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We’ve all been experienced it: maybe new graduates are experiencing it right now…it’s the first day on the job with our freshly minted nursing degree and “what in the world am I doing here?!” is running through your head. Despite studying diligently to pass those exams, surviving the NCLEX, and making it through on-the-job training, Imposter Syndrome still hits close to home for many graduates. We’ll be discussing what it is, who is affected by it, and how to overcome it.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Let’s not confuse imposter syndrome with new nurse jitters. New nurses may feel unsure of themselves and their knowledge especially during the first year on the job. However, Imposter syndrome is a constant, relentless feeling of never being good enough or that one is a “fake” at his or her job or responsibilities. In Patricia Benner’s classic book, From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice, she compared being a novice nurse to learning a new skill like learning a new language: “in the beginning, performance is halting and rigid, and one must pay attention to explicit instruction. Performance is rule governed.” Imposter Syndrome is more of a feeling or a mindset than an action.

Who Experiences It?

Not just nurses experience this phenomenon. People from all ages and industries can feel the pangs of Imposter Syndrome. It seems to be experienced when someone is new to a role or has taken on different responsibilities. Therefore, it would make sense that new nurse graduates could have thoughts or feelings of being an imposter. “The syndrome is most common among women leaders who feel they don’t deserve the success they’ve achieved despite external evidence of their competence,” according to researcher Rose Sherman. It’s also likely to be experienced by people who describe themselves as perfectionists. Other people who are prone to this syndrome are those who have a competitive nature or those working in high stress environments.

How to Overcome It

John Discala lists six ways to overcome this mindset. It can be helpful to try a variety of strategies to shift away from this mode of thinking. Two ways are staying positive or talking with a friend. Dr. Lowinger coaches health professionals and in her 2019 article for Hospital and Healthcare, discusses other tips for managing Imposter Syndrome. She notes building confidence is key. How does someone build confidence? Taking an honest look at strengths and weaknesses and being realistic. Is what ever the nurse is feeling really the truth in the scenario? It’s important for the person to be honest with herself. Lowinger includes tips for both individuals and leaders for building confidence. Once someone is feeling surer, other negative feelings of inadequacy may dwindle and reality may be clearer to see.

Why Is It Important to Help Nurse Graduates?

“[Imposter Syndrome] has important implications for individual health professionals and the system as a whole,” says Lowinger. As a nursing profession, we should be mindful that new nurses commonly feel Imposter Syndrome. It’s important that nurse educators and programs in nursing schools teach about this. It would be interesting if more studies existed that investigated new nurses leaving the profession due to Imposter Syndrome. Could they truly be leaving because of this mindset? Could this mindset be so strong and detrimental? More research is needed. The nursing workforce cannot afford to lose more capable future nurses from this way of thinking that is treatable.

Imposter Syndrome is a persistent feeling or state of mind that the person is not good enough or a “fraud” in his or her job. Many people, despite industry, experience these feelings and particularly so if they are new to a role. People with specific personality traits such as high achievers or perfectionists tend to experience Imposter Syndrome more. There are several strategies available to minimize these feelings and there is much data showing this syndrome is common. It’s important to address this in nurse graduates because the nursing profession has the potential to retain more nurses who could otherwise leave due to Imposter Syndrome. Nurse graduates should be reassured that this phenomenon is felt by many and utilizing the strategies can help. A final suggestion is if the strategies in this article aren’t helping, to consider seeking professional help from a counselor or coach.


Latest posts by Susan K. Sinclair, MSN, RN-BC (see all)
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