Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Embracing Imperfection

A perfectly imperfect brown-eyed Susan.


To help with imposter syndrome, practice habits that increase your confidence.

It’s April 2020, I’m nearing the end of my intern year, and the COVID-19 pandemic is in its early phases. We’ve just learned about a new entity affecting children, called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), but we haven’t seen any patients with this yet. Until now.


I’m called to see a patient who likely had our first case of MIS-C. As I enter the room, seeing a rash-covered child and his nervous mother, I freeze. I’m barely able to introduce myself. The questions that were so organized in my mind come out as a jumbled mess. And as if it couldn’t get any worse, negative self-talk spirals out of control in my head.


“How am I supposed to do this? I’ve never even seen this disease before. I’m just an INTERN. I can’t even remember how to examine this child’s ears. Get it together! Why is my attending taking more of the history than I am?! Oh god . . . she’s going to realize I’m a screw up.” Imposter syndrome was rearing its ugly head.


Imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling inadequate, like a fraud. It’s feeling that all your achievements were due to sheer luck, and that all of your failings reflect the real you. This is more pervasive than we realize in medical trainees and even some experienced clinicians. It can lead to burnout, anxiety, and depression, and holds us back from reaching our full potential.


What can we do to make sure imposter syndrome doesn’t have such a hold on us? Here’s what I tell myself when I feel especially inadequate:


1. We’re all imperfect.

We each have unique strengths and weaknesses, and we all feel inadequate at times. When you remind yourself training and practicing is about growth, it can help you go out of your comfort zone and have better learning experiences.


2. Self-compassion is key.

Mistakes are inevitable! Instead of beating yourself up next time you make a mistake, talk to yourself with the same compassion you would give a friend.


3. Make it about your patients.

Instead of focusing on your own fears of looking bad, make excellent patient care your priority, and your own bruised ego will seem much less important.


4. Remember your accomplishments.

It may sound silly, but creating a running list of every good thing you’ve done, no matter how seemingly trivial, helps to provide tangible evidence that you’re more than your mistakes.