I remember in my first few weeks of vet school, I read a blog post about imposter syndrome. I thought, Psh. That won’t happen to me. I’ve been working toward this most of my life, I’m exactly where I belong. Every part of this statement is true, but that doesn’t mean I always feel as confident as I did a fresh-faced VM1, ready to cure the animal world of all its ailments.
There are still days when I don’t really believe I’m a vet student. I tell people I am – the more I say it, the more I am no longer sure what that means to me. I can’t be an actual vet student – I don’t know that much. I’m not as knowledgeable about clinical procedures as my roommate, who worked as a vet assistant. I am not as comfortable controlling herds of cattle as my friend who raises dairy cattle. Who the heck let me in to vet school, anyway? Who thought that would be a good idea? Every day I learn something that some of my classmates – sometimes most – seem to take for granted. Of course, there are things that I take for granted that some of my classmates don’t know, but that seems to happen less and less the more we get into practical classes and leave theory behind. I’ve always loved theoretical science – do I really have a place in the clinic? But could I survive, would I be steady enough in a crisis, to work in government or public health?
I can’t be a vet student – I still struggle with the concept of being an adult, and making my own doctor’s appointments or speaking to people over the phone. Surely there’s a mistake – being a vet student means one day I will be a fully grown veterinarian, and unlike the caterpillar, I don’t think the metamorphosis takes place in a few weeks. One day, I will be responsible for a patient’s death, and it will be because of a mistake I made. If I don’t catch the one value on the bloodwork, or fail to recognize that the patient has a white-footed herding breed in him, making him prone to certain side-effects to drugs affecting a particular enzyme that those breeds don’t make properly, I’m responsible. Or I’ll be working with a species I’m not familiar with, or going on a 14-16 hour work-day, and not thinking clearly. Can I be responsible enough to be a veterinarian? Ours is one of the most trusted professions in the US, as our professors love to remind us. Some days, I love that we are so trusted – other days, I just feel fear. Fear that I won’t live up to our prestigious professional standards, fear that I will forget to make one of my many lists, and miss something important, fear that everyone will see on the outside how much like a fraud I feel on the inside. Fear that I am only a knock-off vet student.
Can I do this?
Absolutely. Maybe. Probably. Every once in a while, I have the opportunity to speak with a younger veterinarian – they come to the school to an event, or are one of our residents in the hospital, and they come over to the school to sit in on a panel for students who, like me, maybe aren’t sure of themselves anymore. And I realize – they’re afraid, too. It doesn’t stop them – they get malpractice insurance, take continuing education classes, and learn how to take a mistake, learn from it, and let it go. I don’t know if I’ll ever really stop feeling imposter syndrome for good, but that isn’t the important thing. What is important is that I don’t let it stop me from doing what I love – and what I am actually good at, despite what imposter syndrome tells me.