I Got Accepted to PA School, but Do I Belong Here?

Congratulations! Your hard work has paid off—you have made it into PA school. You envisioned yourself studying hard, paying attention, using all the resources and being successful. Afterall, you have seen other people make it, so you think that you can make it too.

The first few days are a mix of terror and excitement. You try to be Ms./Mr. Congeniality. Meeting classmates, talking about your backgrounds, sizing up people, figuring study styles and trying to decide who you can be friends with and who you can study with.

You hear people talking about their work backgrounds, overseas mission trips, research experiences, publications, leadership roles, grades, how many languages they speak and all the amazing things they have accomplished. At first it all seems innocent enough and you partake in the exchange, sharing the things that have allowed you to be in that room. It all feels like even and mutual interactions, till you realize that maybe it is not so. You have heard people saying that the competition is over once you get accepted into PA school but that unsettling feeling arises in your gut and you realize that not everyone in your class feels that the competition is over.

Little by little, you start questioning your presence in that classroom and that inner dialogue coaxes you to start thinking, “I do not belong here.” You start doubting yourself; your intelligence, accomplishments, experience, talents, and abilities—everything about yourself! You feel like a fraud. Your mind races and you start thinking, what if they made a mistake, what if they only picked you to fill a quota, what if it was just luck, what if you in fact can’t do this, what if you turn out to be a complete and utter failure and what if they find out that you’re not even supposed to be there?

All those things you are feeling are the constellation of symptoms that describe what is known as Impostor Syndrome or Impostor Phenomenon. You grin and bear it and try to power through the feelings. You think you must be the only one feeling this. Afterall, no one seems to be sharing their insecurities or inadequacies, most of your classmates seem so self-assured and confident in their experience and abilities.

The good news is that you are not the only one to feel this! I promise you that even the pompous know-it-alls in your class struggle with these feelings of inadequacy. The most brilliant and complex minds have struggled with feeling like Imposters. Renowned and lauded poet, Maya Angelou, once said “I have written eleven books, but each time, I think ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I have run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” Facebook COO, Cheryl Sandberg has said, “there are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.” So now you know that you are not the only one. Very successful people have felt and understand what you are feeling. Despite these thoughts and feelings, they have been able to still go forward and achieve their goals, and so can you.

So now that you know you are not alone, here are a few tips to help you start getting through those tough days:

1. As outlined above, remind yourself that you are not alone. A lot of people in that PA school classroom are feeling what you’re feeling.

2. Recount all the amazing things you have accomplished that have led you into PA school.

3. Do not put your classmates on a pedestal.

4. Find your people. Your people are most likely those you feel you can be yourself around and do not cause you to feel the need to prove yourself. Your people are likely those who want to get to know you, as a person, aside from your accolades.

5. Be yourself. You are perfect and good enough.

6. Allow yourself to share your insecurities, a little at a time, with the right people.

7. Ask for help from your program if Impostor Syndrome starts affecting your academic performance.

For more insight on Imposter Syndrome and how it affects people of color in PA school and the PA profession, check out the resources and community support available at physicianassistantsofcolor.org.

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