild obsession with worms and identified my “favorite” bacteria, Pseudomonas. I sort of knew what I was doing. But this is way worse; it covers twice the material, is twice as difficult, and I know half as much.

The other heartening experience while studying is when you try to turn the table on a fellow studier, “enhancing their learning” by asking a complex question. “What would you see on a H&E stain of a renal cortex in minimal change disease?”

The friend gives me a look. “A normal glomerulus,” you idiot, says the look. Sh*t. Not up to par, but good job good effort.

Of course, many people in the class feel like this. We all have different strengths – Ryan the roommate, for instance, is a memorizing powerhouse – and feel more comfortable with different subjects. Eventually, we’ll all pass the exam. Somehow. Maybe.

And maybe they’ll let me stay.

6 thoughts on “Impostor Syndrome

  1. Pingback: Trauma Junior | Laughter is the Best Medicine

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