Advice and development

The perils of imposter syndrome

Feeling like a fake inside despite outward success is not unusual for nursing students. Mandy Day-Calder advises on how to cope with imposter syndrome. 
imposter

Feeling like a fake inside despite outward success is not unusual for nursing students. Mandy Day-Calder advises on how to cope with imposter syndrome.

I will never forget the first time I stepped onto a ward as a nursing student in my freshly ironed new uniform. Everything was going well. This was it, I was living my dream, and then an elderly lady called out for a nurse, looked at me, and I froze. I wasnt a real nurse, so what on earth was I to do?

While these feelings are perfectly natural as a student, and usually pass as you progress in your career, what do you do if doubts about your competence to be a proper nurse wont go away?

The term

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Feeling like a fake inside despite outward success is not unusual for nursing students. Mandy Day-Calder advises on how to cope with imposter syndrome. 

imposter
To feel comfortable in your role you need to be more accepting
of who you are. Picture: Getty Images

I will never forget the first time I stepped onto a ward as a nursing student in my freshly ironed new uniform. Everything was going well. This was it, I was living my dream, and then an elderly lady called out for a nurse, looked at me, and I froze. I wasn’t a ‘real’ nurse, so what on earth was I to do?

While these feelings are perfectly natural as a student, and usually pass as you progress in your career, what do you do if doubts about your competence to be a ‘proper’ nurse won’t go away? 

The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was coined in the late 1970s, and is now a favoured subject among psychologists. It describes the powerful and sometimes debilitating emotions that can arise when, despite outward success, you feel like a fake inside. 

Self-reflection

So despite being a competent nursing student, you still doubt your abilities, frequently compare yourself to fellow students, and invest so much energy making sure colleagues and patients don’t see through your facade. 

Living as an imposter in your own skin is emotionally draining, but take comfort from the fact that you are not alone. Up to 70% of people can be affected at some point in their life. Many celebrities, including actors Kate Winslet and Emma Watson, have spoken publicly about their two personas – the one they feel inside and the one the world sees. 

To feel more comfortable in your role as a nursing student, you need to feel more accepting of who you are as a person first. As simple as this sounds, be prepared for a lot of self-reflection, especially if you have been in the habit of putting yourself down for some time. 

Stop comparing

Remember that you are as human as the patients you care for. You will be better at some skills than others and will have good days and bad. You wouldn’t have been accepted on your course if you didn’t have the qualifications and attributes to do it, and you wouldn’t have passed your exams or done well on clinical placements if you weren’t any good at what you do. 

So stop comparing yourself with others and change the way you think about yourself. Imagine you are tuning a radio – sometimes all it takes is a small twist of the dial to get rid of the interference and be able to enjoy what you are listening to. 

No one can feel confident all the time, so be patient with yourself. Imposter syndrome feeds off self-doubt and critical self-talk, but it won’t survive in a field of positivity and self-acceptance. It may be hard to challenge habitual ways of thinking, but it will all be worthwhile when you can wear your uniform with pride.


Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

 

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