What is Nurse Imposter Syndrome? 6 Tips to Overcome It

Last Updated on October 12, 2023

nurse in blue headscarf and blue mask standing in front of mirror with concerned look on face

Do you feel like a “fake nurse?” Nurse imposter syndrome can result from high demands, new responsibilities, and a lack of support. Thankfully, you don’t need to struggle forever! There are ways to deal with imposter syndrome and cultivate a fulfilling nursing career.

Nurse imposter syndrome occurs when a nurse feels as though they aren’t a “real nurse.” In addition to this, imposter syndrome can manifest as feeling like you didn’t earn your position or worrying that someday people will “find out” you don’t have what it takes to be a nurse. 

Let’s discuss why imposter syndrome is common in nurses, and how you can rebuild confidence and joy as a nurse. 

What is Imposter Syndrome and How Does it Impact Nurses?

Imposter syndrome is often known as the imposter phenomenon and can impact a wide range of healthcare professionals including student nurses, allied health clinicians, and even physicians.

An infographic on blue background reading, "If you're experiencing imposter syndrome as a nurse, you're not alone"

These feelings can be different for each person. Some nurses might not be confident in their skills, some might worry constantly that they’ll make a mistake, and some might feel like everyone else knows more than they do. 

What leads nurses to feel this way? Here are a few reasons nurses and health professionals experience imposter syndrome: 

  • A difficult education experience 
  • Sudden increase in responsibility (and lack of support)
  • Feeling like there’s no room for error 

Imposter Syndrome and a Negative Nurse Education

Nursing school is difficult. Often, the pressures placed on a nurse during training can make them constantly second-guess themselves. Not only that, but in a profession where you’re dealing with people’s lives, there’s an expectation to “know everything.” 

The problems start when reality collides with expectations. Nobody is perfect, and everybody makes mistakes. However, what happens when even the smallest mistake isn’t tolerated? A negative cycle of self-doubt and inability to accept achievements.

Imposter Syndrome Due to an Increase in Responsibility and Lack of Support

The problems don’t stop after nursing school. Sometimes they are just beginning. After a nurse starts their first job, they may receive a few weeks of orientation, but then be expected to be proficient from that point on. 

Unfortunately, this heightened stress can be made worse in a negative and unsupportive environment. Sometimes, new nurses feel like they can’t ask for help because this will prove that they are in fact an “imposter.” 

Imposter Syndrome and Feeling Like There’s No Room for Error

Finally, many nurses struggle with perfectionism. There’s a good reason for this: people expect nurses to never make a mistake. But is this realistic? These intense pressures can lead many nurses to feel like they can’t live up to expectations.

Remember, you’re not alone! Many professionals experience imposter syndrome, and many have found ways to leave feelings of inadequacy behind.

an infographic on blue background outlining 6 ways to overcome nurse imposter syndrome, from uncovering how you feel to revisiting your skills

How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome as a Nurse

Yes, we’ve been rather negative so far, but now let’s be positive – there are methods to overcome these feelings!

Some of these ways nurses can overcome imposter syndrome include uncovering how you feel, remembering your achievements, and more.

Let’s explore more tools and uncover more of the nuances below!

Uncover How You Experience Imposter Syndrome as a Nurse  

The first step is to determine how you’re experiencing imposter syndrome. As we said earlier, not everyone feels imposter syndrome the same way. Maybe write down your feelings and ask yourself a few questions. 

Are you feeling pressure from management? Did you have a bad experience in school? Are you worried that your patients don’t trust you? Do you feel like you don’t fit in with your co-workers? Did someone say something that impacted you negatively? Did these feelings exist even when you were young?

Navigating your unique experiences will help you find a path to overcoming imposter syndrome. 

Talk to Someone About Imposter Syndrome 

If you can, talk to someone you respect. Perhaps it’s a nurse with more experience, or maybe a friend who has a high-stress job. How did they deal with imposter syndrome? Do they still struggle? 

Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional therapist for help.

Revisit Nursing Skills to Beat Imposter Syndrome 

When you graduated nursing school, maybe you thought: Okay, now I need to know everything. Consequently, you might feel worried when there’s something you don’t know. These feelings are very normal. Remember, nursing school is just the beginning of your education. 

If there’s something you’re still unsure about, ask questions, continue to study, and don’t feel bad that you don’t know everything!

Teach Others (And Beat Imposter Syndrome!)

You actually learn a lot by teaching! By teaching others, you begin to feel more confident in your own knowledge. As an added benefit, you’ll feel good about helping someone else – perhaps another student nurse trying to make it through school – and you’ll remember just how far you’ve come. 

Take Time to Remember Your Achievements 

Nurses forget to acknowledge their accomplishments. There are a lot of hard things that happen as a nurse – the difficult tests, or the patients who didn’t do so well. 

But what about all the tests you passed? What about the huge achievement of completing nursing school? What about the patients who are truly thankful for your help? Take care of your mental health by staying positive and remembering the good times!

Rely on Others to Beat Imposter Syndrome 

Learn to trust others. As a nurse, you shouldn’t have to make every big decision on your own. Develop safe habits. For example, ask for assistance when administering serious medications, performing patient moves, or when a patient takes a turn for the worse. Relying on others reduces the pressure on yourself.

And, if you don’t feel like you’re allowed to ask for help, then it might be time for a change.

Make a Change to Overcome Nurse Imposter Syndrome with CareerStaff

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. In most cases, feeling imposter syndrome isn’t your fault. It could be that you aren’t properly supported at work, or that your current job just isn’t a good fit right now.  

If you think it’s time for a change, CareerStaff can help. You can browse exciting nursing jobs nationwide or quick apply to reach out to a recruiter who will help you find job opportunities tailored to your unique needs!

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