Understanding and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as Nurse

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Imposter syndrome affects about 70% of all professionals, healthcare or otherwise, and it is the feeling that you are fooling everyone, you do not deserve to be where you are, and that everyone will soon find out that you do not belong, and you will be kicked out or humiliated. Although a lot of nurses feel this way, most of them do not know why they do – and even worse, some of them do not realize that what they are experiencing is imposter syndrome. In this article, we are going to look at what imposter syndrome is, why nurses experience it, and what nurses can do if these feelings ever come up.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome, also known by many other names, is when people fail to recognize that their achievements are good enough or even valid. For many people, these accomplishments and successes are explained away as a result of other people’s input or luck, but not the person’s own efforts. Imposter syndrome often leads nurses to feel like they are a fraud.

Imposter syndrome can strike at any time but many nurses who experience it say it gets worse when they are left alone with patients, when they are called upon to work in advanced nursing roles, or when they are given full control over patients’ lives.

Imposter syndrome is often crippling because nurses who experience it are always on the edge thinking they are about to be discovered. They think someone will expose them for not being as smart, competent, or successful as they think they are.

Why Do Nurses Experience Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is very complicated because everyone who experiences it does so differently. However, there are some reasons why nurses feel this way that come up more often than others.

Setting Unrealistic Standards

There are different ways in which nurses view competence and success and these are related directly to the standards they set for themselves. Perfectionists dwell on the things they do not get right no matter how good of a job they do. They think that they should know everything about their field and patient care. Any knowledge gaps can make perfectionists feel like a failure.

Soloists feel like they should do everything on their own and asking for help would be a sign of failure even though healthcare takes a team. Natural geniuses feel like they should master skills on the fast try or very quickly. Struggling with either of these makes them feel inadequate.

Super caregivers measure their success as the number of tasks or roles they can handle at the same time. In their struggle to do it all, they may end up failing in one area which makes them feel like imposters.

Switching to New Roles

Switching to a new role requires that nurses take on new responsibilities and new identities. These changes can be especially jarring for nurses who are starting their first jobs or moving to high-pressure environments. Feeling unprepared and not knowing what to expect leads to this insecurity and feelings of incompetence.

Pressure to Succeed

When there is a lot of pressure placed on a nurse to succeed, they may start feeling like a fraud if they cannot handle it. This often happens to nurses who grew up in environments that valued achievement and which meted out constant criticism.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

While nurses cannot always control when imposter feelings come up, there are things they can do to manage these feelings better.

Seek Out (Positive) Criticism

Equating criticism with incompetence, inadequacy, or failure leads nurses to avoid it, thereby missing out on growth opportunities. Seeking positive criticism and taking back control by asking how you can do better, what you should stop doing, and what you should continue doing is a great way to overcome these feelings.

Also, learn how to welcome praise. Instead of brushing off compliments or praise, internalize the praise, say “thank you”, and move on.

Lean on Your Education

For a lot of nurses, these feelings of inadequacy often stem from feeling like they do not know what they are doing. One thing to realize is that if you have graduated with a nursing degree from a reputable university like Marymount University, for example, then you are already qualified to provide the best care and be the best nurse for your patients. You can also go through past learning material if there are some areas you do not feel fully confident in. Doing this will also reassure you that you know what you are doing and increase your confidence when it comes to making assessments, choices and decisions.

Talk Positively to Yourself

Overcoming imposter syndrome requires that nurses stop attributing their accomplishments to other people or luck. By talking positively to and about yourself, you will be able to internalize positive feelings and achievements as well as realize just how strong and competent you are.

Look Back at Your History and Circumstances

In many cases, feeling like an imposter has nothing to do with your competency but rather your history, circumstances, and the people you have surrounded yourself with. All three of these can impact your self-confidence and therefore lead to feeling like an imposter. Looking back and working through them can reveal what is causing your imposter syndrome and therefore help you overcome it. Some circumstances such as transitioning to a new role can be stressful and you need to learn how to deal with them.

Seek Positive Relationships

Surround yourself with the people who can see your accomplishments and who will assure you that they are yours and that you should own them. These could be mentors, friends, families, or colleagues.

Imposter syndrome can be difficult to explain, especially for people who have never heard it described or discussed before. However, with the large number of nurses and other health professionals experiencing imposter syndrome, there is a need to show them how to identify it and how to deal with it when it comes up.

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