“Congratulations, Doctor. You’re officially a veterinarian.” The words rang in my ear, feeling ridiculous, a joke, even.
It was May 5, 2005. I had just finished 4 grueling years of vet school and somehow had managed to pass my national board exam. The auditorium was full of proud families, including my own. There were 52 of us walking across the stage that day in Starkville, Mississippi. I felt self conscious, fearful of the future, a little bit in shock, but mostly tremendous relief. Thank goodness vet school is over!
As I walked across the stage and received my (fake) diploma (they actually kept our real ones hostage until we returned our borrowed cap and gowns), a professor was waiting at the bottom of the stage to shake my hand and present me with a name tag, a gift for all the graduating students. It read “Dr. Megan Dunn”. Certainly he could see the skepticism in my face as he smirked a little and called me “Doctor”. That was the first moment I had ever been addressed as a veterinarian.
The next day I had to run by Wal-Mart and pick up some cat litter. Small chit chat with the lady at check out somehow led to the declaration “I’m a veterinarian.” It sounded doubly false coming from my own lips.
These feelings are actually not unique to my experience. In fact so many professionals feel like a fake that there is a name for it. “Impostor Syndrome.” This is an experience shared by many accomplished people in which they have an internal fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Most new parents are quite familiar with Impostor Syndrome.
As unreal as it seemed to be called “Doctor” for the first time, nothing compared to actually performing as a veterinarian for the first time. Walking into the exam room in the small but charming little clinic in North Carolina, I took a deep breath and stood as tall as I could, praying my trembling knees wouldn’t betray me.
“There is a patient in room one to see you. Her dog has a swelling on his head.” Fake smile. You’ve got this.
“Hi, I’m Doctor Dunn,” I said, more trying to convince myself than Ms. Baker. “So when did you first notice the swelling on Peanut’s head?”
Ms. Baker explained her dog’s entire life story as I examined poor Peanut. The little Chihuahua had a painful soft tissue swelling on the back of his head. I only half listened as I had a rapid internal dialogue with myself.
What do I do, what do I do? Where the heck are the real doctors to back me up? This poor woman came for help, and all she got was me! Okay, calm down. Pain, swelling, no fluid, acute inflammation. Anti-inflammatories?