1 in 4 physicians suffer from 'imposter phenomenon': study

Physicians are more likely to suffer from "imposter phenomenon" — the feeling of being inadequate due to personal skills, ability, effort and competence — than other professionals, according to a Mayo Clinic study.

Researchers from Stanford (Calif.) University, University of Colorado Denver, the American Medical Association and Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic surveyed 3,116 physicians between Nov. 20, 2020, and Feb. 16, 2021. 

One in 4 physicians reported feeling frequent or intense imposter phenomenon, according to the study, which was published in September. The phenomenon is also associated with a higher frequency of physician burnout. 

Physicians feeling imposter phenomenon also feel lower professional fulfillment than other professionals. 

Women, young physicians and physicians working in the Veterans Health Administration had the highest imposter phenomenon scores, while older physicians and those working in private practice had the lowest, according to the study. 

Pediatricians, pediatric subspecialists and emergency physicians were the specialists with the highest scores, while ophthalmologists, radiologists and orthopedic surgeons had the lowest. 

Of the approximately 3,000 physicians who reported feeling imposter phenomenon, 40.4 percent reported minimal symptoms, 36.4 percent said those symptoms were moderate, 17.4 said they were frequent and 5.8 percent said they were intense. 

The odds for experiencing burnout were 28 percent greater among physicians with moderate imposter phenomenon, 80 percent greater for frequent imposter phenomenon and 113 percent greater for those with intense imposter phenomenon. 

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