Imposter syndrome as a graduate

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Emma Ingram began her career with Specsavers in 2014 as an optical assistant in Bendigo and later Waurn Ponds while completing her optometry degree. She graduated from Deakin University in 2019 and has returned back to Bendigo to enjoy regional practice at Specsavers Bendigo and Kangaroo Flat. In this blog, she discusses imposter syndrome and how you can overcome it. 

Confidence can be elusive at the best of times, but when starting something new (like being a graduate optometrist!) it can be harder to find than Schwalbe’s line on gonioscopy. I graduated last year and have found the situations I’ve approached with confidence have been far better than those where I’ve felt the imposter syndrome hitting hard. To shake off  the imposter syndrome I’ve needed three very valuable things: 

A good support system

A support system can look like many things. Mine tends to look like people – lots of them. It was a treat to get to start my professional career where my journey began. It’s been six years since I walked into Specsavers Bendigo as a fresh-faced optical assistant with dreams of becoming an optometrist. Talking through the highs and lows of figuring everything out with a fellow Deakin grad, my mentors, and the dispensers at work, as well as my friends and family at home has kept me sane through those first months, UIOLI and now the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the Support Office team has been so supportive, hosting some great events throughout uni placement and grad to help us find our feet during this first year. Making the leap into something new is always easier when you’re not alone. 

Knowing what I’m talking about

Coming out of the other side of university with a degree under my belt and the title of “optometrist” was surely enough to give me everything I needed to be a confident, capable optometrist, right? I was very quick to learn that the answers to a patient’s most important questions were not something on the uni syllabus: When will my glasses be ready?”  or “How much will it cost to see this specialist?” and the difficult, “What would you do if you were in my situation?” Keeping an eye on what happens at the front of the store and getting to know the ophthalmologists and other local medical professionals is a breeze, which means that when the curly questions are asked it’s easy to focus on the important stuff. 

Not overthinking it

In my first week of practice, I felt the need to justify every single decision – that’s the game of exam prep which I was so used to. By the time I had justified a visual field test, then a repeat and then a referral my brain was completely burnt out. “Surely my patients are marvelling at how insane I am asking them to do all these tests?” I imagined. It was exhausting! Fortunately, I remembered that it was my name written on the degree in my office and the whole reason patients come in to see us is because we are the experts. Learning to trust myself, not overthink everything, and just getting on with it took time and a bit of unlearning from uni.

The metamorphosis from student to graduate seems awkward and clunky but after stretching my wings and practicing for a year it’s feeling a bit more natural and a little less like I’m an imposter and more like I’m an expert.

More in the Specsavers Graduate Program Blog series

Why I went regional
Supported on a new journey
Moving forward with mentorship
Side by side in the second year
Through the eyes of a graduate optometrist
Three days of professional development
Practising rural optometry with a friend
Venturing into leadership with the Year Two Project

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