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Why did I avoid science and math in college? Why did I feel my successes in high school were somehow a fraud? When I earned a B.A. in American Studies and a Masters in City Planning, these did not feel fraudulent. They made sense: I cared about civil rights and social equity.

As for my undergraduate premed work, I viewed it as an experiment. If I didn’t make it to medical school, I still had my former career, even if I had decided it was one that would not fulfill me. My wonderful grandfather told me, “If you can’t see yourself happy in 30 years, leave!" He told me his own story: "When your grandmother was pregnant with your mother, and it was a recession, I was at lunch with a friend. I told him it was not the job for me. I did not even go back for my hat!”

An experiment meant I could look at results, not whether I was pretending. 

Once in medical school, my class was the first in our institution with 30% women. The national average was still 3%. Pretending? Went with the territory as women.

Fast forward: as a family medicine physician, when did I feel like I was not a fraud? For me, it was less about pretending and more about not belonging. I would tip toe through the ICU and the ER. Eventually, I learned to “feel” I belonged, at least in certain places. Labor & Delivery. The medicine wards. And caring for kids and adults in clinic.

There is such a difference between feeling like a fraud and feeling like you don't belong. There is such a difference between getting up and doing what we need to do and pretending we know more than we know. Pretending for me was different than that little voice that said, “What are you thinking that you can belong here? Who said you could be one of us?" For that little voice--the voice that said I didn't belong--I learned to quiet it, look at results, and carry on. If I slipped into pretending, I would have fallen prey to believing their paradigm that I couldn’t do it.

Sharon Dobie
Seattle, Washington