Healthcare Professionals

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: A Nurse’s Journey


September 14, 2022

Stepping into my patient care unit, I was greeted by the familiar sounds of medical equipment beeping, alarms chiming, and the gentle hum of tube feeding pumps. It was the same unit where I had undergone my capstone training and new-hire orientation for the past 5 months. However, on that day, I entered as a 22-year-old new graduate nurse, filled with a mix of emotions and newfound responsibilities.

What is Imposter Syndrome at Work?

Graduating from nursing school and securing my dream job filled me with pride and relief, but it also brought about a sudden wave of panic. I began to doubt if everything I had accomplished so far was enough to justify my role as an autonomous nurse. With each successful shift, I attributed my achievements to luck or favorable circumstances. Self-doubt consumed me, and I constantly questioned my abilities, fearing that one mistake would expose my perceived inadequacies. It bewildered me why I felt undeserving of my role while others thrived during their orientation. I hoped that as I gained more experience, these feelings would diminish, and although they did decrease to some extent, a lingering sense of self-doubt and anxiety remained. This pattern continued throughout my nursing career, despite my accomplishments and milestones.

Over time, I learned to live with my self-doubt, believing that I was alone in experiencing this lack of confidence. Then, one day, I received a book titled “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” from our Women’s Colleague Network. As I skimmed through its pages, I came across a short quiz on imposter syndrome. Questions such as “Do you attribute your success to luck or timing?” and “Do you believe anyone could achieve what you have?” resonated deeply with me. Every question I answered with a resounding “yes.” The more I read, the more I felt as if the book had been written specifically about me.

Who is Affected by Imposter Syndrome?

Finally, I had a name for the persistent self-doubt I had experienced over the years—imposter syndrome. Although not an official diagnosis in the DSM, psychologists recognize the psychological effects and prevalence of imposter syndrome among high achievers. It particularly affects individuals who are goal-oriented, in new roles, or facing new challenges, including graduate students and nurses.

I wondered why imposter syndrome was not talked about more often, considering its impact on people like me—women, graduate students, and nurses. A simple explanation is as follows: individuals suffering from imposter syndrome remain silent out of fear of being exposed. Consequently, most people grappling with the same self-doubt as I do internalize these feelings and present a facade of self-confidence to the world.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

Now armed with a better understanding of imposter syndrome and its accompanying emotions, I sought ways to overcome my self-doubt and stop second-guessing my accomplishments. A quick search on Google led me to discover several reputable resources offering strategies to address imposter syndrome symptoms. Dr. Susan Albers from the Cleveland Clinic proposed the following five strategies to help individuals reclaim ownership of their achievements:

  1. Differentiate feelings from facts: When self-doubt creeps in, acknowledge that these are mere feelings. Remind yourself that you are responsible for your accomplishments.
  2. Document your achievements: Save emails or notes praising your work from colleagues or superiors. On days when self-doubt clouds your mind, revisit these reminders of others’ recognition to reinforce your confidence.
  3. Avoid comparisons: Resist the urge to measure your achievements against those of others. Set your own standards and focus on personal growth.
  4. Seek support from others: Engage in conversations with supportive friends who can empathize with your feelings of self-doubt. By sharing your experiences, you’ll realize that these feelings hold no validity and gain reassurance.
  5. Consult with a therapist: Professional therapists can help you identify and address the emotions associated with imposter syndrome. Through therapy, you can develop coping mechanisms and strategies to manage these feelings effectively.

By acknowledging the presence of imposter syndrome, understanding its impact on my life, and learning practical behaviors to mitigate its effects, I now feel empowered. I recognize that I will still encounter these feelings and will likely need to employ these strategies regularly. However, I hold hope for myself and others like me. We can learn to celebrate our accomplishments genuinely, free from the chains of self-doubt.

About the Author

With a passion for leveraging technology in healthcare, Kaitlyn Ohlman is a Registered Nurse that possesses unique expertise in data abstraction, quality assurance, and performance improvement. She holds a Master’s of Science Degree in Nursing Informatics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham which empowers her to integrate advanced technological solutions into nursing practices, ultimately enhancing patient care outcomes. Through her knowledge and experience, she continues to drive innovation in healthcare by utilizing data-driven approaches to optimize operational efficiency and deliver exceptional patient experiences.

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