Impostor syndrome and burnout among American medical students: a pilot study

Int J Med Educ. 2016 Oct 31:7:364-369. doi: 10.5116/ijme.5801.eac4.


Objectives: To describe levels of burnout and impostor syndrome (IS) in medical students, and to recognize demographic differences in those experiencing burnout and IS.

Methods: Anonymous survey administered online in 2014 that included demographic data, the Maslach Burnout Inventory and an IS screening questionnaire. Main outcome measures were level of burnout, and presence or absence of imposter syndrome. The presence of IS and burnout components were analyzed across age, gender, race, year of training, intention to pursue fellowship training, and greater than one year of work experience outside of medicine using chi-squared tests. The association between burnout and IS was also compared using chi-squared tests.

Results: One hundred and thirty-eight students completed the questionnaire. Female gender was significantly associated with IS (χ2(3)=10.6, p=0.004) with more than double the percentage of females displaying IS than their male counterparts (49.4% of females versus 23.7% of males). IS was significantly associated with the burnout components of exhaustion (χ2 (2)=5.9, p=0.045), cynicism (χ2(2)=9.4, p=0.004), emotional exhaustion (χ2(2)=8.0, p=0.018), and depersonalization (χ2 (2)=10.3, p=0.006). The fourth year of medical school was significantly associated with IS (χ2(3)=10.5, p=0.015).

Conclusions: Almost a quarter of male medical students and nearly half of female students experience IS and IS was found to be significantly associated with burnout indices. Given the high psychological morbidity of these conditions, this association cannot be ignored. It behooves us to reconsider facets of medical education (i.e. shame-based learning and overall teaching style) and optimize the medical learning environment.

Keywords: american medical students; impostor syndrome; pilot study; usa.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / diagnosis
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depersonalization / diagnosis
  • Depersonalization / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Syndrome
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult