In general, I’ve rarely experienced failure and even in most of those cases, rarely completely felt it. I never struggled in school, never struggled at work, I just kinda did it. I worked hard and generally that was all I needed to graduate at the top of my class (Magna Cum Laude in college), to get into and complete Medical School (in the bottom 50% of my class) and to finish Residency (pass/fail). However, over the years the feelings of Imposter Syndrome has slowly been setting in and become drastically concerning and apparent, particularly in the last year or two since leaving the training setting. I doubt myself and wonder if I do deserve to be doing what I do. I’m not always sure I have the right answers, most of the time I’m not, and I feel as if there are more times than not where I am floundering along, a little lost. So when I am called for help and I am met with a personal failure, it compounds all of these feelings and pushes me back mentally several steps.
Recently, I had an unexpected premature delivery (between 2.5-3 lbs) and failed at an intubation that a year ago, at the peak of my training, would have seemingly been a breeze. It was the first time in my actual professional Attending career that I’d been faced with this tough procedure and although i’ve envisioned it in my head for months and years, It didn’t go as planned. The outcome was well thanks to a good team and in the end, I suppose that’s the most important thing that matters; but, it further led me to a question of whether or not I belong where I am or if I deserve to be doing what I’m doing. At this job in particular, the entire reason they had me around, was FOR the resuscitation. Residency wasn’t designed to make experienced practitioners, it was designed to make a foundation for tools and continual education moving forward, to give basics to be built upon throughout years moreso of training. As in any job, at some point you hope that the amount of time you’ve been doing the job outpaces, by multiples, the amount of time you invested preparing for the job. But, the feelings and images of the last time I was tasked with this kind of procedure, it felt natural and deserving… This, did not.
I’ve worked years to do what i do, taken several tests over 8 hours in continual length and spent thousands, yes thousands, of hours studying in coffee shops or wandering the hospital wards trying to learn and/or perfect my supposed craft. Yet, at the end of the day, so frequently I am stuck with being lost and unsure. No amount of training, I suppose, really gives you all of the comfort or confidence or tools to know or do everything, not that it’s supposed to, yet battling these feelings of mediocrity and undeserved respect is never taught.
I suppose “you can’t expect to do something perfectly that you do infrequently” to quote one of my mentors a former Neonatology Fellow and now brilliant Neonatology Attending, but it makes me wonder if I’m actually contributing anything to anyone at this point. Sometimes I am lucky and parents come back to me to thank me for my services. From time to time, I have had patients come back to see me in Clinic or I’ve followed up down the line, and, at the least, I didn’t kill them… But, as is with a lot of Pediatrics, I wonder if my interventions or my words actually made a whole lot of a difference or if they were more of an unprecedented roadblock that only ended up being temporary because my patient or family fixed the problem themselves.
It is hard after dedicating 3 decades to becoming a Doctor to feel inadequate, undeserving or inept. Superficially, I feel as if my words occasionally make a ripple towards affecting the lives of others in a positive manner, but I am never sure. I suppose my feelings are natural, especially with the large acceptance of conversations on mental health and philosophy for my generation. I’ve been given a lot of respect for being what I Am, but It may take years before I wonder if I deserve it for what I Do.