Nursing Imposter Syndrome: You’re Not Alone!

Nursing imposter syndrome Secondary: nurse imposter syndrome

Nurses are highly-trained professionals who serve a critical role in the care of patients with pride and precision. It doesn’t take long for new nurses to realize this isn’t a game; their decisions, observations, and application of their skills have consequences, creating an exciting but pressure-filled environment. They work in a wide spectrum of roles, and they’re constantly assessing, re-assessing, intervening, and collaborating with licensed providers while utilizing specialized skills to maximize patient outcomes.  

Despite their training, the pressure and decision making can cause a drop in confidence—especially if something goes wrong—and it’s why some nurses find themselves suffering from a condition known as imposter syndrome. This loss of confidence and persistent self doubt can be bad enough to end a career, even if a nurse is otherwise doing an exemplary job. 

Nursing imposter syndrome is real, and it’s important to know the signs and symptoms to support your colleagues and keep yourself on a positive trajectory. 

Fake it Till You…Fake it?

Nurses tend to be goal-oriented high-achievers with an underlying affinity for competition. If they weren’t this way before starting their healthcare journey, nursing school definitely sets them up for developing these traits.

In the face of a national nursing shortage, nursing schools still remain competitive for entry, and the complexity of the academic content on top of learning a range of new skills has many nursing students preoccupied with failure. This creates a tremendous amount of pressure to pass nursing school and that pressure doesn’t let up as they transition to practice.

Graduating nursing school, passing the NCLEX, and getting their first nursing job are all huge hurdles to clear on the road to developing professional confidence. A board-certified nurse has every reason to believe in themselves and trust their expertise, but because the career is so varied and new experiences are always just around the corner, it’s natural to go through fluctuations in self belief along the way.

When a loss of confidence combined with high expectations and exhaustion begins to spiral out of control, it can turn into patterns of negative self-talk that ultimately lead to a chronic feeling of being unqualified and inherently prone to errors. That’s the moment self doubt begins to tip over to nurse imposter syndrome. 

Feeling Like a Phoney

Of course, not all nurses are stuck in a chronic state of fight or flight, but the fact is nursing is never a stress-free job. Intense work environments, a premium on expertise, and complicated patient dynamics create plenty of opportunities for insecurity to spiral towards nurse imposter syndrome. 

Indications that someone is developing nurse imposter syndrome can be hard to spot, especially when feelings of shame and guilt lead a person to withdraw from colleagues. Extreme sensitivity to tiny or inconsequential errors, atychiphobia (irrational fear of failure), and a deep-seated sense of incompetence that constantly manifests in otherwise normal interactions are all indicators that a nurse may be developing an unhealthy relationship with stress and the nursing environment. 

Also, nursing imposter syndrome can affect anyone at any stage in their career. Transitioning to new roles or environments always introduces a learning curve that may affect confidence, and if a professional is inadequately prepared or lacks critical training—even if they are highly qualified and have a long track record of success—it can quickly contribute to drastic shifts in perceived self worth. 

The Impact of Imposter Syndrome and What It Looks Like

Although nursing imposter syndrome is first and foremost a mental health challenge, it often leads to a drop in tangible on-the-job performance. When this happens it can create a feedback loop of anxiety or depression that makes work an increasingly disproportionately stressful event.  

Beyond the challenges of managing daily tasks, imposter syndrome can leave some nurses fearful of stepping up and developing professionally. Avoidance is extremely common, and it can lead to lost opportunities for promotion or learning a new specialty that negatively affect career trajectory. 

While everyone’s experience with nursing imposter syndrome is unique, there are many common signs and symptoms to watch out for: 

  • Heightened sensitivity to small mistakes
  • Fear of failing the team
  • Burnout
  • Isolating from members of the team
  • Perfectionism
  • Setting unreasonably high standards
  • Showing a lack of confidence in skills

Fighting Imposter Syndrome

If healthcare professionals don’t deal with the thoughts and feelings that lead to imposter syndrome properly, they may continue to get worse until a breaking point is reached. Nurses are wired to identify and treat problems in others, so nursing imposter syndrome shouldn’t be any different. Keeping an eye out for the beginnings of imposter syndrome and supporting colleagues who are struggling should be a priority in any nursing environment. 

Stop the Negative Talk

Many people are their own worst enemy, and nurses are no different. They tend to be acutely aware of their own weaknesses, and it’s common to fixate on them throughout a career. While reflecting and appreciating opportunities for improvement are important, it’s healthy to frame them positively and constructively. Excessively negative thinking patterns can lead to a progressively pessimistic outlook that makes problem solving and growth much more difficult. 

Talk it Out 

Sharing how you feel with someone you trust can help get intrusive thoughts out into the open for a second opinion. A person’s assessment of their own performance is often far more critical than that of their colleagues, and discussion is a great way to get a broader perspective and evolve better coping strategies. 

Develop a Positive Culture

Nurses rarely work in isolation, and developing a supportive culture among teammates can make all the difference when nurses are tired and stressed. Creating an environment where people feel comfortable asking for help, communicating their needs, and are reminded of their value is often all it takes to stay positive through challenging circumstances. 

Learn to Reveal and Prevent Nursing Imposter Syndrome

The occasional lack of confidence or self-doubt can keep nurses humble, but when those feelings start to grow and dominate it may be time to reflect and assess where those impulses are coming from. Nursing imposter syndrome can create an unhappy work experience and hold people back from growing professionally as they become blind to their own potential. 

Growing professionally requires the confidence to learn new things and take on new opportunities, and Premiere is committed to making sure nurses are supported with high-quality continuing education content so they never have to worry about being uninformed and out of their depth. Regardless of where your career in nursing takes you, our Unlimited Nursing CEU Subscription will ensure you always have access to the information you need, when you need it. All of Premiere’s content is created by leading industry professionals, and its online format means you’ll be pushing the limits of your own success on a timeline that works for you.

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