blank'/> A LITTLE BIT OF LACQUER: A note on that little voice in our heads

February 10, 2014

A note on that little voice in our heads

For today's Med School Monday I wanted to do something a little bit more personal - discussing something that plagues each and every one of us - that voice in our heads telling us we're not good enough. 

I almost didn't apply to Harvard. I almost convinced myself that I would never be able to get into a place like that - heck I'd be lucky even getting into my state medical school. I did a lot of reading on pre-med forums that made me question all of my hard work I had done up to that point, and almost didn't give myself the opportunity to come to the amazing place I am now. Thankfully I ended up saying "why not?" and applied anyway.

Getting here, though, I constantly had to fight that little voice in my head telling me I wasn't good enough to be here. In class I was never a fan of speaking up even if I knew the answer, I didn't want to look like the know-it-all, or even worse - be wrong. It took lots of small moments to shine (ie getting called on or having to do a presentation) that really helped me solidify my self-confidence in my pre-clinical years, but finally I felt like I belonged.

Then came the clinical years, and once again I had to deal with an even louder voice telling me I had no idea what I was doing. This time though, the voice was sort of right, but having learned my lesson about dealing with this voice I did something about it and fast. If there was ever something I didn't know, I made a note of it in a little journal I kept in my white coat pocket, and reviewed it or looked it up later that night. When I started this, I wrote down everything - the pronunciation of my attending's name, passcodes for doors, what abbreviations meant, which color tube to draw blood in, the differential for wheezing, anything and everything! And soon enough the list got shorter and shorter, and even more amazingly, people started asking me stuff, me! And I knew the answer! I paid attention to that voice, because it was initially right, but I did something about it and felt so much more confident on the wards.

I share these stories with you all with two lessons in mind:

  1. There's a voice in our heads that almost always tells us we're not good enough. Especially for women, that voice is almost constantly present and isn't always warranted. That voice we need to ignore. We need to take chances, believe in ourselves, and just go for it. No selling yourself short like I almost did.
  2. Sometimes though, that voice is warranted, and we need to listen to it and do something about it! We aren't good at everything from the start and we don't know it all (and we never will), and that fear in your belly before doing something new is a reminder of all of that. But rather than be put off by that voice and paralyzed by that fear, we should welcome it as a chance to learn and even master something new, realizing that each time we do this we are getting that much better at whatever it is we do.
I hope you all enjoyed this short little post! I'd love to hear about your experiences in dealing with "that voice," as always feel free to comment below!! 


  1. I love this post! So much truth in it.

  2. laura, i love your posts because you are so down to earth as a female physician-to-be and a role model in so many ways. this topic is especially important for many of your readers because i feel like many of us fall prey to this inner voice every day. i like your advice on noting every little thing you don't know and making an action that day to learn it. i'll be keeping this in mind as i start wards in a few months!

    angie of pandaphilia fashion

  3. I might be experiencing a slightly different med school in London but that voice still exists. Thanks for encouraging me to ignore part of it and act on the other!

    I can't remember if I've ever commented before but I love reading your blog and especially Med School Mondays, thanks for putting your life, career and beautiful baby girl out there :)

  4. Such a relatable post! That little voice piped up much too often when I was an undergrad. I I'd always be second-guessing myself, questioning whether I would be smart enough to get into medical school - smart enough to survive medical school! It's taken a while, but I think I'm finally learning to deal with "the voice". I love your realistic view that even though we should be confident in what we're capable of, we still need to have humility and embrace opportunities for becoming better at whatever we're doing.

    Thanks so much for sharing. Oh and I'll definitely be adopting your notepad strategy, since pronunciations are definitely not my forte!


  5. Thanks for this post, Laura! It's good to hear that I'm not the only person who hears that voice, from time to time.

    I have my national licensing exam coming up in April and have been taking practice exams. The one I took last night did not give me the score I hoped for! Talk about disappointment...and the resurfacing of that voice telling me that I can't do this. I went to bed last night with that voice in my head, but woke up feeling better and more focused!

  6. I needed to read this post. I'm going through something similar right now where my voice is telling me I'm not good enough and a really close friend of mine called me out on it. It hurt to hear that, but it's even harder trying to fix the problem. I'm really glad to know that others go through that as well. Thank you!

    I'll try to raise my hand in class tomorrow when I know the answer :)

  7. This is perfect. Just what I needed to hear. Thank you, Laura <3

  8. Oh I know that voice too well. Thanks for this post, it gives me the much needed nudge to act upon this voice. Thank you

  9. This post embodies your whole blog so well - really inspiring yet totally practical. Well done - thanks again!

  10. Hey there pretty lady!
    This is Roxana, UMass, many years ago....hope you remember!

    Anyways, I stumbled on your blog not too long ago and was so excited to find it! Now you have an adorable baby and are almost done with med school! Amazing! I graduate this year and am going into IM!

    Although I've been following you for some time, I've never felt the need to post something until today (I'm a fan of your outfits). I totally agree and identify with what you've said here. I've had that "little voice" since high school but I didn't learn to deal with it until med school--during the clinical year. I was also not a big fan of speaking out even when I knew the answer. But when you're picked on, especially during rounds, you have to spew out all that knowledge so that you don't look bad. During my first rotation (Peds, PICU), I had one of my attendings tell me to be more confident because I knew my stuff. And since then, my confidence grew exponentially. Going back home after a long day on service and reading up on the stuff I didn't know definitely helped me fight that little voice.

    I agree with all parts of this post: we need to ignore that little voice and be confident BUT we also need that little voice to make us better.

    Love your blog, still miss you...R

    1. Roxana I hope you get this message - I miss you so much and thank you so so much for commenting! I really hope intern year is going well - I'm sure you're killing it!! Would love to catch up sometime shoot me an email if you do see this <3

  11. I love this post ! Being in law school, I can definitely relate. The atmosphere in law school can be so intense because you get called on in class regularly and of course, no one ever wants to be wrong. Sometimes I also have to remind myself that the admissions board saw something in me and that I got in the same way everyone else did :)

    Thanks for this !

  12. I think it is funny and such a coincidence that you posted this. I'm currently going through the same thing. I just recently commissioned into the US Army as a 2nd Lieutenant. Based on the background that I come from (stereotypical black girl background) I felt that I didn't compare to my peers. These guys around me are from a wholesome background, loved by mom and dad, been around the world cultured and all around intelligent people. Now that's not to say that I'm not equally intelligent but I was intimidated by these newly graduated college kids. (I'm 29 graduated from East Carolina University in 2007 been in the army as an enlisted soldier for about 10 years before commissioning). Anyway the point you make is spot on and I'm thankful that you posted this to solidify my thoughts that I actually do belong.. With hard work and dedication I found that I'm just as good if not better than most of my peers :) Keep up the good work and congratulations to you on your beautiful baby girl!

  13. Nicely put. I am at the end of my third year of med school, putting together my courses for the next year and since I am drawn to some pretty competitive specialities, I've heard the voice come up a lot louder than its usual self lately. Glad to hear I am not the only one. I am dreading my sub-Is, but also trying to get excited at the same time. Thanks for sharing so much on your blog.

  14. Imposter syndrome is really pervasive, but rarely discussed - the fight club of confidence :) Anyway, it's great (and important, I think) to hear you talk about it! Thank you!

  15. I'm not applying to Med school anytime soon, but I love your posts like this Laura. You are so authentic and open…which is maybe why you are such a great blogger. I love that you recognize something that we all experience - insecurity - and give some practical ways to be proactive and ignite the change process. So great!

    Have a wonderful Valentines's Day pretty momma!
    xo - Marion

  16. I love this. And I can totally relate! I love the idea of keeping a notebook to write down things that you need to look up. I feel like I'm constantly going "huh?" in clinical situations. Thanks for sharing! :)

  17. you are so AWESOME for posting this..i wish people shared this aspect of our selves more. we all experience this!!! and its refreshing post. thanks laura!

  18. Hey Laura,

    You may not remember me, but I was one of your early followers when you started this blog. Back then I had my own style blog and that is how we connected. I stopped blogging on 2011, because I was very busy working with Teach for America. All this to say that I have not visited your blog since maybe 2012 and I am amazed at how your life has changed since then. The fact that you are a new mom and still pursuing you're medical career is so inspiring. I also feel like your posts are so insightful and confident (with out sounding arrogant). Congrats on all the new developments, most importantly your new daughter (we share the same name!)


  19. Thank you so much for sharing this with me

  20. Hi Laura,

    You are so right about the "voice in your head". I have experienced (and still do experience from time to time) that same voice in my head too. Like you, it almost stopped me from applying to the medical school that I am in now. This school was my far reaching school the pre-med advisors tell you to apply to 'just in case' you get in. Well… I got in. You are such an inspiration. I come to your blog whenever I need a reminder that I too can make it through medical school as flawlessly as you have.

    Thanks :)

  21. Perfect post. I am currently in the process of applying for grad school and I hear the little voice a million times a day, this post just gave me a little more fuel to keep on going. Thanks

  22. Found this in the right moment since I was feeling so discouraged this week with me hitting a tough spot in engineering and made me think I wont ever become an engineer or add to be a decent one and it gets in the way to study. I really like this post and made me remember that we should never sell ourselves short and Im not the only one who gets filled with self doubt

  23. So glad you got in, you are rocking it! And such an inspiration.

  24. Am so glad i came across this relevant and much needed post.

    Am writing my final exams in Engineering end of Jam to Feb 2016 and boy the anxiety and fear i feel every time i start studying was just too unbearable.


    Love from SA.

    P.S: All your post are so relevant regardless of when they were posted (today is 06 Jan 2016 in SA) :-)

  25. I listened to the voice. I made a huge mistake.

    I was from a poor family. I worked hard to get into medicine. I never said anything in class, never spoke up, because what did I know? All of these well-put-together people are here because they deserve to be. I'm probably here because of some diversity quota. I can't even tie a necktie. I don't fit.

    On the wards, I didn't say much, because what did I know? I was just a student. Plus I didn't want to look like a know it all.

    And then residency applications came and nobody knew who I was.

    And then the match came and nobody wanted me, because nobody could ask about me.

    And then I ended up having to match to a place filled with unknowns and untouchables doing a field I didn't want to do. And there I was with them. I was them. I am one.

    Now I can't get out. It's too late to repair the damage. I'm scum.

    The voice puts you there. Never listen to it. Don't make the same mistake I did. The voice hates you.

  26. Reading those pre-medical forums can be helpful and dangerous. I have a dream school in mind that I am just going to apply to next cycle because like you proved anything can happen. Doubt has to be kept in a delicate balance, but I like to think that I am always “good enough” to try. Great advice!


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