Fitting In While Standing Out: Professional Identity Formation, Imposter Syndrome, and Burnout in Early-Career Faculty Physicians

Brianna E. Vaa Stelling, Carl A. Andersen, Diego A. Suarez, Hannah C. Nordhues, Frederic W. Hafferty, Thomas J. Beckman, Adam P. Sawatsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose Professional identity formation (PIF) is a dynamic process by which an individual internalizes the core values and beliefs of a specific profession. Within medical education, PIF begins in medical school and continues throughout training and practice. Transitions affect PIF, with a critical transition occurring between medical training and unsupervised practice. This study aims to characterize PIF during the transition from resident to early-career faculty physician and explores the relationship between PIF and burnout during this transition. Method The authors conducted a qualitative study using constructivist grounded theory. They conducted semistructured interviews with early-career faculty physicians (defined as practicing for ≤ 5 years) from the Department of Medicine, Mayo Clinic. Deidentified interview transcripts were processed through open and axial coding. The authors organized themes and identified relationships between themes that were refined through discussion and constant comparison with newly collected data. During data analysis, the authors identified self-determination theory, with the concepts of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, as a framework to support the organization and analysis of the data. Results Eleven early-career faculty physicians participated in the interviews. Their PIF was characterized by the dual desires to fit in and stand out. Striving for these desires was characterized by imposter syndrome, driving physicians to question their decision making and overall competence. Participants associated imposter syndrome and academic pressures with burnout. Autonomy support by the institution to pursue opportunities important for career development helped mitigate burnout and support PIF. Conclusions Early-career faculty physicians face identity challenges when transitioning from training to unsupervised practice, including striving to fit in and stand out. They link this tension to imposter syndrome, which they associated with burnout. Institutional awareness and support, including addressing structural and cultural contributors to imposter syndrome, are paramount as new faculty explore their identities and navigate new challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-520
Number of pages7
JournalAcademic Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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