Nurse Imposter Syndrome


Published: 11 February 2016

You walk on the floor, dressed in your uniform, and read the assignment board. You have five patients, and you have to swallow the gorge that rises into your throat. Looking around, you wonder if anyone notices how nervous you are. How can they give you patients? How can they not know that you don’t know anything? Not really, anyway. Compared to all of these other nurses, you are just a neophyte, not knowing how to care for a patient in the expert way you should.

If the above sounds like you, you are probably suffering from imposter syndrome. This means that you feel like you don’t belong because you don’t know enough. It is that feeling that asks, “Do I really know what I’m doing?” Nurse imposter syndrome usually occurs in newer nurses who are very aware of their limitations, but it can happen to experienced nurses, as well. The good news is that you are not really an imposter. You can handle it, but you need to believe in yourself. You do know what you are doing, and there is almost always someone to help. Here are a few tips for dealing with imposter syndrome.

You Have the Knowledge

Nurses are avid learners, engaging in education almost every week. Even if you are still a graduate nurse, you’ve been through university and have had orientation. These are not small accomplishments, and you should be proud that you made it that far. Not everyone does. All nursing is about keeping patients safe. Fall back on that when you feel overwhelmed. If you don’t know if the patient is safe, investigate, ask questions, or call for help. This is what a nurse does, and if you are able to do that, then you are, indeed, a nurse. You deserve to be there.

Everyone Struggles at First

While university does set you up to succeed, it is true that everyone struggles at first. You know that super nurse that you admire so much? Struggled at first. Your manager? Struggled at first. Your preceptor? Yep, struggled at first. Is it any wonder that you are struggling? No, it is actually expected because struggling at first is so intrinsic to the nursing experience. Knowing what to do when a patient doesn’t look right takes experience to diagnose. The important point is that you know that something is wrong. Sometimes things may get past you, but your ability to know something is wrong will help you toward feeling more confident as a nurse.
You shouldn’t feel like an imposter if you are struggling. You shouldn’t leave nursing because you are struggling, either. It may take up to a year before you start to feel comfortable doing your job, and that can really weigh on your self-esteem. An imposter wouldn’t worry about these things. They wouldn’t even realise they don’t know everything. These are dangerous nurses. It is healthy that you doubt yourself because then you are less likely to make mistakes. Struggling means you are trying. Doubting yourself means you acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Feeling like an imposter means you don’t wrongly think of yourself as the next Florence Nightingale.

Find a Mentor

One of the best ways to soothe nursing imposter syndrome is to find a mentor. You may not believe the assurance that everyone struggles because the internet often lies. However, someone you know and trust will likely not lie to you. They will be able to tell you that the first hurdle of nursing is feeling like an imposter. It is an awesome and overwhelming responsibility to be handed patients, and if you feel nauseated at the thought, you are not alone. A mentor can tell you that.

A mentor can let you express your feelings of not being good enough. They will help to assure you that everything you are going through is normal. Sometimes, mentors pop up in the strangest places. Some may appear on your nursing unit, but some may be teachers you had in nursing school. It is even possible to find good mentors on the internet in nursing discussion groups. Having support is the best medicine for imposter syndrome. Experience is the second best cure, but that takes time. If you are wondering how anyone can trust you with such an awesome responsibility, find someone to talk to about your feelings. You will find you aren’t the first and certainly not the last.