Impostor phenomenon and ambiguity tolerance in practicing physical therapists: an exploratory correlational study

Int J Med Educ. 2023 Nov 10:14:168-177. doi: 10.5116/ijme.6532.4c20.


Objectives: Investigate the prevalence and contextualize the relationship of impostor phenomenon (IP) and ambiguity tolerance (AT) in practicing physical therapists (PTs).

Methods: Online survey including demographic questions, Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIPS), and Tolerance of Ambiguity Scale (TAS). Descriptive analyses assessed (N = 422) demographic data, CIPS, and TAS scores. Chi-square tests determined distribution across demographic variables. Kruskal-Wallis tests assessed differences between CIPS and TAS. Age was a proxy for career stage in Pearson product-moment correlations to assess relationships between CIPS and TAS.

Results: In practicing PTs (M age = 42.12, SD = 12.34), moderate (48.6%; n = 205) to frequent (26.8%; n = 113) IP feelings were prevalent, but only 31.5% (n = 133) were true impostors. Significant differences exist in clinical experience for CIPS, H(7, n = 422) = 67.82, p <.001 and TAS, H(7, n = 422) = 21.79, p= .003. Most PTs tolerate ambiguity (M = 54.93, SD = 8.19). A moderate negative correlation between age and CIPS, r = -.36, p <.001 and a small negative correlation between age and TAS, r=-.19, p <.001 exists. Age accounts for 13% of the variance per IP and 3.6% variance per TAS score. A small positive relationship exists between CIPS and TAS, r = .10, p <.05.

Conclusions: Practicing PTs experience moderate to frequent IP and are ambiguity tolerant. Clinical experience is inversely related to IP and AT. Almost half of early-career PTs feel like impostors, which can lead to decreased job satisfaction, burnout, psychological distress, feelings of self-doubt, and depression.

Keywords: impostor syndrome; impostorism; professional burnout; tolerance to ambiguity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Humans
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Self Concept
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Supplementary concepts

  • imposter syndrome