‘Maybe I was never meant to be accepted into dentistry’: how imposter syndrome can impact your studies

'Maybe I was never meant to be accepted into dentistry’: how imposter syndrome can impact your studies

Maya Abdulrazak, a dental student at the University of Leeds, explains how she has been impacted by imposter syndrome and her top tips for overcoming it.

Imposter syndrome can be defined as when high achievers experience self-doubt about their intelligence, abilities or achievements. In relation to dental school, imposter syndrome can feel like you don’t deserve to be there.

Imposter syndrome has been with me throughout my four years as a dental student. This may have stemmed from the belief that perhaps I didn’t deserve my place on the program, despite the countless hours of hard work and dedication I invested to earn it. There has been a fear that perhaps I slipped through the cracks of the admissions team and that my accomplishments weren’t truly deserving. I would constantly compare myself to my peers who seemed to excel with seemly little effort, making me feel inadequate.

Even when my accomplishments were equally as impressive, I found myself questioning their validity in comparison to others. This cycle of comparison and self-doubt undermined my confidence, making it difficult to truly engage in my education and appreciate the present moment.

Valid journey

Reflecting on my journey, I feel imposter syndrome is particularly prevalent in dentistry. This is due to being immersed in an atmosphere where you continually connect with your peers, such as in labs and group projects. We consistently monitor each other’s work, and frequently find ourselves directly comparing our progress and abilities. It’s nearly unavoidable to compare my performance to theirs, and even if we’re all on different paths, this comparison has fuelled my sentiments of inadequacy.

However, I’m learning to recognise that my journey, though different, is just as valid. I’ve come to understand that these feelings are common and confronting them is essential to overcome them.

Here are my tips to overcome imposter syndrome:

1. Recognise and acknowledge your feelings

Recognising and embracing thoughts of self-doubt is the first step towards managing imposter syndrome. It is vital to realise that high performers regularly experience similar emotions which are not indicative of incompetence or personal failure. Recognising that many successful people suffer from imposter syndrome might help you normalise your experiences and reduce the sense of guilt associated with these emotions.

Furthermore, long-term management requires an awareness that imposter syndrome can remain throughout your degree. It is unrealistic to expect these sensations to disappear altogether. It is, nevertheless, feasible to acquire coping techniques and ways to mitigate the impact it has. Although imposter syndrome might change in intensity in response to various demands, obstacles, and accomplishments, acknowledging its existence allows you to deal with it head on.

2. Adjust expectations of imposter syndrome

Take into consideration the possibility that imposter syndrome will continue to continue you throughout your whole degree and into your profession, and that progress may not be instantaneous or linear. By acknowledging this fact, you might lessen some of the pressure that is placed on them to entirely eradicate symptoms of imposter syndrome.

3. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable and normalise mistakes

To normalise imperfection, you must first give yourself permission to feel vulnerable and then acknowledge that you have made mistakes. Embracing a culture of positive mistakes, in which mistakes are accepted and seen as chances for learning and progress, helps to lessen the negative connotations that are associated with making mistakes and foster a healthier mindset.

4. Find the positive aspect

Finding the positive aspects of imposter syndrome can be transformative, converting from what appears to be a hindrance into an opportunity for progress. Despite its obstacles, imposter syndrome has the potential to motivate people to thrive and achieve new heights.

In the context of dental school, for example, feeling like an imposter may inspire you as a student to strive for excellence, seek out extra learning opportunities, and gain a better understanding of the topic. By reframing your feelings in this way, you can transform your perspective from perceiving these feelings just as hurdles to recognising them as catalysts for personal and professional progress.

5. Recognise the privilege of your position

Reflect on the privilege of your position involves you reflecting on the opportunities and advantages that have allowed you to pursue your degree, such as access to education, and resources. You realise that your ability to care for patients is a privilege that not everyone has, and this realisation can instil a sense of purpose and confidence in your abilities. This can help combat feelings of inadequacy by acknowledging the positive impact you can have on others.

6. Don’t forget your hard work and increase positive self-talk

It is important to remind yourself of the hard work and commitment that you have put in to get to this stage in your life. Increase the amount of positive self-talk you engage in as a reminder that you have earned your spot and that you truly deserve to be here.

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