Impostor Phenomenon and Burnout in General Surgeons and General Surgery Residents

Patricia K. Leach, Rachel M. Nygaard, Jeffrey G. Chipman, Melissa E. Brunsvold, Ashley P. Marek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Impostor phenomenon (IP) characterizes feelings of self-doubt coupled with feelings that achievements were based on luck and a fear of being discovered as an intellectual fraud. Recently, studies have focused on IP in medical trainees and its association with burnout; however, this research has not yet been conducted on surgeons. This study addresses that gap by investigating the prevalence of IP and burnout in general surgeons and surgery residents. DESIGN: Participants completed two unlinked, blinded surveys. The first survey included demographics and scholarly activity, while the second included the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIPS) and a validated, single-item burnout score. SETTING: Hennepin County Medical Center and University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. PARTICIPANTS: General surgeons and general surgery residents at two teaching hospitals, one community-based (N = 46) and one university-based (N = 42). RESULTS: The majority of both surgeons and residents were male, Caucasian, and married. Residents scored significantly higher compared to faculty in nearly half of CIPS questions. The overall CIPS score was significantly higher in trainees as well (61 vs 51, p = 0.017). Burnout did not differ significantly between trainees (30%) and faculty (41%) (p = 0.545). We found no significant differences in gender or years of practice in those with clinical IP (CIPS >62), and logistic regression analysis showed burnout as the only significant association for clinical IP symptoms (OR 3.95, p = 0.017). CONCLUSIONS: Contrary to studies in other medical fields, female general surgery faculty and trainees were no more likely than males to display characteristics of IP. Residents did; however, score higher than faculty on overall CIPS score. While we cannot determine how burnout and IP directly impact each other, our study shows that both faculty and trainees experiencing burnout are more likely to report symptoms of IP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-106
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of surgical education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 21 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Association of Program Directors in Surgery


  • Burnout
  • Impostorism
  • Interpersonal and Communication Skills
  • Surgeon
  • Surgery residency
  • Systems-Based Practice


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