Persistent impostor phenomenon is associated with distress in medical students

Susan Rosenthal, Yvette Schlussel, Mary Bit Yaden, Jennifer Desantis, Kathryn Trayes, Charles Pohl, Mohammadreza Hojat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Medical student distress and mental health needs are critical issues in undergraduate medical education. The imposter phenomenon (IP), defined as inappropriate feelings of inadequacy among high achievers is linked to psychological distress. We investigated the prevalence of IP among first-year medical school students and its association with personality measures that affect interpersonal relationships and well-being. METHODS: Two hundred fifty-seven students at a large, urban, northeastern medical school completed the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIPS), Jefferson Scale of Empathy, Self-Compassion Scale, and Zuckerman-Kuhlman Personality Questionnaire immediately before beginning their first year of medical school. At the end of their first year, 182 of these students again completed the CIPS. RESULTS: Eighty-seven percent of the entering students reported high or very high degrees of IP. Students with higher IP scores had significantly lower mean scores on self-compassion, sociability self-esteem (P<.0001 for all), and getting along with peers (P=.03). Lower IP scores were related to lower mean scores on neuroticism/anxiety and loneliness (P<.001 for both). Women obtained a higher mean IP score than men. IP scores at the end of the school year increased significantly compared with the beginning of the year (P<.001), both in frequency and intensity of IP. CONCLUSIONS: IP was common in matriculating first-year medical students and significantly increased at year’s end. Higher IP scores were significantly associated with lower scores for self-compassion, sociability, self-esteem, and higher scores on neuroticism/anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-122
Number of pages5
JournalFamily Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


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