Normally when I attend a medical conference I quickly feel that I am among people like me. Especially global health conferences or primary care conferences, I feel like I am surrounded by people who think like me and have similar goals. So that is why it was so shocking when I arrived in Naples, Florida and felt like an imposter. This was a physician wellbeing conference, of all things, and I spend a lot of my life trying to fight my intrinsic workaholism and model wellbeing. I was so happy to be here, and in fact had applied to the physician leaders in wellbeing program two years in a row and committed to fly back to the US a record three times in 12 months to fulfill the requirements of the program. So I was shocked that I arrived and felt like an imposter.
People talk about imposter syndrome often in medicine; it is the concept that despite her training a doctor can feel like she is an imposter simply impersonating the doctor that she is trying to be. In my case, I felt like an imposter in this fancy hotel and at this conference. Maybe it was because this was the most expensive hotel we had ever stayed in (not that we paid that much, the AAFP subsidized us), but even so, that was a lot of pressure. Maybe it was because just a few days ago we were handling the pressures of Malawi – people living on less per month than the simplest meal int his hotel costs. Sometimes I feel like a live a double life, like I have to flip a switch as soon as I touch down on my home continent. It takes a different time for me to adjust to the culture shock each time, and needless to say, the few days before this conference were not quite enough to make me feel quite at home.
Whatever the reason, I started out at this conference feeling like I just didn’t fit in, and like someone was going to find out. It didn’t help that I was one of just a handful of people wearing masks, and I was very conscious of the fact that I only had one nice pair of pants and one decent jacket leftover from residency, other than that, all I had to pack was jeans and running shoes. But thankfully it only took me a day or so to start feeling like I fit in. It was really sweet, one conference attendee complimented my jacket one day and another complimented my jeans the next day. I found a group of attendees who gravitated around the tea stations and sat next to a group with roots to Hawaii. I connected with a good friend attending the conference and made some new friends along the way.
So by the end of the conference, I was feeling a lot better. To be honest, I didn’t really feel like we easily fit in until we checked out of the fancy hotel and into the cheapest hotel we could find in Naples as a stopover before visiting our friends. That was when we started feeling like it was easier to belong, to be in our element. The trip brought us some fun experiences, and I’m learning a bit about myself as we flit from one setting to another.