Episode 28: I’ve heard of perfectionism, but is the Imposter Phenomenon like being abducted by aliens? No, most medical students do it early in the first year of medical school and Pre-Meds usually live that way!

Listen to the podcast here…


If a physician is honest with herself, she will have to admit that sometimes medicine isn’t enough to care for patients.

There exists a chasm between the volume of information that one can apply in medical practice and where we live.

Medical students realize this in a matter of weeks once medical school starts – there is simply to much to learn!

In this podcast, I discuss perfectionism – a disposition to feel that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. The result of a perfectionistic internal dialogue in medical school is a conflict with reality.

There are only a few categories of responses to the overwhelm in medical school.

  1. Honesty with yourself
  2. Honesty with others
  3. A bring-it-on attitude (necessary for the most competitive residencies)
  4. Denial

A majority of medical students, I believe, are honest with themselves about this, but don’t like to talk about it with others.

Often, there is a delay in talking about struggling academically in medical school. It was astonishing to see the personality of my 225-person medical school class switch from being like regular, idealistic Pre-Meds, to being quiet about their grades overnight.

After the first set of tests came out, no one talked about them. I had a friend that aced all the tests and people got mad when he told them about it.

The opposite was more often true: students don’t want to discuss their mediocre grades.

The result is the Imposter Phenomenon: occurs when high achieving individuals chronically question their abilities and fear that others will discover them to be intellectual frauds (1).

So, what is a mature, healthy response to this type of stress? How will you get through it in a way that will leave you happy and whole all the way through the medical education journey?

This is a very personal struggle for everyone, and there a lots of things people do to cope. It’s easy to cite research articles that discuss every step of the medical education journey, but how does Doctor Dan really feel internally?

I have decided to be increasingly vulnerable in this podcast, so I’ll actually answer this question publicly. I’m about to lay out more than I discussed in the private burnout MP3 that I made available for members only years ago.

Here’s how I reckon all of these points in my own, spiritual life:

  • I am not perfect. In fact, I’m prone to do the wrong thing when left alone.
  • Of myself I don’t have the intellectual power to remember every single detail that will be important one day to a patient.
  • I will make mistakes.
  • I have to find a way to be happy with whom I am even though I can’t live up to the unspoken curriculum that states I need to remember everything.

This mindset fluctuated so often in medical school that I felt like I had Multiple Personality Disorder.

It wasn’t until residency that I came to terms with where to find that sort of strength – in spirituality, a Power Greater Than Myself. It was time to reignite my faith…

To be continued…

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