Imposter Syndrome as a Dental Student

By: Savanah Craig

Imposter syndrome is an experience of believing you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. Imposter syndrome is common in high-achievers, and dental students are no exception.

I believe that the hyper-competitive nature of dental school acceptance makes us, as students, even more likely to experience imposter syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome in Dental School

The path to dental school can look different for so many and often it feels like there are no concrete reasons why someone gets accepted over another applicant. 

There are many factors at play, including:

  • State residency
  • Where you went to college
  • GPA
  • DAT score
  • Recommendation letters
  • Extra-curricular activities

Other factors that are more difficult to account for include:

  • When your application was received
  • Demographics of the applicant pool
  • Which faculty are on the interview panel that year

With so many factors at play, no one can predict who will get accepted, waitlisted, or denied from each program. Some people retake the DAT multiple times, others apply for multiple different admission cycles, and others get accepted off the waitlist.

Considering the different pathways to dental school, we really shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, however, as high achievers in a highly competitive environment that’s exactly what we do.

The rigor of didactic and hand-skills courses can be extremely challenging for students to adapt to. Some of my classmates were extremely gifted and passed every practical on the first try. Others took time to master their hand-skills and become comfortable holding a drill.

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, but class rank and GPA do not necessarily account for that. It becomes very easy to compare your performance with your classmates and friends. If you’re not succeeding in the same way as those around you, you begin to feel inadequate, and imposter syndrome begins.

How To Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Admit You Are Experiencing It

I think the first way to overcome Imposter Syndrome is to name it and realize that you’re experiencing it. When you start to feel like maybe you were accepted to dental school by mistake, take a step back and remember the day you got accepted.

I doubt that when you got your acceptance call or email you thought it was a mistake. You felt like your hard work had paid off and you knew that you deserved that spot. Trust that feeling and use these feelings of inadequacy to encourage you to practice harder, study harder, and reach out to others for help.

You might discover that your friend has mastered waxing denture teeth but is struggling with anatomy class. You can help each other through difficult times and feel less isolated. I would be willing to bet that you’re not the only one feeling like an imposter.

Look for Success Outside Traditional Achievement

Another way to overcome Imposter Syndrome is to look for success outside of the traditional markers of achievement.

Perhaps your strengths as a dentist lie in your patient communication skills. Your GPA isn’t going to reflect that, but your patient experience in the clinic will. At the end of the day, being a clinician is about more than getting an A in anatomy. The world needs different dentists with different skills and strengths.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Dental Student

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what led to your acceptance into dental school. If you’re doing your best to improve and as long as you have your future patient’s best interest at heart, that spot is yours and you deserve it.

It’s important to move forward with your classmates and colleagues instead of looking back at the application process. Everyone will have a time when they are struggling during the four years of dental school, so know that you’re not alone.

Look for ways to create more connections with your classmates, rather than comparison. Connection and compassion will help you fight imposter syndrome faster than achievements ever will!

Up Next: You are More than Just a Dental Student

Photo by Polina Zimmerman

Savanah Craig

Savanah Craig

Savanah Craig is a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology. She is currently a 2022 D.D.S. Candidate at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. She will be pursuing a General Practice Residency in Columbia, SC following graduation. In her free time, Savanah enjoys reading, exploring new restaurants, and traveling.