Skip to main content
An official website of the United States government

Imposter Syndrome: A Universal Struggle

, by Jazmyn Bess, M.S (CGB, TDRP)

Silhouette of a person's face, with hand taking off a face mask, symbolizing imposter syndrome.
Credit: Society of Interventional Radiology

Have you ever walked into various settings and felt you didn’t belong, despite your expertise, training, or credentials? The phrase Imposter Syndrome was coined in the 1970s to describe feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy often experienced by otherwise high-achieving individuals.1 Imposter syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis but has been studied in several populations and observed across disciplines, including STEM, education, and business.2,3 In 2020, a systematic review of 62 studies evaluated prevalence of imposter syndrome, showing prevalence rates high as 56% to 82% in graduate students, college students, nurses, medical students, and other professions.3 Symptoms can include psychologic distress, anxiety, depression, burnout, exhaustion, avoidance of high-level or demanding tasks, rigid thinking, and dismissal of positive feedback.4 

While imposter syndrome is common and can occur across any age group, gender, profession, or racial demographic, individuals from minoritized groups may be more likely to experience it due to racism, social stigmas, and microaggressions.5-7 If you experience imposter syndrome, know you are not alone. Those witnessing imposter syndrome and associated disparities can also take steps to help people with imposter syndrome. The American Psychological Association and Harvard Business Review provide the following strategies and resources on imposter syndrome.

Those experiencing imposter syndrome1

  1. Talk to mentors or a trusted person: Talking to your mentor or someone you can trust can help release the burden of carrying your feelings or experiences alone.
  2. Acknowledge your wins and capabilities: Take time to acknowledge and celebrate your strengths, assets, and accomplishments. Admit you don’t know everything with full awareness of your limitations.
  3. Replace your thinking: With every negative thought, replace it with a positive one. Focus on the good in situations and think of all the positive outcomes that could happen.
  4. Seek additional help: If you feel your struggle with imposter syndrome requires additional help, seek counseling, therapy, group sessions, or other available resources (e.g., NIH Employee Assistance Program).

Witnessing someone with imposter syndrome8

  1. Pay attention to your words and actions: When interacting with others, watch your tone and word usage. Avoid making the individual feel pressured or unworthy, rather push for affirmation!
  2. Encourage collaboration: Reassure the person that despite lack of knowledge, working with others can benefit them by providing support and professional development.
  3. Help practice confidence: Encourage the person to practice confidence exercises such as daily affirmations and acknowledgment of their accomplishments and strengths.
  4. Limit comparisons: Don’t compare the individual to others but focus on their abilities and strengths and the value they bring to the table.

Learn More About Imposter Syndrome

If you would like to provide anonymous feedback or suggestions, please use this one-question survey

Resources to Overcome Imposter Syndrome


  1. Weir, K. Feel like a fraud? American Psychological Association, 2013.
  2. World Health Assembly, 72. (‎2019)‎. Eleventh revision of the International Classification of Diseases. World Health Organization, 2019.
  3. Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., et al. Prevalence, predictors, and treatment of impostor syndrome: A systematic review. Journal of general internal medicine, 2020.
  4. Chandra, S., Huebert, C. A., Crowley, E., et al. Impostor Syndrome: Could it be holding you or your mentees back? Chest, 2019.
  5. Chakraverty D. A Cultural Impostor? Native American Experiences of Impostor Phenomenon in STEM. CBE life sciences education, 2022.
  6. Rice, J., Rosario-Williams, B., Williams, F., et al. Impostor syndrome among minority medical students who are underrepresented in medicine. Journal of the National Medical Association. 2023.
  7. McGee E. Black genius, Asian fail: The detriment of stereotype lift and stereotype threat in high-achieving Asian and Black STEM students. AERA Open. 2018.
  8. Johnson, W. Brad, and Smith, G. Smith. Mentoring someone with imposter syndrome. Harvard Business Review, 2021.
< Older Post

Environmental Justice

Newer Post >

Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Research

If you would like to reproduce some or all of this content, see Reuse of NCI Information for guidance about copyright and permissions. In the case of permitted digital reproduction, please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source and link to the original NCI product using the original product's title; e.g., “Imposter Syndrome: A Universal Struggle was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”