July 13, 2021

If You Feel Like an Imposter, Perhaps It Is Time to Change Your Mindset

by Abby Bradley, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, University of Mississippi Medical Center

The brain is theoretically the most powerful organ in the body and is responsible for processing and storing thoughts, memories, and experiences that happen throughout one’s life. It is these three things that shape who we are as a person and create our mindset towards ourselves and others. Our mindset plays a powerful role in what we believe. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck describes the difference between those with a fixed mindset, a belief that abilities can’t be changed, and a growth mindset, a belief that abilities can be developed.1,2  Many pharmacists (and other health professionals) feel like “imposters” which arises from a belief that their success is largely due to luck and timing, rather than their own effort.  The imposter phenomenon might be related to a fixed mindset. With a growth mindset, perhaps new graduates can better manage the inevitable challenges as they enter the workforce?

What is the difference between the person who crumbles versus the person who thrives after receiving negative feedback?  Mindset. A person with a fixed mindset assumes abilities and talents are relatively fixed.  Either someone has the ability to do something well or does not. A fixed mindset can be identified by characteristics such as avoiding challenges, feeling threatened by others, giving up easily, resorting to cheating and deception to get ahead, and focusing on the outcome rather than the process. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset believe that one's abilities, intelligence, and skills can be grown and developed through effort and hard work. Failure is seen as an opportunity for growth and criticism is a tool to better one's self. With a growth mindset, hard work and determination are embraced — there is a passion for learning (the process) rather than a hunger for success (the outcome). It is important to keep in mind that individuals often have different mindsets towards different domains in their lives, and mindsets can change.


Fixed Mindset

Growth mindset


Abilities and intelligence is fixed

Abilities and intelligence can be developed


Fine the way it is, nothing to change

How can I improve?


Give up easily

Persevere when faced with failure and setbacks


Avoid new experiences due to fear of failure, blames others

Embraces and sees as an opportunity to learn


Defensive, takes it personally

Accepts as a way to learn

One intriguing question that has been recently proposed: Is there a correlation between a fixed mindset and the imposter syndrome? The imposter phenomenon (IP) is the official psychological term and it describes a pattern of thinking whereby successful individuals feel unworthy of the success they have achieved.  They don’t feel competent and worry that their lack of skill will be “discovered.” In one study that surveyed medical, dental, nursing, and pharmacy students, significant levels of distress and rates of IP were found.3  Indeed, pharmacy students were at the highest risk for the IP when compared to other health professions.3 A recent study found a significantly higher prevalence of IP among pharmacy residents in comparison to trainees in other healthcare professions.4  These data show a worrisome pattern but can we do anything about it?  Although a correlation between IP and a fixed mindset has not been conclusively proven, some researchers believe that adopting a growth mindset could reduce the risk of IP. By implementing techniques that foster a growth mindset early in pharmacy education, students would learn to be better equipped to handle the stress and competitive environment of pharmacy school as well as the workforce.

How can we foster a growth mindset among pharmacists and student pharmacists? The first step begins with educating the educator. To be able to foster a growth mindset, the educator must have good foundational knowledge and demonstrate a growth mindset themselves.  They need to be role models! Simply bringing awareness to the idea of different mindsets has been shown to foster a shift in thinking. This can be done in didactic lectures, small group discussions, and personal experiences.

Ways That Educators Promote Mindsets

Fostering a Fixed Mindset

Fostering a Growth Mindset

·  Multiple-choice exams

·  Praising intelligence, skill, talent

·  Focusing on results

·  Limited, nonspecific formative feedback

·  Socratic questioning

·  Learning experiences

·  Allowing multiple drafts

·  Pre- and post-tests

·  Frequent formative feedback

Feedback is critically important during any learning experience, but to promote a growth mindset, intentional, constructive feedback must be provided so that students are praised for their processes and improvements rather than the grades they achieve.  The teacher should focus on effort and growth. Although feedback is usually given at the end of a course or experience, the foundation should be laid at the beginning of an experience when expectations and goals are established. After having the opportunity to perform and be assessed, trainees should be provided with constructive feedback and opportunities to improve. To be considered constructive, feedback should be specific, based on direct observations (or other evidence), and objective (criterion-referenced) while also providing advice on how to improve. Self-reflection should also be used as a way for trainees to reflect upon the processes they employed when complete tasks and assignments. Thinking and talking about processes provide insight about what went well as well as areas of improvement.

Grades in general do not provide insight into the learning process or growth of a student. A single summative assessment or ranking does not promote the beliefs that foster a growth mindset; however, the use of formal assessments can be beneficial when used appropriately. Introductory and advanced pharmacy practice experiences, as well as residency training, represent ideal environments to implement pre-and post-tests to highlight the amount of growth from the experience. Rather than receiving only a final grade, trainees can tangibly see their growth by comparing their pre-rotation and post-rotation scores.

Self-assessments tools like The Mindset Assessment on The Mindset Works website provide insight into one's mindset and could be beneficial for both educators and trainees. This short assessment is a diagnostic tool that can be used to objectively assess and learn more about one's mindset; it also provides specific recommendations on how to move toward a growth mindset as well as personalized feedback.5

Healthcare and pharmacy practice is an everchanging field that can be taxing for students, residents, as well as practitioners. By cultivating a growth mindset, pharmacists can overcome the challenges faced during their training and after entering the workforce. Faculty and preceptors play a key role in educating and promoting a growth mindset during the early stages of their pharmacy careers. Trainees must learn to develop the skills needed to persevere in the face of failure, accept criticism as a learning opportunity, seek out challenges, and, just important, reduce the stress and anxiety from feeling like an imposter. 


  1. Dweck CS. Self-Theories, Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press; 2000.
  2. Dweck CS. Mindset, The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House Digital; 2008.
  3. Henning K, Ey S, Shaw D. Perfectionism, the imposter phenomenon and psychological adjustment in medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy students. Med Educ. 1998;32(5):456-46.
  4. Sullivan JB, Ryba NL. Prevalence of imposter phenomenon and assessment of well-being in pharmacy residents. Am J Health-Syst Pharm. 2020;77:690-696.
  5. Burgoyne AP, Macnamara BN. The reliability and validity of the mindset assessment profile tool. PsyArXiv; 2020. doi: 10.31234/osf.io/hx53u