Playing doctor

It’s Halloween, and everyone is playing dress-up. The funny thing is that I feel like I’ve been playing dress-up every day for the past year. I alluded before to how the practice of medicine is, in large part, about putting on a show, and I feel like, as a medical student, this is more true than at any other stage of training. We’re not only trying to convince our patients, our residents, and our attendings of how competent we are, but I think, to an extent, also ourselves. It’s no wonder that impostor syndrome is rampant among the med student population.

When I was doing my clinical rotations as a 3rd year, I was often told that I should strive to have my patients regard me as “their doctor.” It wasn’t rare for my superiors to introduce me as “Student Doctor” (which, though technically correct, is a title that is, in my opinion, designed to mislead patients) or “Doctor,” and I occasionally even dared to use the “Student Doctor” moniker to refer to myself. The truth is that I’m closer to being a “real” doctor than I’d like to think. But until then, I’ll keep putting on my costume and playing my part. Fake it ’til you make it, right?

2 thoughts on “Playing doctor

  1. Heh… I think it’s perfectly normal. I still feel like an impostor sometimes, after 6 years of working… I guess you just have to fake it then. And you probably help the patients more by being all confident, than saying something like “well I’m not really all that”. They’re probably run away screaming hearing something like that. ;)

    So really, you’re doing your job just marvelously, dress up or no.

  2. Your post reminds me of this specific quote that goes around in my field quite a bit: “Nobody believes simulations except for the people who wrote it; Everyone believes experiments except for the people who did it”. For people in my field (control theory), working with something physical is a really big deal because most of us spent most of our lives in the world of mathematics and proofs and possibly a simulation or two. But the experiments we do that work actually do work (for example, the DARPA Urban Challenge), but we’re all paranoid that the ones that work are flukes. Personally, I never feel like I’ve accomplished much and I never feel like I know anything, but I have evidence that I have fooled many people, including my own advisor.

    I think that with time, people will start believing their own experiments, and doctors will start believing their own competence. If you do not believe in your own competence, take comfort that there are smart people, like us control theorists, who do believe in your competence.

    My karate teacher says that impostor syndrome is better than the other extreme, because then you will always strive to improve yourself. Maybe he has a point. But whether he’s right or not, I’m sure that you’ll be just fine as a doctor.

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