There are more days than not that I feel like my journey into veterinary medicine has been nothing more than a series of incredibly lucky mistakes. Despite positively working my tail off in undergrad with 2 majors, 4 jobs, a smattering of clubs and honors societies, the achievements with my own personal horse as well as the intercollegiate team, when it came time for my veterinary school applications, I was terrified it wouldn’t be enough.
When I was wait-listed at 3 of the 4 schools I applied to, I was cautiously optimistic on my chances to actually get into a program, and I waited apprehensively for any word. When I got into 2 of those programs, I was ecstatic, but I felt somewhere that they’d made a mistake. I’d been wait-listed, I wasn’t their first choice – why did I deserve to be in a program now?
When I started meeting my peers – some who have traveled the globe; some who have spent years with hands-on clinical experience; some with amazing experience with wildlife and exotics; some having grown up with livestock species their whole lives – I was, honestly, intimidated. Horses are my strong-suit species, but beyond that, I felt clueless. I had spent very little time in a small animal clinic, barely had touched food animals, and my travel was practically non-existent. Now I was positive a mistake had been made. With all of these amazing students around me, what was *I* doing here?
A few times our wellness committee mentioned the term Imposter Syndrome in some of our wellness lectures. I was not familiar with the term when I first heard it, but it basically means when someone who is entirely capable (and even often successful at what they do), feels doubtful or anxious in their abilities, and they are afraid that those around them will “find them out” as an imposter. It’s fairly recognized in all professions, but is not uncommon in care-giving fields, like veterinary medicine.
It sounded silly to me. Mostly because I was truly feeling that insecure in my abilities.
It is this feeling that drives me to study at all hours, make exorbitant amounts of flashcards for every lecture, to develop models for our hands-on skills, to practice suture techniques in my living room for hours. And even then, I spent my first-year with shaky hands any time I had to do blood draws or catheter placement for small animals. Many thanks to one of the amazing veterinary nurses on staff who helped me gain more confidence in that area!
Whenever I get an exam back with a good grade, or do well on a quiz, or get complimented on my technique, I am always taken aback. I worry about my technical skills, I walk out of exams more often than not feeling as if I did poorly, and I still wonder who made the mistake of letting me into a lecture hall filled with such intelligent and talented future veterinarians – because a lot of times I feel like I shouldn’t be here.
It’s not a feeling that is going to go away overnight – I recognize that. Every time I do well, I try not to pick apart the mistakes I made. When I receive a compliment, I try to take it at face value rather than overthinking what the implications of the comment were.
At the times I feel like I belong the least, I try to think about how hard I have worked to get to where I am today. I think of all the work I have put in, the crazy schedules and responsibilities I have had to balance, the successes I have had, the things I do feel proud of.
At the times I feel like I belong the least, I recall the words of one of my most favorite undergraduate professors, who told us on the first day of biochemistry – which has proven to be an exceptional bit of advice that I have fallen back on frequently.
“If you think you are not good at something, please put it in perspective. You did not just get here by accident.”