Imposter Syndrome Among Minority Medical Students


Martha Gallegos, BA MSIV Deanna Gonzales, BS MSIII Vallabh (Raj) Shah, PhD, FASN


Imposter Syndrome (IS) is defined as feelings of self-doubt and fear being discovered as an intellectual fraud despite obvious achievements and qualifications. IS has been identified among high achieving individuals in fields such as medicine, with a number of potential implications including anxiety, depression, physician burnout, and other psychological stressors among professionals in healthcare. This study examines the prevalence of IS among medical students attending a United States medical school and recognizes demographic differences in those experiencing imposter syndrome.


A formal literature review was conducted to assess the current information regarding Imposter Syndrome. A survey was created that obtained demographic data and include Dr. Young's eight-question questionnaire for imposter syndrome. Students who scored greater than or equal to 5 questions were considered positive for Imposter Syndrome. Students were invited to take part in this survey via a link sent to their health sciences email account, which required students to be actively enrolled in the school of medicine, years 2014-2018. Data was then collected and analyzed using IBM SPSS for statistical significance among the minority population.


The total number of 163 students participated in the survey, of which 79 students scored positive for Imposter Syndrome (48%) according to the eight-item validated Imposter Syndrome questionnaire. Female gender was significantly associated with IS (Pearson's correlation=0.231, p value= 0.03) with more than double the percentage of females displaying IS than males (29% of males and 67% of females). Ethnicity was also associated with IS (Pearson's correlation=0.218, p value= 0.03) and was seen more in those who identified as Native American/Pacific Islander and Alaskan Natives. There were no significant correlations between academic year, those who identified as a first-generation college student, had rural primary education, or those with self-reported diagnosed depression.


Imposter Syndrome is present among nearly half of medical students across all four medical cohorts at the University of New Mexico. Future implications for students involving psychological illness may affect future development, professional career choices, and feelings of burnout. Besides, the importance of identifying Imposter Syndrome among medical students could be the first step in preventing physician burnout and optimizing the learning environment by incorporating wellness and promoting inclusion of all phases of the curriculum.


1AAMC. 2019. “Table B-3: Total U.S. Medical School Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity and Sex, 2014-2015 through 2018-2019.”

Bernard, Donte L., Quiera M. Lige, Henry A. Willis, Effua E. Sosoo, and Enrique W. Neblett. 2017. “Impostor Phenomenon and Mental Health: The Influence of Racial Discrimination and Gender.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 64 (2): 155–66.

Clance, Pauline Rose, and Suzanne Ament Imes. 1978. “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice 15 (3): 241–47.

Egwurugwu, J. N., P. C. Ugwuezumba, M. C. Ohamaeme, E. I. Dike, I Eberendu, E. N. A. Egwurugwu, R. C. Ohamaeme, and U. F. Egwurugwu. 2018. “Relationship between Self-Esteem and Impostor Syndrome among Undergraduate Medical Students in a Nigerian University.” International Journal of Brain and Congitive Sciences 7 (1): 9–16.

Henning, Kris, Sydney Ey, and Darlene Shaw. 1998. “Perfectionism, the Impostor Phenomenon and Psychological Adjustment in Medical, Dental, Nursing and Pharmacy Students.” Medical Education 32 (5): 456–64.

Krasner, Michael S., Ronald M. Epstein, Howard Beckman, Anthony L. Suchman, Benjamin Chapman, Christopher J. Mooney, and Timothy E. Quill. 2009. “Association of an Educational Program in Mindful Communication With Burnout, Empathy, and Attitudes Among Primary Care Physicians.” JAMA 302 (12): 1284–93.

Kumar, Shamala, and Carolyn M. Jagacinski. 2006. “Imposters Have Goals Too: The Imposter Phenomenon and Its Relationship to Achievement Goal Theory.” Personality and Individual Differences 40 (1): 147–57.

Lane, Joel A. 2015. “The Imposter Phenomenon Among Emerging Adults Transitioning Into Professional Life: Developing a Grounded Theory.” Adultspan Journal 14 (2): 114–28.

Parkman, Anna, and Roxanne Beard. 2008. Succession Planning and the Imposter Phenomenon in Higher Education. Vol. 59.

Paro, Helena B M S, Nívea M O Morales, Carlos H M Silva, Carlos H A Rezende, Rogério M C Pinto, Rogério R Morales, Tânia M S Mendonça, and Marília M Prado. 2010. “Health-Related Quality of Life of Medical Students.” Medical Education 44 (3): 227–35.

Sonnak, Carina, and Tony Towell. 2001. “The Impostor Phenomenon in British University Students: Relationships between Self-Esteem, Mental Health, Parental Rearing Style and Socioeconomic Status.” Personality and Individual Differences 31 (6): 863–74.

Villwock, J.A., L.B. Sobin, L.A. Koester, and T.M. Harris. 2016. “Impostor Syndrome and Burnout among American Medical Students: A Pilot Study.” Int J Med Educ 7 (October): 364–69.

Wang, Kenneth T., Marina S. Sheveleva, and Tatiana M. Permyakova. 2019. “Imposter Syndrome among Russian Students: The Link between Perfectionism and Psychological Distress.” Personality and Individual Differences 143 (June): 1–6.

Want to have your abstract featured here? ACP holds a National Abstracts Competition as part of the ACP Internal Medicine Meeting every year. Find out more at ACP Online.

Back to the August 2020 issue of ACP IMpact