How to combat impostor syndrome

Gail Gazelle offers tips and strategies to help new dentists overcome impostor syndrome and find career confidence.

Gail Gazelle offers tips and strategies to help new dentists overcome self-doubt and find career confidence.

If you’re anything like most newly qualified dentists, you might have experienced feelings of ‘impostor syndrome’, a common phenomenon where accomplished individuals doubt their achievements and fear being exposed as a fraud. This feeling can be especially challenging in dentistry, a field that demands both technical skill and interpersonal finesse.

New dentists are often more susceptible to these doubts when facing new situations or performing unfamiliar procedures. Given that impostor syndrome is prevalent among high achievers, how can young dental professionals navigate these internal challenges while building a successful and fulfilling career?

It’s important to realise that the impostor syndrome is essentially a thought process that the mind gravitates towards. Equally important is recognising that many of our thoughts are not facts. This is especially true for impostor beliefs, which are often simply a fiction the mind has created. Given the negativity bias that operates in the human brain, you’ve probably noticed that these fictions are typically ones that pull us down, not up.

Modern neuroscience research validates that thoughts are simply transient mental events, not fixed facts at all. The human mind produces 10,000-20,000 thoughts every single day. Some are true, but many are not. Each thought we’ve ever had fades away, just like the clouds in the sky. When we remember this, we can hold our thoughts much more lightly and not take them as seriously.

Mindful strategies to tackle impostor syndrome

Mindfulness is a crucial tool in resolving impostor syndrome. It involves being aware of what our minds are doing. With mindfulness, you can understand your thought patterns and realise that you have a choice in how you relate to them. You can decide to put aside unhelpful thoughts and focus instead on all the ways you are truly capable.

To further support young dentists (and even those aren’t so young!) in overcoming impostor syndrome, here are several strategies that can be implemented:

  • Utilise mindfulness: gain control over your thoughts by imagining them as being just like the clouds in the sky: they arise, they pass through, then they dissipate and are no more. Utilise the brief meditation guide on my website (details below) to help you build this ability
  • Never stop learning: continuous education and seeking mentorship can significantly boost confidence and competence. Embrace your inner geek and attend as many courses, webinars, and conferences as you can. Not only will your confidence grow, but the knowledge you acquire will positively impact patient care as well. Learning from experienced mentors who have walked the path before you can provide invaluable insights and help you navigate the challenges you encounter
  • Take your time: mastery of dentistry is a journey, not a destination. Impostor syndrome can often manifest from the pressure for immediate success. Instead of rushing through procedures, immerse yourself in the day-to-day and absorb the knowledge and skills you are acquiring
  • Be your own biggest critic, but be kind: critical appraisal of your work is one of the most effective ways to learn. While you should identify areas for improvement, it’s equally important to celebrate your accomplishments and acknowledge the areas where you excel. Once something becomes routine, it’s easy to take it for granted, but it’s beneficial to take a step back and appreciate the bigger picture
  • Failure is a part of life: failure is inevitable in every walk of life, and dentistry is no different. Don’t take failures personally; instead, use them as opportunities to learn and enhance your practice. Analyse failures with your mentor to understand if your protocols were up to standard or if there’s an opportunity to learn from mistakes.

Overcoming impostor syndrome involves a blend of self-awareness, mindfulness, continuous learning, and self-compassion. By acknowledging and addressing these feelings, young dentists can move forward confidently in their careers, ensuring they provide the best possible care to their patients. Remember, even the most accomplished professionals in dentistry once started where you are now. Your journey is unique, and embracing each step with mindfulness and a willingness to learn will lead to both personal and professional growth.

For further information visit Gail Gazelle’s website.

Follow on Instagram to keep up with all the latest dental news and trends.

Get the most out of your membership by subscribing to Dentistry CPD
  • Access 600+ hours of verified CPD courses
  • Includes all GDC recommended topics
  • Powerful CPD tracking tools included
Register for webinar
Add to calendar