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Overcoming the Imposter Phenomenon

What exactly is the 'imposter phenomenon'? and how can we manage and overcome these feelings?

November 2020
Allegra Wisking
UCL - 2nd Year Medical Student

Without a doubt, the medical school application process is extremely stressful and overwhelming, so achieving a place at any medical school is a commendable achievement! Despite this, it is all too common that we arrive at university feeling like we're not good enough or that everyone else is better than us.

Even before beginning my first term, I felt out of place. I remember one afternoon, a week before I was set to move into my university halls, I looked down at my phone and saw over 1000 new messages on the medic freshers' WhatsApp chat.

‘What pre-reading have you done? Have you read Gray’s yet? I started ANKI 2 weeks ago now.’

These messages flooded my screen. Were we supposed to have done pre-reading? I hadn’t seen any messages from the medical school asking us to do so. What was ANKI? Unsurprisingly, this made me feel very anxious and unprepared to begin medical school.

I soon learnt this was an experience known as the ‘imposter phenomenon’.

So what exactly is this 'imposter phenomenon'?

The idea of the ‘imposter phenomenon’ was first proposed in 1978 in an article by Dr Pauline R. Clance and Dr Suzanne A. Imes. They described it as experiencing feelings of self-doubt and the inability to recognise and celebrate your achievements. As you can imagine, it's an extremely common phenomenon and definitely isn't something to be ashamed of or internalised. In fact, a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science estimated that 70% of people experience these feelings at some point in their life (Sakulku, 2011).

I can assure you, if you're feeling this way in your first few weeks or months (or even years) of medical school, you aren't alone. I was surprised by the number of people I met in the first few days who also felt this way. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we did deserve to be at medical school - we had worked hard to get to where we were.

How to manage and overcome these feelings?

Firstly, it's important to talk to others about how you're feeling. It might seem uncomfortable or unnecessary, but by talking about it with your friends, family or even people you have recently met on the course, you'll develop a support system. These people will be able to provide the support you need to boost your confidence and help you recognise your amazing accomplishments so far!

Secondly, don’t let what others are doing make you feel as though you should be doing the same. Just because someone has already read the whole of Rang and Dale’s pharmacology doesn’t mean you should!! I can't emphasise enough the importance of getting yourself involved in freshers' events (even if they are virtual) and signing up to a few societies in your first few weeks. It’s a great way to socialise and really helps to settle you into university life. Trust me, you don’t need to be in the library all the time just yet - life is all about balance!!!

With that said, I want to reinforce that it is very normal to feel intimidated when you first begin university but you must remember that there is a reason you are there. You wouldn’t have achieved a place if they didn’t want you!


Sakulku, J. (1) “The Impostor Phenomenon”, The Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), pp. 75-97. doi: 10.14456/ijbs.2011.6.

Author and Editor: Allegra Wisking

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