As physicians, we are intrinsically considered leaders within our respective fields, and in physiatry specifically, we are responsible for leading large, multidisciplinary teams that include physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, case managers and others. Despite our evidence of competence and success, many of us experience imposter syndrome1, a feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt that can lead to hesitancy in taking on leadership positions. However, by recognizing and challenging these feelings, we can develop a stronger sense of self and become more effective leaders.
Personally, I have always experienced self-doubt, but I have been fortunate to have been elected for various leadership positions from a young age, including team captain, project leader, committee member and, most recently, a PHiT Council Board member. Each of these experiences was valuable and taught me something new about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and how to overcome them. As a team captain and project leader, I learned how to identify others' strengths and how to maximize them. Working on committees taught me the importance of clear communication and the ability to consider issues from multiple perspectives. Through these experiences, I have gained new friends, mentors and supporters who helped me develop the skills and confidence necessary to succeed as a (resident) physician leader.
When considering leadership roles, it is often helpful to start small and join institutional or regional committees to gain experience and determine whether you enjoy these types of responsibilities. As you gain experience and confidence, you can take on larger roles and others may even volunteer you for positions that you had not considered. If you feel insecure, remind yourself that others already view you as a good candidate for the role. However, if you lack the bandwidth, consider whether this role is more meaningful to you than the other roles and proceed accordingly. Remember that it is easy to bite off more than you can chew, so focus on one or two meaningful activities that align with your interests and goals.
In addition, if you apply for a leadership role and are not selected, do not take this personally or as a sign to give up. Rejection is a part of life and while we don’t appreciate it at the moment, it helps us become stronger. Sharing these failures with those who are in similar situations can also help others overcome negative feelings. On my computer I keep a “CV of failures”2 (aka anti-resume or failure resume) to help me maintain humility and show that success is not a straight line.
Finally, maintaining a work-life balance is critical for all leaders, regardless of the leadership role. Work-related dissatisfaction, depression and burnout are increasingly common among physicians, so it is important to learn when to say no and prioritize self-care. Remember that you cannot be an effective leader if you are not taking care of yourself.
In summary, acknowledging and challenging feelings of inadequacy can help us develop a stronger sense of self and become more effective leaders. Starting small and focusing on meaningful activities can help us gain experience and confidence in leadership positions. Don’t forget that this path is rarely straight and narrow and you may experience many challenges along the way. Finally, make sure that you prioritize self-care in order to avoid burnout and ensure long-term success.
- Gottlieb M, Chung A, Battaglioli N, Sebok-Syer SS, Kalantari A. Impostor syndrome among physicians and physicians in training: A scoping review. Med Educ. 2020 Feb;54(2):116-124. doi: 10.1111/medu.13956. Epub 2019 Nov 6. PMID: 31692028.
- Stefan, M. A CV of failures. Nature 468, 467 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nj7322-467a