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The Hidden Truths of Imposter Syndrome Through Your Dental Journey

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

I’m just Trying to Pass these Classes

I remember being a freshman in college sitting in the 3rd row of my Chem 301 class thinking “what have I gotten myself into?” It was nothing like high school chemistry where I could breeze through an experiment, turn in my worksheet, and be confident that I secured an A no matter how little effort I put in. This was the big leagues. You actually had to put in effort outside of class to teach yourself the material and the grades really mattered this time around and the A’s weren’t so easy to secure. I started to notice that the people around me were doing so much better in these classes and performing so much better on exams, and didn’t share the same frustration in terms of not understanding the material. This is when the first few seeds of imposter syndrome started to manifest within myself. If you’ve never heard the term before, ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is your own perceived feelings of doubt or non-belonging despite the fact that you have the credentials and accomplishments to be where you are. I started to think I wasn’t smart enough for professional school, or that I wasn’t even smart enough to be in these science classes even though I had the qualifications to be there and I got accepted into college the same as everyone else. I knew I had the qualifications to be sitting in that chemistry class, yet I still felt like I wasn’t good enough. And this was only the beginning.

Application Madness

I thought I’d dealt with my imposter issues after I’d made it through all of my prerequisite science classes, but little did I know the feeling would later manifest itself in other aspects of my dental journey. When application season came around and I heard what scores people were making on their DAT and how many volunteer hours they had on their applications I was dumbfounded. I had seeds of doubt and anxiety all through my mind. I knew once again that I had the qualifications: a great DAT score of 21, excellent extracurricular and volunteer hours, and passionate and personal admissions essays. Yet I still couldn’t shake the feeling of not being good enough. I’d compare my GPA, I’d compare my interviews, I’d even compare the timeline of when I submitted my application. I’d listen to other people talk about what stats got them what interviews and internalize that and tell myself “well I can’t get into that school if they couldn’t.” It became a vicious cycle of self-doubt and anxiety that made the waiting process for interviews and acceptances almost unbearable.

We’re all in the same program, but why do I stick out like a sore thumb?

All my patience and hard work did eventually pay off and I was so fortunate to find myself sitting in the 3rd row of someone’s first year DMD Physiology class. By now I had been accepted into dental school, I had the scrubs, I had all the instruments, I was set. Yet somehow I still couldn’t shake that feeling of not belonging. I would find myself wondering how I got here with all these intelligent people. How would I be able to make it through the program, how would I compare in rank to all of them? I had absolutely no reason to doubt myself though. The same admissions committee that vetted them and decided they were qualified to train as dentists thought the exact same of me. So why was I still stuck with these feelings of not belongings?

It doesn’t go away, but it does get better.

Now, as a second year, I can say I made it through the chaos of the first year. I can look back and say I made it through the science classes in college, through the DAT, through application season, through interviews, etc. But even now I still struggle with feelings of self-doubt. The ‘Imposter Syndrome’ never quite went away, but I did pick up some coping tools along the way.

It’s okay to ask for help.

In fact, it’s imperative to ask for help. If you don’t know how to do something, find someone who does. The only way to get better is to go out and seek knowledge from someone who already has it. Go to office hours. Ask questions in class. Find a mentor. Talk to upperclassmen. Be proactive about expanding your knowledge.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Stop comparing all of your stats to other applicants. The things that got them accepted won’t be the things that get you accepted and the things that got them rejected won’t be the things that get you rejected. Take it from me, I got accepted with a 3.1 GPA and a 21DAT. My GPA alone would have gotten me rejected from a majority of schools in the country, yet here I am in dental school. So don’t get caught up in what other people’s applications look like. You are unique. Your story is different. Walk in your truth.

Be kind to yourself and practice positive self-talk.

There’s a reason you’ve made it as far as you have. There are people who believed you were capable and qualified to be where you are. Why is it that strangers believe more in you than you believe in yourself? Self-perception is everything. If you believe you can accomplish anything, then you can convince anyone else that you are capable and qualified to accomplish anything as well.

The last thing I’ll leave you with is a bit of transparency. This feeling doesn’t really go away. It finds a way to manifest itself in different aspects as you move through your dental journey. But it doesn’t have to define your experience. Finding ways to cope with these feelings is possible and these tips I shared are just the start. As long as you hold onto your reason for wanting to become a dental professional and you let that be your drive, there’s nothing and no one that can stop you from accomplishing everything you set your mind to. The journey is difficult, but not impossible, and if this is what you want to do, don’t let anything set you off your course.

Dolapo Adeola

D.M.D Candidate, Class of 2024

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!

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