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The Imposition of Impostor Syndrome: When will we finally feel like we belong here?

INSTAGRAM @future.dr.sabrina   
Sabrina is a fourth-year veterinary student focused in equine medicine with special interest in ambulatory practice. She attended Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and is currently completing her clinical rotations at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Next year, she will be completing an equine veterinary internship in Idaho, as well as her Certificate of Veterinary Acupuncture through the Chi Institute. Her favorite things to do outside of veterinary medicine is spend time with her husband, Sean and their two dogs, Maverick and Goose, ride her horse, Chester, or read a good book.

I am not sure how many times I was told I wasn’t good enough to get into veterinary school. It was going to be a waste of my time and money to fill out applications. I should seek career fulfillment elsewhere. This judgement was reinforced each time I received a rejection letter from schools and admissions committees I had worked up the nerve to apply to. I actually started to believe that I wasn’t good enough. That is when the Great Impostor began taking hold in my life.

Impostor syndrome can be defined as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.” People suffering from impostor syndrome believe that their circumstances are a result of luck, and not because they earned it through hard work and achievement. They have a constant, irrational fear that they will be discovered as a fraud. This constant state of fear predisposes individuals to states of anxiety and depression, contributing to the impostor syndrome, and creating a vicious cycle that is seemly impossible to return from.

Back to my story. Fast forward, and I got a vet school interview and acceptance. YAY! I felt so lucky. However, once I arrived at school, my attitude changed. Suddenly, I felt like the dumbest person in the room, with the least experience, knowhow and confidence. How did I even get here? Every time I passed an exam, I just felt like I got lucky and happened to get the correct answers. Every time I was picked to lead a project, it just seemed like it was luck of the draw. If they really knew me, if they knew how much I lacked, they would not want me anymore. And so it continued for the next three years.

The Great Impostor had completely taken me over, as it has taken over so many of us going through vet school. And we couldn’t even console each other, because who were we to hype someone up when we ourselves were not even supposed to be here, and once the others figured it out we would definitely be kicked out?

That is what Impostor Syndrome does to you, and it begins before we even apply to vet school. The majority of us are too young and/or inexperienced to have figured out how to cope with failure and rejection, which is the perfect foothold for the Great Impostor to work its way into our lives. Instead of gentle encouragement from our pre-vet advisors and admissions committees, we are met with cold indifference. Of course, not all of our advisors are like this, however, I have heard experiences similar to mine countless times. The point is, real change needs to happen in the beginning to aid in the production of mentally stable veterinarians. We all know too well the stark reality of what this profession does to our minds, and what some see as the only viable outcome left to them.

I did not start to come out of it until I got into clinical rotations and had real patient responsibility and life-saving experiences. Even so, it’s a constant battle. What has helped me the most has been some of my clinicians, doctors and colleagues on clinics striving to be encouraging and lifting my confidence, showing me that I am actually deserving of what has happened in my life because of my hard work. What would it look like if our veterinary schools were filled with encouragers and positive thinkers instead of those that have let themselves become jaded by others in this profession, and they themselves pushing the negativity down on to others, and so on and so forth. The cycle needs to be broken.

There has been so much pumped out about the topic of mental health in the veterinary industry, and now it is time for action to be taken. A community of people that lift each other up has no place for the Great Impostor to work its way in. Each and every one of us, from the pre-vet student with a dream to the seasoned practitioner getting ready to retire, is deserving of encouragement and positivity from the profession that we have all chosen to dedicate our lives to. We all deserve to be here, and we all deserve a little help getting back on our feet when life tries to knock us down.

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