Why do 77% of student radiographers feel like imposters?

Three-quarters of radiography students have experienced a lack of confidence and stress, according to a new study

Published: 02 November 2023 Students

A study into feelings of imposter syndrome in student radiographers in the UK has revealed more than three-quarters experience feelings of not belonging, lack of confidence, and high levels of stress while on clinical placement.

The research, published in SoR journal Radiography, titled 'Impostor phenomenon traits in radiography students: Findings from a UK pilot survey,'  was carried out by C Gibson and P Lockwood.

Researchers interviewed 92 undergraduate diagnostic and therapeutic radiographers to discover the levels of and causes behind feelings of imposter syndrome, which it defined as a set of feelings about one’s own work, including that they are waiting to be exposed as a fraud and that any successes are down to luck and are undeserved.

The study revealed 77 per cent of respondents experienced imposter syndrome, with students in their second year of study being most likely to experience imposter syndrome, followed by first and then third year students.

Understanding the workforce crisis

The specific dynamic of their clinical placement environment, feelings of not belonging, being an older or mature student, and having prior knowledge of or experience with imposter syndrome increased these feelings of imposter syndrome, the survey also found.

Understanding this phenomenon is vital to understanding the current workforce crisis, the survey emphasised – an estimated 94 per cent of NHS trusts have vacant radiography positions, and the average staff turnover rate in these locations is projected to be 11.8 per cent.

“There is currently a need to grow the radiography workforce," the paper said. 

"However, student radiographers report a lack of confidence and feelings of stress whilst on clinical placements.”

Stress, underconfidence, and a lack of belonging

Radiography students also feel higher levels of imposter syndrome than other healthcare or medical students, such as dental or nursing students.

The key themes suggested “a period of adjustment to placement is needed for radiography students and that imposter syndrome feelings reduce with time and experience,” the survey added.

Increased levels of imposter syndrome in second year students, additionally, can be explained by the accelerating development of their practice, as they become more autonomous and are expected to improve in all aspects (academic and practical) towards level 6 qualification.

Meanwhile third-year students are more confident and ready for clinical practice as qualified professionals than the other less experienced year groups due to their additional placement time.

Despite these high levels of imposter syndrome, students “succeed in placement and qualify to become working radiographers,” the researchers added.

Crossing the 'yawning chasm'

To overcome these feelings, the study recommended improving radiography students' understanding and knowledge of imposter syndrome. 

This should occur before radiography students' second years, and they may benefit from it in their first year before clinical placements. Other studies into potential training found this does not need to be extensive training, and can be done in a one-off workshop provided the information presented is accurate.

Formalised mentoring programmes can also have a positive impact, the survey suggested, as a way of helping development students’ “professional identities.”

A respondent to the survey said: “In my opinion, as a third-year student, I am pushed nowhere near hard enough on placement to prepare me for life as a qualified radiographer - the transition from being a student to being a staff member should be almost seamless, especially after training for three years in the same institution. Instead, a yawning chasm continues to exist between finishing the third year and starting as a working radiographer.”

Imposter syndrome was also linked more generally to depression and anxiety.