A doctor wrote a poignant letter to her younger self about overcoming impostor syndrome.
Suzanne Koven, a writer and physician and writer at Massachusetts General Hospital, published the letter in the New England Journal of Medicine. She said that she was inspired to write after attending an orientation where new medical interns were tasked with writing a note to their future selves. “I wanted so much to tell them, particularly the women — more than half the group, I was pleased to note — what I wished I’d known,” Koven wrote. “Even more, I yearned to tell my younger self what I wished I’d known.”
Her resulting letter is a touching reflection on confronting sexism in a largely male-dominated industry. Koven said that she was told that she should draft a maternity leave policy because one didn’t already exist and described being asked which doctor she was calling in prescriptions for when she reached out to pharmacies. And, she noted, female doctors earn less pay than their male counterparts and often experience sexual harassment.
But, for Koven, her own self-doubt proved to be a bigger challenge. “I’ve been haunted at every step of my career by the fear that I am a fraud,” she wrote. “I believe that women’s fear of fraudulence is similar to men’s, but with an added feature: not only do we tend to perseverate over our inadequacies, we also often denigrate our strengths.”
Koven wrote that she ultimately wasted too much time in her career fearing that she wasn’t good enough. So, she shared the words she should have told herself then: “My dear young colleague, you are not a fraud. You are a flawed and unique human being,” she wrote. “Your training and sense of purpose will serve you well. Your humanity will serve your patients even better.”
Read Koven’s full letter on the New England Journal of Medicine.