October 18, 2020

Don't tell me....

After graduating from medical school, I moved across the country from North Carolina to start my residency in Seattle. My first rotation was in the Emergency Room. This would be the first time I would treat patients with an MD attached to my name after graduation. I walked into the exam room to see my first patient. She said skeptically, “Don’t tell me you’re the doctor!” I responded sheepishly, “yes, I’m afraid so”. How could she know that she is my first patient? Was it that obvious? Then she said, “Thank god, I have only been waiting 3 hours”.

I have told this story numerous times over the years, usually to med students, new residents, or newly graduated nurses, and I always get the same embarrassed giggle or gasp. We all start off with a certain amount of “Imposter Syndrome”, worried that even prescribing a patient Tylenol might harm them. Some have less of this than others, but the quantum leap in responsibility is real. Residency is essentially training on the job to help ease the transition from student to practitioner, and build confidence and experience. This is a harder transition than people realize and will always be challenging even when the residents work shorter hours than in the past.

As it turns out, Imposter Syndrome is recognized in many fields. Check out this graphic about Imposter Syndrome from the Visual Capitalist which makes interesting graphics. I am intrigued by this because I feel that most people feel our limitations and want to make the correct choices but don’t have enough confidence on our selves. We can often be our own worst enemies, especially when it comes to self confidence. Imposter Syndrome can be a challenge to overcome. Recognizing it exists is important, but often time and experience will resolve it.

But I am not worried about people who have or had Imposter Syndrome. They understand that there is always more to learn. They learn from their mistakes. To me the dangerous ones are people who think they know more than others, even when it is not their field of expertise. This is called hubris. To me, hubris seems the opposite of Imposter Syndrome and much more deadly. Options recommended by presidential advisors who have no experience in Infectious Diseases or Public Health are a big reason we have so many excess deaths from Covid-19, approaching 220 thousand as I write. Advice such as the goal of herd immunity by letting the virus spread is a deadly and costly solution.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, and call out hubris when you see it. Oh, and vote, our lives depend on it.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.