Understanding Imposter Syndrome

As healthcare professionals, nurses are often seen as the pillars of strength and knowledge, guiding patients through likely one of the most difficult times of their lives.  However, beneath their confident exteriors, many nurses grapple with a phenomenon known as imposter syndrome. This complex psychological pattern can cast doubts on even the most experienced nurses, leaving them questioning their abilities and feeling like frauds despite their accomplishments. In this blog post, we'll explore what imposter syndrome is, delve into its common causes, and provide strategies to overcome it and embrace your role as a capable and confident nurse.

What is Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where individuals doubt their skills, talents, and accomplishments, fearing that they will be exposed as frauds at any moment. This feeling is often accompanied by a persistent belief that their achievements are attributed to luck rather than their competence. Nurses experiencing imposter syndrome might undermine their achievements, thinking that others are more skilled or knowledgeable. Regardless of experience or qualifications, imposter syndrome can affect nurses at any stage of their careers. It truly does not matter if you are a brand new grad or even a seasoned nurse who has years and years of experience, imposter syndrome is real for all sizes.

Common Causes

Several factors contribute to imposter syndrome among nurses. Perfectionism, for instance, can drive nurses to set unrealistic standards for themselves. Despite their extensive training and experience, they might focus on their occasional mistakes, feeling like they are always falling short. Speaking from personal experience, this rings very true to me. Like many others who pursue nursing, we want to be not just good, but great at what we do. I believe we are our own biggest critics when it comes to being a nurse, and it results in negative feelings when we do something incorrectly or if we simply didn’t know something that our peers did.

Comparisons with colleagues can also breed imposter syndrome. When nurses observe their peers' successes, they might neglect their own accomplishments, assuming that their colleagues are more capable or knowledgeable. Comparing yourself to others is a negative action in any category of course. However, nurses commonly compare their expertise against others and believe this makes them less valuable or that they don’t belong. For example, many nurses feel that it is a bad thing to leave the bedside and start a journey doing outpatient nursing because they are afraid of what others will think of them. Additionally, we internally believe that if we don’t work in a hospital or another well respected field of nursing, that we will be devalued and no longer be knowledgeable. This is FAR from the truth!

Triggers and Experiences

Certain experiences can trigger imposter syndrome among nurses as well. Transitioning from student nurse to practicing professional can be overwhelming. The vast array of responsibilities and the need to make critical decisions can evoke feelings of inadequacy.

Criticism, whether constructive or not, can also exacerbate imposter syndrome. A nurse receiving feedback might internalize it as confirmation of their inadequacy, rather than as an opportunity for growth.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Empowering nurses to overcome imposter syndrome begins with self-awareness. Recognizing that imposter feelings are common and don't reflect reality is a crucial step. Affirming your achievements and reminding yourself of the hard work that led you to where you are is essential.

Cultivating a growth mindset can also counter imposter syndrome. Embrace challenges as opportunities to learn, rather than as threats to your competence. Seek out mentorship and connect with experienced nurses who can share their own struggles and triumphs. As you know, nursing knowledge is never and never will be at a standstill. There is always something new to learn and we should embrace that and not run away from it.

Practicing self-compassion is vital. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you extend to patients. Understand that everyone makes mistakes, and these do not define your entire nursing career. See the mistakes or loopholes of knowledge as an opportunity to grow as a professional.

Empowering Your Nursing Journey

Imposter syndrome is a formidable challenge, but it doesn't have to define your journey as a nurse. Embrace your experiences, both successes and setbacks, as valuable learning opportunities. Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem.

Remember, your dedication to improving patients' lives and your commitment to ongoing learning are testaments to your competence. By acknowledging your imposter feelings and taking proactive steps to counter them, you can pave the way for a fulfilling and confident nursing career. Trust yourself, embrace your growth, and continue making a difference in the lives of those you care for.

Written By: 

Will Kirkpatrick, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, CCRN, CSCS 

Founder of Tactile VR

William has worked in many different positions such as an ICU RN, Nursing Supervisor, and Nursing Educator. With his experience, he was able to view healthcare in many different aspects and identify education opportunities towards improving the desperate need of more healthcare workers and education solutions. He is experienced in software development applications that allow VR application creation such as Courseta VR 





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