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Tackling “Imposter Syndrome” Mentality in Fire and EMS

Tackling “Imposter Syndrome” Mentality in Fire and EMS

A dejected firefighter suffering from the effects of imposter syndrome

When people think of first responders, like those of us who are EMTs and firefighters, they often think of someone who is confident and capable—a hero who puts their lives on the line to save others. 

But each of us, no matter if we are a firefighter, paramedic, educator, EMT, or officer, is a human being with limitations, just like the people we serve. That’s why focusing on firefighter and EMS mental health is so important. We must be healthy and confident in our capabilities before we can help others and perform our job to the fullest. 

A simple Google search on “imposter syndrome” showcases how common of an issue it is amongst the emergency medicine community. Here’s what you need to know to recognize and overcome imposter syndrome in your own life and to help others in your department.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is, “A psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” 

Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, clinical psychologists, first used the term in 1978. During their research, they found that people in positions of leadership or authority felt like they didn’t deserve their success, despite their individual accomplishments.

When left unaddressed, imposter syndrome can evolve into more serious mental health issues like uncontrolled stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also prevent you from pursuing new career opportunities or taking on leadership roles. 

Research by the International Journal of Behavioral Science shows that 70 percent of people experience some form of imposter syndrome during their lives.

Recognizing Imposter Syndrome

Even though imposter syndrome is common in emergency professionals, it can be difficult to recognize.

Here are some common signs of imposter syndrome you can look for in yourself and in your team members:

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Like any form of firefighter of EMS therapy, the first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is admitting to yourself that you are experiencing it. 

Recognize that the majority of people feel this way at some point in their careers. Part of building self-confidence skills in the workplace is recognizing where you are struggling and how you are working to grow stronger. 

Here are some tips to help you build more confidence and competence in your role as a first responder. 

As you work hard to understand, recognize, and overcome imposter syndrome, you will be able to build resilience and the competence and confidence you need to improve outcomes in your community.


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