UofTMed Alum: MD 1T7 Valedictorian on Failure and Façades
I failed the very first exam of medical school.
You might imagine the impact that had on someone who was still suffering from imposter syndrome and feeling like he didn’t belong. I was ashamed of myself and worried what people would think of me if they ever found out. So I tried to protect myself by creating my very own survival guide:
- Put on a smile and talk in complex medical jargon to act like you are always in the know.
- Randomly throw out facts about things you’ve just looked up, so people think you’re intelligent and well-read.
- If things get really dicey, hide in the washroom until everything blows over.
The thing is, even after I had passed the remaining exams, this feeling that I didn’t deserve to be here never really went away. And I think this applies to a lot of us.
We’re so worried about what others may think of us if we falter or do something wrong, that we try to create an illusion of perfection. We compare ourselves to our immediate peers who seem infallible, and freak ourselves out over our perceived failures.
This fear led me to do some, in hindsight, ridiculous things. (Don’t worry – nothing that endangered patients.) Things like using my phone to google abbreviations under the table during morning rounds — too embarrassed to ask. Or striving to answer as many questions as possible in class, so people would think I knew a lot more than I did.
I built up this façade more and more, convincing myself it would protect me. But in the end this façade —this armour — didn’t make me invincible. It made me immobile.
In the end, my greatest mentors were those who showed me how to improve on my weaknesses — those weaknesses I had worked so hard to hide. Looking back on my life I realize that people did not help me because they thought I was weak, they helped because they knew it would make me stronger.
The reality is that we may always be plagued by self-doubt. But instead of shielding ourselves from the world, it’s okay to be vulnerable and to reach out to those around us. None of us is perfect, and together we can reach further and achieve more than we ever could alone.
Considering our job will depend entirely on patients letting us help them, it’s ironic that we’re so often frightened of letting anyone help us.
Omar Mourad was chosen by his peers as the MD 1T7 Valedictorian, and is among our newest UofTMed alumni. He will soon be starting his internal medicine residency at Western University. Watch his Valedictorian Address.
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Burnout, suicide, depression, and the emotional effects of mistakes. We address physician wellness in the next issue of UofTMed magazine, out May 30.Sign up for your free digital copy.