July 10, 2023By Erin Carn Bennett

How to Challenge Imposter’s Syndrome in Healthcare Simulation

Prevalent in clinical simulation educators, impostor phenomenon is considered the overwhelming sense of phoniness, doubt of abilities, and fraudulent feelings within workplace or professional roles. Freeman, Houghton & Nestel surveyed 148 clinical simulation educators in nine countries and discovered that 46.6% of clinical simulation educators surveyed suffered from impostor phenomenon. This article by Erin Carn-Bennett will explore the impostor phenomenon in clinical simulation educators. Considerations of why clinical simulation educators of female and male genders studied are affected will be explored. To know and challenge the usually predominant female and minority workforce issue in clinical simulation is of great importance for the progression and growth of individuals as well as the healthcare simulation community overall.

Impostor Phenomenon in the Simulated Workplace

Workplace ecosystems and psychological safety have a huge impact on impostor phenomenon not only for clinical simulation educators but all workplaces. Minority groups and female workforces describe impostor phenomenon caused by microaggressions, assumptions, expectations, and bias in predominantly male-led workplaces. Outside of clinical simulation impostor phenomenon in workplaces blames individuals for their self-imposed impostor phenomenon. Individuals with impostor phenomenon are often advised to fix themselves rather than to look at workplace-related cultural contexts that affect their ability to speak up and influence innovation and change.

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The psychological safety and culture of workplaces have a huge impact on individuals’ abilities to speak up without fear of reprimand and to challenge the status quo. Within healthcare simulation teams focus is often placed on participants’ psychological safety to speak up and be vulnerable in a confidential space. Clinical simulation staff truly care about the psychological safety element of their education sessions. However, outside of the clinical simulation ecosystem within their organization, individuals are exposed to the risk of fear of reprimand and the inability to challenge the status quo. This can lead to an increased occurrence of impostor phenomenon.

Healthcare simulation staff are highly skilled individuals and teams poised in a unique position to challenge the psychological safety of teams and influence change. However, the work is tiring and can lead to workforce burnout and self-doubt. Healthcare simulation educators care about their participants’ experiences of clinical simulation-based education and want their participants to return for further education.

Clinical simulation staff are constantly acquiring new skills, teaching others new skills, and also challenging not only their own knowledge but others. The art of a clinical simulation debrief in a psychologically safe manner is a central practice to the majority of clinical simulation faculty staff members. The drive to constantly reflect on practice which includes their own, improve and do better is circular and never ends for clinical simulation programs.

Although further studies are required in healthcare simulation related to impostor phenomenon that should not impact the workforce to look for simple solutions now. As clinical simulation starts to broaden into difficult topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, the well-being of the staff to progress the workforce is ever forefront. The ability to foster healthy self-doubt into positive motivation is essential in the clinical simulation realm to progress teams and influence health organizations more broadly.

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Simple Solutions to Combat Impostor Phenomenon in Clinical Simulation Teams

Simple solutions to combat impostor phenomenon are similar to methods that are applied within debrief circles and when new clinical simulation debriefers. Set achievable goals and also track experiences as a healthcare simulation educator can help to reflect on and celebrate achievements within the program. As a team, a way to see achieved goals may include the development of a monthly productivity report to track experiences in the form of infographic data. Often more is achieved by individuals and teams than realized. Visibility of results and reflection are powerful to reinforce achievements and motivate more.

The presence of a productivity report that can be shared to celebrate successes as individuals or as a collective is a tangible concept. To celebrate wins as an individual and broader team is incredibly important. Though impostor phenomenon may make individuals question the relevance; celebrations of success, even small accomplishments, matter.

Goal setting can also be explored by individuals in mentorship or professional supervision environments. These services may be completed between colleagues, managers, or external professionals. For those affected by impostor phenomenon, the identification of appropriately skilled individuals or teams as support will be hugely impactful. Even though goal setting and mentorship can be performed in formal or informal places, the impact of either option should not be undervalued.

In clinical simulation, a culture to normalize the experience of humanness and mistakes is part of a psychologically safe clinical simulation program. The same principles for faculty of clinical simulation programs should also be applied. One needs to embrace mistakes, acknowledge them, and learn from them is a critical piece to challenge impostor phenomenon in healthcare simulation staff members. Providing reassurance that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow, though uncomfortable, assists in the challenge to remove this phenomenon. Welcome mistakes and explorations of lessons. These strategies are helpful for both personal and team growth.

The normalization of feelings related to being overwhelmed, phoniness, and self-doubt can be powerful. An effective support network can translate self-doubt into positive motivation and push reluctant individuals to take practice and projects to the next level. Simple yet powerful communication strategies such as empathy instead of sympathy can empower individuals to challenge their impostor phenomenon.

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Though impostor phenomenon is prevalent in healthcare simulation educators, exploration of the issue in early stages. Further discussion, acknowledgment, and research are required to shed more light on this problem. Outside of healthcare simulation and healthcare impostor phenomenon is prevalent and limits growth, innovation, and change. Simple measures can be employed immediately with awareness as this complex issue is explored and dismantled in workplace cultures across the globe.

Learn More About Impostor Phenomenon!

Reference: Freeman, K.J., Houghton, S., Carr, S.E. & Nestel, D. (2022). Impostor phenomenon in healthcare simulation educators. International Journal of Healthcare Simulation. DOI:10.54531/zmtl172, Pages: 1-7

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