What started out as a typical work related social function, ended up being the start of an extremely difficult period in my life. At a dinner for a visiting professor, I was asked “what is your role with the ACP (American College of Physicians), Sue?” Before I was able to answer, a male colleague replied,
“Yes, Sue, what is your role? Aren’t you the princess of the ACP?”
In the moment I was able to keep it together and reply “actually, no I am not the princess of the ACP. The ACP doesn’t have princes and princesses. I am the Chair of the Board of Governors.” That should have been the end of it, but, unfortunately, it wasn’t. For some reason, I let that comment get inside of me and take hold. I started to doubt everything. Clinical decisions that used to be easy, now were faced with doubt and fear. Ideas that I had for educational innovations were put on hold because of apprehension and mistrust in myself. As I led the ACP Board of Governors, I often wondered why had I been elected by my peers? Did they think I was a princess? If they did, who else thought that? I even let the difficulty and angst impact my parenting; something that had always come very natural to me was now anxiety provoking. Instead of showing up occasionally, the little imposter syndrome fairy was ever present on my shoulder. All because someone made an extremely gender biased statement about me. During a conversation with a medical student who was sharing some of her struggles, I let her know that all of us have self-doubts and imposter syndrome at times.
I didn’t think much about our conversation until she came to see me before she graduated. With her she brought a small gift with a thank you note that snapped me out of the deep abyss I had allowed myself to get into. I will be forever grateful to that very insightful and kind medical student. The gift was a beautiful, colorful skin for my laptop computer. It was Wonder Woman. Even more important was the heartfelt note from her and several classmates that came with it. It said “We know you don’t think you are Wonder Woman, but we do. Just like Wonder Woman, your strengths are your compassion, empathy and authenticity. You inspire us and make a difference every day.” What I had come to think of as liabilities, as “princess like” attributes, I now viewed differently. I was now like Princess Diana of Themyscira. With my strengths, I could now once again focus on working to change and improve things for my patients, for my learners, for my colleagues, and for my family. That little imposter syndrome fairy still shows up occasionally, but now, thanks to the kindness of my students, all I have to do is pull out my laptop and look at my beautiful Wonder Woman skin and move on.