Let me tell you a story. I used to work in the field of radiology as a nuclear medicine technologist. This means, I used to inject people with radioactive material in their veins with a needle and subsequently take pictures of certain regions of the body that said radioactive material circulated to (like the heart, for example). I did this straight out of college and let me tell you, when I first started as a full-blown licensed and certified tech, I was scared to death. I had no idea what I was doing when it came to starting IVs and doing free-hand injections (and even labeling pictures and doing quality control correctly, ha-ha). The only practice I had with injections was sticking my classmates with needles in lab one day. I felt like a total impostor nuclear medicine tech. What’s more is that I look younger than I am, so I often would get asked how long I’d been working as a tech and would feel like more of a fraud when I told people.
Obviously, I was new to it all and did not know as much as my coworkers who had been working as techs for decades (and that is totally okay). The thing is, I was held to the same standard as my coworkers when it came to providing excellent patient care. I was just as responsible for not causing harm to patients as my coworkers were. You see, after you leave school, there’s little room for screw-ups—life isn’t graded so you cannot just say “eh, I’ll skip these questions and live with getting a B instead of an A.” People aren’t going to tolerate half-ass work, so you need to be on top of your stuff. In my case, a patient wasn’t going to feel more comfortable knowing I started working as a tech just 2 weeks ago. So, I had to get my stuff together and decide I was going to BE a wonderful technologist and make people feel comfortable when I took care of them.
To me, there’s nothing more motivating than having impostor syndrome and feeling like a total fraud. In my experiences, there’s only one way to overcome feeling like a complete fraud: be better. It’s really as simple as that. If I was going to become more confident as a nuclear med tech, I was going to need to improve my skills. If I was going to improve my skills, I would need to learn and practice more than ever. I would need to be better.
“Deciding to simply be better than you once were and continuously adding onto your base of knowledge is how the feeling of being a fraud will fade and how you will become more confident in your abilities. “
So that’s what I did. I asked myself: “what specifically is making me feel like an impostor nuclear med tech?” It was my injection technique, or lack thereof that would have me shaking in my boots when I saw a patient. Since my injection/needle insertion technique was my weakest point, I literally went home and watched YouTube videos on how to properly start IVs and do injections. I even took an IV kit home and would practice the techniques I learned in the videos using the carpet in my room (I’m not kidding, also don’t know if it was okay to take the kits home—don’t take things from your job!).
I would then take all of that knowledge with me and use it with patients. After some time, I got really good at finding veins and being quick with my IV insertions (if you’re not, you’ll be cleaning up lots of blood). I would even be called upon to help with injections for difficult cases. I also took this attitude with me into my other roles. I took a job as a senior data analyst and found that I had no recollection of how to analyze data or do statistics from school, let alone for work I get paid for (I’m not sure how I got hired either). Guess what I did to feel like less of a fraudulent data analyst? I went on YouTube and Google and learned as much as I could about statistics and data analysis! I even went to on learn how to perform statistical analysis in different software which added to my base of knowledge.
Had I sat around feeling sorry for myself and thrown my hands in the air and given up, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have today. I want the same for you. While you will never be in a position to know any and everything about a particular topic, please know that you should always be learning and growing. Deciding to simply be better than you once were and continuously adding onto your base of knowledge is how the feeling of being a fraud will fade and how you will become more confident in your abilities. Working on your craft is the only way to get better at it. Sitting there and blankly staring at your shortcomings is not. The key here is to snap out of it, and realize that it is up to you to turn things around and do what you need to do to not feel like you’re a fraud. You’re never going to be all-knowing (no one is, hence why doctors have doctors), but there is always room to learn more.
The next time you come down with a case of impostor syndrome, ask yourself: “What do I need to do to be better at _____ so I can feel more confident?” And then get out there and be better.