If you’ve ever felt a wave of uncertainty wash over you as you sat in your office, wondering how you managed to scam your way through veterinary school and thinking that right now, at this moment, you’re nothing more than a fraud, you’re not alone.
What you’re dealing with is imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome can happen to anyone. In fact, as many as 70 per cent of people have experienced it at some point in their lives. Among vets, around 68 per cent admit to suffering from imposter syndrome at some point during their career.
In general, imposter syndrome is characterised by feeling doubt for your accomplishments and fearful that someone will expose you as a fraud.
Some specific signs that you’re experiencing imposter syndrome as a vet include the following:
- You’re constantly worried about failing
- You consistently compare your success to other people’s success
- You stay behind at work way too long, thinking that will make you more successful
- You’re a self-described perfectionist
- You always feel like you’re winging it
- You stress out about everything you haven’t done and never consider all the things you’ve accomplished
- You feel like you got where you are by sheer luck
The Challenges of Feeling Like an Imposter
Ok, so now you know that there’s a name for that feeling you’ve been carrying around with you since the day you graduated vet school. So, what can you do about it?
First, know that you’re not alone. Next, it’s time to accept that what you’re feeling is real and can have damaging consequences. Believing you are a fraud can lead you to do or say things that can damage your career, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let’s say you feel like a fraud when you’re with a client. So, you second-guess yourself when making a recommendation. But, it turns out you were right in the first place. Now the client has taken another route with a worse outcome. By not sticking to what you know was the right course of action, you set off a series of events that negatively affected your client, your office, and your reputation.
Even if you don’t end up doing something that hurts your clients or yourself, it doesn’t feel good to walk around second-guessing everything you do. Negative self-talk can have very real effects on your mental health. It can also make everyone around you start to question your abilities or see you as less capable than you truly are. As a result, you might resist trying a new procedure or voicing a new solution because you don’t believe your ideas matter.
Causes of Imposter Syndrome as a Vet
For many people, imposter syndrome isn’t a constant feeling. Instead, it comes up during different stages of our careers. So, when you start to feel it creeping in, take a step back to think about why you’re feeling this way.
1. The Dunning-Kruger effect
One reason could be that you’re encountering your archnemesis, i.e., someone who has what’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect refers to someone who has an inflated sense of self-importance.
You’ve undoubtedly run into these types of people in the field—people who make odd-sounding diagnoses with such staggering confidence that you’re left wondering what class you skipped in vet school to not come to the same conclusion. They make you feel like an imposter, even though they’re the ones who don’t know what they’re doing.
2. Failing to meet expectations
Being a vet isn’t always easy. When veterinary surgery doesn’t go as planned, or your suggestion turns out not to be correct, you can feel like a failure. In addition, you might worry that your clients and staff will see you as a fraud.
3. Believing everything you read on social media
Scrolling social media is the worst thing you can do when you’re feeling down on yourself. You can start to believe that everyone else in the world is achieving more than you. Remember that social media just shows us what the people posting want us to see. It’s not real.
How to Manage Imposter Syndrome
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to manage your imposter syndrome.
1. Get some professional support
If your imposter syndrome is taking over your life, then talk to someone. You can speak with your GP or call VetLife to talk with someone knowledgeable about the many emotional challenges vets face. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside.
Some vets may benefit more from coaching than medical support. In that case, speaking with someone like Katie Ford, who specialises in coaching vets dealing with imposter syndrome, can be immensely helpful. She also has online courses you can take at your own pace to learn strategies for managing imposter syndrome as a vet.
2. Be nicer to yourself
It’s easier said than done, but you need to be kinder to yourself. When you start feeling negative thoughts creeping in, stop them in their tracks. Come up with a mantra or saying, like “I am a knowledgeable veterinarian who knows what I’m doing.” It’s amazing how shifting your self-talk from negative to positive can impact every aspect of your life.
3. Ask for help when you need it
There’s a difference between not believing in your abilities and knowing when you need some extra guidance. So, don’t be afraid to ask a senior colleague for their advice or bounce ideas off someone in the profession. That doesn’t mean you’re incapable.
Acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers and turning to someone who can help will only benefit your career. Nobody knows everything! Why should people expect you to?
Sometimes the source of your imposter syndrome isn’t real at all. It’s time to take a step back and get to the root of why you feel the way you do. Trust yourself and your training, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There are many resources available to help you manage your imposter syndrome as a vet so you can continue providing the high-quality level of care your clients have come to expect and appreciate from you.
To hear more about Katie Ford and her journey managing imposter syndrome as a vet, you can listen to our recent interview with her on our podcast..