Up to 70% of women in medicine deal with feelings of self-doubt that best-selling author Jennifer Hunt, MD, calls self-underappreciation syndrome, better known as imposter syndrome.
“It’s the inability to look inside and see with clear vision the person that other people see,” Dr. Hunt explained. “So, if you’ve ever had somebody say to you, ‘Oh my gosh, you are amazing,’ and you shriveled up and shrunk and said, ‘No, no, I’m not all that,’ and come up with all these excuses, that is poor vision. You are not seeing what other people see in you.”
Impostor syndrome fuels that denial, she said.
Dr. Hunt, Chair of Pathology at the University of Florida, certified executive coach, and author of Unlocking Your Authentic Self, was the featured speaker for the CHEST Foundation’s Women & Pulmonary Work Group workshop Building Self-Confidence and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome from the Inside-Out. The interactive presentation on October 18 challenged participants to reflect on their own inner critics and provided tools for bolstering self-assuredness to quash imposter tendencies. The program is available on-demand to registered CHEST 2021 attendees until October 1, 2022.
While imposter syndrome is not unique to women — about 50% of men in medicine also experience it — it does contribute to the gender leadership gap among health care professionals, Dr. Hunt said.
“Imposter syndrome is holding women back from leadership, and I believe that is a really big problem,” she said. “In health care, about 80% of the workforce is made up of women and less than 20% of leadership is women.”
Among hospital CEOs, only 13% are women, she noted. And, despite about half of associate professors at academic medical centers being women, only 18% of department chairs and deans are women.
One way women can combat gender bias on an individual level is to confront the self-doubt that keeps them from being who they could be, Dr. Hunt said. When someone references luck rather than their skill when acknowledging their achievements or when someone turns down opportunities despite being highly qualified, imposter syndrome may be at play.
“Most of the time, though, you won’t be able to see impostor syndrome, and that’s because people who have self-underappreciation don’t show it, and they’re really masterful at hiding it,” she continued.
Imposter tendencies can be grouped into five areas — a mean inner critic, difficulty managing intense emotions, unwavering commitment to perfectionism, self-sabotage with other overdone behaviors, and extreme amplification of criticism while negating praise — and there are physical and mental tools for controlling them.
Breathing techniques and taking control of one’s space through power posing are part of the “bodyset” that Dr. Hunt said is needed to quell self-doubt. Other tools, including exposing one’s inner critic and changing the words one’s inner critic uses, help to establish a new mindset and new neural pathways to overcome imposter syndrome.
Most people’s inner critics are mean, promoting feelings of not being good enough and undermining self-esteem, she noted.
“You really need to get to a place of actually thinking differently,” Dr. Hunt said. “It’s about converting yourself into having different neural pathways, different thoughts that come out differently.”
ACCESS SESSIONS ON DEMAND
Registered CHEST 2021 attendees have continued access to 200+ educational sessions until October 1, 2022. Watch sessions on your own schedule and earn up to 50 CME credits/MOC points.
Don’t forget to claim your credit! The deadline is December 15, 2022, at 11:59 pm CT.