The Imposter Syndrome I Didn’t Know I Had (Originally Posted to WIMSBlog)
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Women in Medicine Summit back in September. It was such a fun and enlightening experience! I wrote about that, and about allyship and #HeForShe in an entry for the Women In Medicine Summit Blog. I'll reproduce it here, and link to the original post below.
My initial prompt for this blog post was “why did I attend the Women in Medicine Summit”? The easy answer is that when Dr. Mark Shapiro says something is a good idea, I usually feel the same way.
More seriously, thanks to Twitter, I have learned from and been inspired by many women in healthcare and I was excited to meet them in person (#mottirl) while engaging as a better #HeForShe ally. That is exactly what happened, which rocked. I also figured the best way I could contribute to the conference was to bring along my favorite Woman In Medicine, my wife - Dr. Ashley Alex. That was fun, too. Between the two of us, I am the extrovert, but I knew I was a small fish in a big pond at the WIMSummit. I was excited to talk less and listen more.
In a hallway between breakout sessions, I found myself face to face with the one and only Dr. Shikha Jain. I geared up for my usual “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt, but…” figuring she wouldn’t have time to chat but I wanted to thank her for such a great conference. To my surprise, she spoke first.
Now, I am a cisgender, heterosexual, Indian-American man with the healthy ego that comes with that amount of privilege. I am a hospitalist, 3 years out of training, with a passion for reproductive justice and, since about February 2020, combating medical disinformation online. I am comfortable in my current job and in my little corner of the Internet. But at this, my second-ever conference as an attending, I found myself keeping fairly quiet, not always sure what to say. So when Shikha said “Hi, I’m coming to meet you because…well, we should meet," I found myself reacting with thoughts I had not had in quite some time:
What? Why?…I am just a schmuck!
Even Ashley, who has known me for a decade, when I relayed this story to her, pointed out that it was "weird to see this side of me." Prior to the conference, we had dinner with one of my best friends who lives in Chicago and he asked if I thought my COVID education posts were actually making a difference. I pointed out that I'd received a message or two from folks who had changed their mind and gotten the vaccine. Ashley immediately chimed in with "and he gets questions every week from people about COVID and vaccines and other health issues."
I did not even realize how much I had downplayed my own impact. Ashley was not having that. When I later expressed to Shikha that I was not sure why she wanted to meet me, our conference chair/WIM president was not having that, either. She pointed out some positive things she had seen from my social media presence and expressed a happiness that I was present at the conference.
This is a terrible article for the #WIMSBlog as I, a man, explain how two women made me feel better about myself. If anything, it was confirmation of what Drs. David Smith and Brad Johnson had stated in their presentation about getting men to the gender equity table. Women have been doing this forever - encouraging each other through imposter syndrome moments, and so many other things to lift each other as they rise.
As a resident, I had not done well in seeking mentorship. I barked up the wrong tree with a couple of male attendings who were not interested in mentoring me, while there were female attendings who, in retrospect, were mentors/sponsors (thank you for reviewing/teaching us those terms, Laurie Baedke) to me without me realizing it (not for their lack of trying). As Ted Lasso says, I needed to “woman up” long ago.
As I unpack my own mental barriers, I am inspired by the WIMSummit and the leaders I met. I have always found it easy to encourage others, but it's another step to recognize specific efforts and help others realize their imposter syndrome for what it is. It is my duty now to take those lessons back with me and make sure those I work with or train are made to feel the same way Shikha and Ashley made me feel. Two women helped me realize my own impact, and in doing so inspired me to wield that power as a better ally. Now that I have finished writing this, an expression of my gratitude, time to get to work!