October 25, 2019, by mszrm4

Do one… Teach one… Feel like an impostor…

Dr Rebecca McConnell – GP and newly appointed part-time Clinical Associate Professor in Medical Education – now teaches on the Master’s programme she finished last year. She discusses her feelings on her new appointment, explores Impostor Phenomenon and learns about how mindset can help.

I have recently started a part-time job at the University of Nottingham as Clinical Associate Professor in Medical Education… but you wouldn’t have known it from my Twitter or Facebook profile [at time of writing].

Why have I been so slow to publicise my new role on social media? Or even mention it to my friends and family? I wanted to wait until I had been in to my new office a few times, got my email account activated and met my new boss. I wanted to make sure that it was actually happening – that they hadn’t made a mistake and realise they had employed the wrong person!

These thoughts made me wonder if I was experiencing Impostor Phenomenon. Also called Impostor Syndrome, it was first described by clinical psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes (1978) when they found that – despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments – some people remain convinced that they don’t deserve the success that they have. They often attribute success to luck or external forces, but internally attribute any failures.

It is estimated that up to 70% of people will experience Impostor Syndrome once in their lifetime, and it is more common in high achievers. We are, therefore, likely to see this phenomenon in the healthcare students and trainees we teach, supervise and mentor.

Chandra et.al. (2019) recently wrote a useful article on recognising and supporting healthcare professionals with Impostor Syndrome. They reproduce Chance’s original questionnaire (The Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (P.R. Clance, 1985)), which may be useful to hand to the students or mentees who you suspect have Impostor Syndrome.

Why is it important? There is a strong association between Impostor Syndrome and burnout, anxiety, and depression. People with Impostor Syndrome may avoid taking on tasks with high prominence and visibility and so it may prevent our trainees from reaching their highest potential.

As faculty, teachers and trainers, how can we help? The first thing we can do is recognise that Impostor Syndrome is common, and likely in a number of the people we support and teach. It is helpful to share any impostor feelings you have had yourself, to normalise the experience. When giving feedback, focus on the facts of their accomplishments and how they can be attributed to skill and ability rather than external factors. This can help trainees internalise and “own” their successes.

Strategies to Manage Impostor Syndrome (from Chandra et.al. 2019)

  • Recognise, acknowledge, and share feelings of impostor syndrome with trusted colleagues
  • Realise you are not alone
  • Ask mentors and trusted colleagues for objective and truthful feedback
  • Reference your personal career success inventory
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Maintain a growth mindset
  • Practice thought stopping  [Thought stopping is a self-practised cognitive intervention, aimed at interrupting problematic thoughts by being mindful of negative thoughts and replacing them with something more positive]
  • See a counsellor

I found the Chandra et.al. (2019) paper on Impostor Syndrome really thought-provoking and hope that it will be useful in the teaching I do with GP Trainees as well as in my new role – including module convener and pastoral tutor – on the post-graduate taught course in Medical Education at Nottingham.

Let me know what you think: Comments below or you can Tweet the Med Ed team @UoNMedEd


  • Chandra, S., Huebert, C.A., Crowley, E. and Das, A.M., 2019. Impostor Syndrome: Could It Be Holding You or Your Mentees Back?. Chest.
  • Clance, P.R. and Imes, S.A., 1978. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice15(3), p.241.
  • Clance, P. R., 1985. The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the fear that haunts your success. Georgia: Peachtree Publishers.

For those less inclined to read:

Posted in Uncategorized