25% of physicians struggle with imposter syndrome: 6 notes

A Mayo Clinic survey found 25 percent of physicians experience "imposter phenomenon," a feeling that accomplishments are inadequate and successes are undeserved or due to chance rather than personal effort, skill, ability or competence.

The survey, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, asked 3,237 physicians about imposter phenomenon symptoms. Those who reported experiencing intenser levels of imposter phenomenon scored higher on burnout and suicidal ideation and experienced less professional fulfillment. When compared to other professions, physicians had greater intensity of imposter phenomenon than those in other fields.

"[System level] efforts should include debunking the professional norms and attitudes that cast physicians as superhuman, stigmatize help-seeking as weakness and position work perpetually above basic human needs," the study's primary investigator, Tait Shanafelt, MD, chief wellness officer at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Medicine, told the American Medical Association. "Such attitudes can be replaced with a culture of authenticity and vulnerability during the medical school and residency-training process — and, once in practice, to replace a culture of perfectionism with a commitment to excellence and a growth mindset."

Here are six things to know:

  1. Physicians reported their imposter phenomenon symptoms at the following intensities:
    • Minimal — 40.4 percent
    • Moderate — 36.4 percent
    • Frequent — 17.4 percent
    • Intense — 5.8 percent

  2. Women and younger physicians, as well as physicians working in academic practice or the Veterans Health Administration, had higher imposter phenomenon scores.

  3. Older physicians and those in private practice tended to have lower scores.

  4. When specialties were compared, pediatricians, pediatric subspecialists and emergency physicians had the highest imposter phenomenon scores while ophthalmologists, radiologists and orthopedic surgeons had the lowest scores.

  5. The odds of burnout increased with the intensity of the score. Compared to low imposter phenomenon scores, those with a moderate score had 28 percent higher odds of burnout, frequent had 80 percent higher and intense had 113 percent higher.

  6. Suicidal ideation also increased with intensity of symptoms. Moderate imposter phenomenon had 29 percent higher odds, frequent had 41 percent and intense had 162 percent higher odds of suicidal ideation.

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