There are over 100,000 medical practitioners in Australia, and in a measly 1.5 years I will be joining the ranks of one of the most respected careers in society. And yet, I feel like a fraud.
For those who don’t know me, I am postgraduate student currently studying medicine in Melbourne. I have a Bachelor of Biomedicine under my belt and and am currently in my third year of a four year course. At the end of 2020 (assuming things go to plan), I will become a doctor.
Don’t get me wrong, I am excited to finally be able to put my university days behind me and actually earn real money. I am looking forward to not constantly hearing about the Kreb’s cycle and introducing myself as “a medical student.” But this excitement is folded within an intense fear of incompetency, and that somehow I will do things wrong.
Now I know it is an irrational fear, and it has conveniently been coined the “Imposter syndrome.” It is a psychological phenomenon where an individual doubts the validity of their accomplishments and lives with the permanent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’ It’s comforting to know that in order for such a term to exist there must be plenty of people who feel the same way. And yet it’s a feeling of being alone. Of being the only who doesn’t belong. Why do I feel this way? I achieved an ATAR of 99.70, I am in one of the most exclusive courses and my marks have never been that terrible. And yet, everything is relative. I live in a perpetual state of FOMO, that there’s always some knowledge that everyone but me knows. When a lecturer asks a question and somehow half the room seems to become experts in the field whilst I have never even heard of the term before. When a consultant on the ward round asks a question that I think surely we shouldn’t be expected to know that and then someone delivers a textbook perfect monologue of the answer. Or when we speak to interns who are merely 18 months ahead of us and yet there seems to be a canyon deep worth of knowledge that exists between us. There’s no way I’d be able to do what they are doing when I graduate. To me, it seems unfathomable that I will be able to handle the responsibility of other strangers’ lives in my hands. To listen to their lungs and confidently say, this person has pneumonia. To chart the right prescription. To diagnose with cancer. Decisions that could kill. I genuinely don’t believe I have the skills necessary, and am unsure that suddenly at the end of this 7 year long journey as I emerge with my graduation cap on I can walk into a hospital and care for a patient without completely crumbling.
There are days where I regret this pathway, because it is a lifelong learning course that does not stabilise until many of us are nearing middle age. It sounds narcissistic I know, but sometimes I wish I wasn’t as academically high achieving and could live in ignorant bliss of how gruelling this course could be. Sometimes I wish I had chosen an easier degree, and simply lived comfortably and stress-free with little fear of “Who could I accidentally kill today?”
But I am exaggerating. I know that junior doctors are given a lot of support and rarely make live-changing decisions without the guidance of a senior. I know that in reality, I am not as incompetent as I think and probably know a lot more than I give myself credit for. And I know that many of my peers are in the same boat. It is a terrifying process transitioning from a student whom has no responsibility and can abandon ship and sneak away without a care in the world, to an intern who suddenly is the one who has to face the unwell patient desperately seeking help. We all go through it, and there is no reason I won’t make it out alive. Yes I will make mistakes, yes I will probably feel as if it is all too much at times, and yes it is unlikely this fear will ever dissipate. But as Nelson Mandela once said, “courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”