14 Jun 2024  •  Blog, Mental Health  •  4min read By  • Gary Nelson

Gary Nelson muses on Imposter Syndrome in dentistry

Two miners’ strikes, power cuts, the UK’s first female Prime Minister, oh yes, and The Bee Gees were all over the pop charts.

And in 1978, psychologists Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes first coined the term ‘imposter syndrome’.

Fast forward 46 years and it’s a term I am hearing with much greater regularity every week in conversations with dentists. Just what it’s all about and why in the first four months of this year am I hearing it so often and from all areas of dentistry?

What is it?

So, in this modern world if you want to understand the basic of a topic better, turn to Google. Here’s what you find: ‘Imposter Syndrome – a behavioural phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals.’

‘Intellect’ and ‘High Achieving Individuals’ are two immediate phrases that stood out to me.

Delving a little deeper into the topic, I uncovered many interesting points including the five types of imposter identified by Dr Valerie Young (see below).

I could have gone on for chapters, however, these are my observations:

  1. It is estimated 80% of people have entertained imposter thoughts at least at one point in their careers.
  2. There are five imposter types according to Dr Valerie Young– The Perfectionist, The Natural Genius, The Superman/woman, The Soloist and The Expert.
  3. These thoughts and feelings tend to come to a peak when you’re facing a new challenge, starting a new job, or encountering new tasks.
  4. People with Imposter Syndrome tend to be perfectionists (ahh so now we are really getting somewhere with ‘why dentistry?’), meaning they are likely to spend many extra hours to ensure they excel in their field.
  5. Experiencing Imposter Syndrome does not mean that you’re a fraud or that you don’t have any business doing what you’re doing. It means that you are growing, learning and stretching. It means you’re opening doors that you didn’t even know existed, expanding your potential options for the future.
  6. If you do have thoughts surrounding Imposter Syndrome the chances are you’re probably doing a really good job. True imposters don’t often suffer Imposter Syndrome.

Points 5 and 6 are without doubt the most eye opening when you look at the topic from a positive aspect.

My favourite finding was absolutely the last one: True imposters don’t often suffer Imposter Syndrome.

Perhaps we need to turn Imposter Syndrome on its head. Everyone I know only seems to focus on the negative. Instead of that, let’s look to the positive aspects. By ‘identifying yourself’ as having Imposter Syndrome I would say:

  • You must be growing, learning and stretching yourself
  • You have increased levels of self-awareness
  • You are showing genuine humility by questioning yourself
  • You are most likely to be a perfectionist
  • You are displaying mental flexibility.

My final observation is this…

Try where possible to stay away from the “perfect life platforms” (I think they are commonly known as social media😉), both from a personal and professional aspect.

All too often it is full of people showcasing the best days of their home life, the perfect life and the perfect workdays, or their “A” case days when everything went just right.

Look to the ultimate positives. The people I have had chats with who identify themselves as Imposters in recent times are 100% not that. They are the most highly skilled individuals with the utmost humility who genuinely care for their patients.

You know, after looking into Imposter Syndrome I’m not sure I still think this self-diagnosed syndrome is a negative after all….

Gary Nelson

Practice Plan Area Manager

Gary Nelson is an Area Manager with Practice Plan, the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans. Gary successfully ran his own business for ten years prior to joining the team at Practice Plan.

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