One common trait that I’ve seen in both nursing students and new nurses is the struggle of feeling inadequate. Nursing students waste far too much energy wondering if they’ve selected the right major, whether they have what it takes to pass nursing school, and so forth.
New nurses also struggle with a myriad of self-defeating thoughts. They can feel as though they don’t really know what they are doing. They can feel as if they don’t quite have what it takes to learn nursing skills and proper time management so that they can provide appropriate patient care.
Unfortunately, these feelings can hold back nursing students and new nurses, and these thoughts can even evolve into a phenomenon known as “imposter syndrome.”
Nurse Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome occurs when a person feels as if he or she really isn’t good enough and has only gotten to where they are due to luck or deception. They often feel that they are fakes who are merely putting on a show, and they aren’t nearly as intelligent or skilled as people perceive them to be. They often worried that one day someone will discover “the truth” and expose their inadequacies.
As the name suggests, some people walk around feel like imposters. And as you can imagine, these feelings can affect both nursing students and new nurses alike.
Nursing Student Imposter Syndrome
Nursing students can experience feelings of imposter syndrome when they constantly discount their good grades, ATI or HESI exam scores, or even their achievement of graduating from nursing school. Students suffering from these feelings often feel as though they didn’t really earn the grades or that they weren’t good enough. Instead, they feel as if they merely “crammed” in creative ways or that they had easy teachers, but they rarely acknowledge their own hard work and abilities.
Students may fear that their peers will discover that they aren’t as smart as everyone thought they were, or that all of that knowledge they learned will be soon forgotten, leaving them looking stupid and exposed to the world.
Nurse Imposter Syndrome in New Nurses
New nurses can especially struggle with feeling fake or inadequate. Some nurses feel a sense of relief as they clock out at the end of each shift, fearing that a patient could have died due to their perceived lack of skill or knowledge.
Some nurses constantly battle feeling as if they don’t belong in the nursing profession at all. They may secretly fear that their nursing peers will discover that they really don’t know what they are doing, and they’ve merely been putting on a “show” for everyone.
Overcoming Nursing Imposter Syndrome and Feelings of Inadequacy
If you find yourself struggling with feelings of inadequacy, fear, or even nursing imposter syndrome, here are a few tips that may help.
At its core, imposter syndrome often incorporates irrational thinking. You may feel like a fake or a fraud. You may feel stupid or that you’ve merely pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. However, you have to step back and rationally analyze what you’ve accomplished.
For example, a nursing student who feels as if he or she has merely “fooled” everyone into thinking they are smart needs to understand that nursing school is not easy. You have to take many exams with questions that require critical thinking. Nursing school is going to weed out the people who aren’t cut out for it, and if you make it through, you shouldn’t question your abilities.
The same is true for new nurses. The NCLEX is not an easy exam, and it does not show favoritism to people. You either know these nursing concepts or you don’t. And if you passed, NCLEX is telling you that you have understood nursing concepts well enough to practice nursing. Granted, you will learn a lot on the job, too, but you’ve at least demonstrated that you understand core concepts necessary to work or train as a nurse.
Beware of the Dunning-Kruger Effect
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people with low knowledge or ability are found to be overly confident, whereas people who have advanced knowledge or skill are sometimes found to underestimate their ability.
That may not be true in every case, but it makes a lot of sense in some situations. For example, a nurse who understands the many nuances or potential problems of certain nursing skills or medications might be more hesitant or stressed, constantly worrying that they’ll forget something. In contrast, a less informed nurse might not even consider such things and feel overconfident in his or her ability.
So if you do find that you are filled with doubt, you might want to step back and evaluate whether your doubts are actually proof that you have grown in your knowledge or skills, all thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect!
It’s Normal to Forget Things
It can be frustrating to spend so much time studying a concept or practicing a nursing skill, only to forget it later on. Unfortunately, that’s a normal side effect of being human. Some studies have suggested that we remember as little as 10-20% of what we read. In nursing school, you’ll learn a vast amount of information in each course: pharmacology, anatomy, microbiology, nursing theory, and so forth.
It isn’t humanly possible to remember every little detail of everything. You will forget some things, even things you once mastered on exams in school. And that’s okay.
If you feel as though you’re rusty on nursing skills or a certain disease process, take time to crack open books or watch some lectures to refresh your knowledge. That way, you’ll feel much more confident in your abilities, and you’ll stop doubting yourself so much.
You’re Not Alone
Finally, remember that as a nursing student or nurse, you’re not alone in your journey. Not only are others feeling the same feelings that you are feeling, but you also have ample resources to help you succeed and grow on your journey.
If you’re struggling in nursing school with these feelings, form a study group or seek out help from those who have went before you. Soak up as many study resources as you can so that you can build your confidence and stop doubting yourself so much.
If you’re a new nurse, work hard to learn the skills that you’ll use regularly within your specialty, and give yourself time to learn them. If you feel as though you aren’t comfortable in your skills after some time, seek out a class at your hospital, find a nursing mentor on your floor, take some continuing education courses on a topic, or crack open some nursing books or online nursing lectures to help fill in the gaps in your knowledge base.
Do whatever you have to do so that you can build your confidence and grow in the nursing profession, and don’t allow feelings of insecurity or “imposter syndrome” to stagnate your growth as a nurse.