Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Dentistry Student

Through: Savanah Craig

Impostor syndrome is an experience where you believe you are not as competent as others think you are. Imposter syndrome is common among high achievers, and dental students are no exception.

I believe the hyper-competitive nature of dental school adoption makes us, as students, even more likely to experience imposter syndrome.

Impostor Syndrome in Dental School

The path to dentistry can look different for so many people and often it feels like there are no concrete reasons why someone is hired over another applicant.

There are many factors at play, including:

  • State residence
  • Where did you go to school?
  • GPA
  • DAT score
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Extracurricular activities

Other factors that are more difficult to explain include:

  • When your application is received
  • Candidate Pool Demographics
  • Which faculties are on the interview panel that year

With so many factors at play, no one can predict who from each program will be accepted, on the waiting list or rejected. Some people retake the DAT multiple times, others apply for multiple different admission cycles, and others are accepted from the waiting list.

However, given the different paths to dental education, we should not compare ourselves to others as we are high achievers in a highly competitive environment which is exactly what we do.

The rigor of didactic and craft courses can be a huge challenge for students to adapt. Some of my classmates were exceptionally gifted and passed every lab on the first try. Others took the time to master their manual dexterity and become familiar with holding a drill.

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, but class rank and GPA aren’t necessarily responsible for that. It becomes very easy to compare your performance with your classmates and friends. If you don’t succeed in the same way as those around you, you start to feel inadequate and imposter syndrome sets in.

How to deal with impostor syndrome?

Admit you experience it

I think the first way to overcome impostor syndrome is to give it a name and realize that you are experiencing it. Whenever you feel like you may have been accidentally admitted to dental school, take a step back and think about the day you were hired.

I doubt you thought it was a mistake when you received your call or email. You felt like your hard work had paid off and you knew you deserved that spot. Trust that feeling and use these feelings of inadequacy to encourage you to practice harder, study harder, and ask others for help.

You might find that your friend has mastered denture waxing, but struggles with anatomy lessons. You can help each other in difficult times and feel less isolated. I bet you’re not the only one who feels like an impostor.

Look for Success Outside of Traditional Performance

Another way to overcome impostor syndrome is to look for success outside the traditional markers of achievement.

Perhaps your strengths as a dentist lie in your communication skills with patients. Your GPA won’t reflect that, but your patient experience in the clinic will. At the end of the day, being a clinician is about more than getting a 10 in anatomy. The world needs different dentists with different skills and strengths.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Dentistry Student

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what led to your admission to dental school. If you do your best to improve and as long as your future patient’s best interests come first, that place is yours and you deserve it.

It is important to look ahead with your classmates and colleagues rather than looking back at the application process. Everyone will have a hard time during the four years of dental school, so know that you are not alone.

Look for ways to create more connections with your classmates instead of comparing. Connection and compassion will help you fight the impostor syndrome faster than achievements ever will!

Next: You are more than just a dental student

photo by Polina Zimmerman

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