Moving Through Impostor Syndrome

A team of supporters can help build confidence


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As president of Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital, Rebecca Starck, MD, believes that doctors are leaders at their core. Medicine, she says, is “really about helping people find positivity in their lives, helping people live a better life, helping people find their passion.”

Dr. Starck’s medical specialty is obstetrics and gynecology. In 2010, she was appointed chair of Cleveland Clinic’s regional OB/GYN department. In an interview with Brian Bolwell, MD, for the “Beyond Leadership” podcast, she says the move to an administrative leadership role felt right.

“I had been in practice here for over 10 years, so I felt I understood what that could look like from a leadership standpoint,” says Dr. Starck.


She quickly found satisfaction in helping patients by helping other physicians.

In her conversation with Dr. Bolwell, Dr. Starck discusses her approach to leadership challenges, including the value of finding others she could trust to supply support.

Podcast excerpt

Dr. Bolwell: You talked about the imposter syndrome, and I’d like to follow up on that because I think it’s something we don’t talk about enough. I think everybody in a new role, certainly in a new leadership role, is insecure and has anxieties. And then the question is, how do you deal with that and how do you overcome it? Tell us a little bit more about that.

Dr. Starck: I think the most important thing was to find key trusted individuals that I could lean on, whether they cheer you along the way, behind closed doors, the person to reach out to. And you know, four or five people is probably all you need, right? If you get too much broader than that, then it becomes the panel discussion, and it can be one-on-one along the way. Trusted individuals to provide that support and encouragement is critical. Some folks, I don’t know that I would even have recognized them as being those individuals.


I think the other piece of it was going back to the basics of trusting myself innately and digging down into the recognition that people want a leader. People are looking for someone’s vision and someone to follow and somebody to help them see. Even, again, as our community had to deal with the uncharted waters of the COVID pandemic, I began hosting weekly meetings with the local municipal leaders, the mayors, the school superintendents. Each week I would first hear information from our specialists here at the Cleveland Clinic, the infectious disease specialist. I would then turn around and share that information on a broader level. We were all in uncharted water, but they were just desperate for information. That went on for a couple of years. It was just the basics and bringing it down, instead of getting overwhelmed of the what ifs and the future and where are we going, it was, OK, let’s take a step back and say, what are the basics that people need to hear and think about?

I feel like the imposter syndrome is not an uncommon thing, you’re absolutely right, for new leaders. Finding those trusted individuals and then bringing it back down to what do I know and what do I believe is the trusted right path forward to trust, and how I can set that vision for others. And also recognizing that I don’t know everything and stating that, and then bringing in individuals who can be the content experts in certain areas. And that’s critical too. Building that team who can support you.

Because as I’ve gotten into higher leadership roles, clearly there’s far more that’s out of my comfort zone because it’s not my clinical area of expertise. But finding the right leaders who can complement you and then also lead their teams is critical.

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