Young Physicians Often Experience Imposter Syndrome, How Can You Best Support Them?

Posted on June 30, 2023 by Bob Leschke, MD

Updated July 18, 2023

When young physicians take up their first jobs, they have energy, commitment, the latest knowledge—and anxiety galore.

As I detail in my article Young Physicians—the Keys to Recruiting, Onboarding and Retention, they want to be team players. But, they’re often concerned that their residency training didn't prepare them well enough to work on their own. They're worried that you are going to regret having hired them.


“Imposters” in White Coats

There’s a word for this feeling—imposter syndrome. It can afflict physicians who are further on in their careers too, but it’s often particularly intense early on. Leaders need to understand the syndrome and be proactive in supporting their younger physicians, because given their intense need to prove themselves, they’ll usually show up to work every day saying, ‘I'm good. Everything's great. Don't worry about me.’

“Imposter syndrome can contribute to stress, burnout and other mental health issues—even in the best doctors,” writes Kelly McCormick on the support site for gastroenterologists, PE GI Journal. “Promoting better understanding of mental health issues, such as imposter syndrome, can help young physicians ignore the self-doubt that can hobble a career.”

McCormick cites a 2016 study in the International Journal of Medical Education in which 49 percent of female medical students and 24 percent of males reported experiencing imposter syndrome. With the numbers of women entering medical school and the profession at higher rates than men in recent years, this difference can seem alarming. “The researchers,” she writes, “found an association between imposter syndrome and characteristics of burnout, such as emotional exhaustion, cynicism and depersonalization.”

The Role of Perfectionism

Interestingly enough, imposter syndrome usually affects physicians who otherwise have plenty of self-confidence. What makes the difference, McCormick says, is the presence of perfectionism. 
“Most physicians tend to be perfectionists,” she writes. “Perfectionism drives smart young people to get the best grades, for example, get into the best medical schools, and win the best residencies and fellowships…. Young physicians continually struggle to be better, smarter and more accomplished than they already are.”

The downside of this set of attitudes, so prevalent in the profession, is that perfectionism causes “inappropriate worry and inaccurate attribution for their success. Many people with imposter syndrome are afraid of disappointing those who gave them opportunities; doctors with imposter syndrome may also be afraid of what their patients might think if they found out that ‘I’m just an ordinary person disguised as a doctor.’”

Make a difference with early career physicians in your organization–download my article Young Physicians—the Keys to Recruiting, Onboarding and Retention, for ideas on how you, colleagues and leadership can help shed imposter syndrome!

New call-to-action

Interested in learning more?

Contact Us


Tags in this post

All Entries

Get New Insights Delivered to Your Inbox