I was having dinner with a dear friend a couple of weeks back, and we started talking about my never-ending struggle with imposter syndrome. My friend looked at me with total surprise on her face and said, “There’s a name for that? I thought it was just me.” What followed was a heartfelt discussion about how, no matter what we achieve, we always feel like we’re faking it or don’t belong. 

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is defined as the feeling that you’re not qualified to be in the situation you are in. People who suffer from imposter syndrome often think things like, “I don’t belong here,” or “everyone else in the class is smarter than me” or “they’re going to find out I don’t know what I’m doing.” Sound familiar? If so, then you are probably suffering from imposter syndrome, too. Don’t worry. You are definitely not alone in this. 

According to Valerie Young, Ed. D, many individuals who feel imposter syndrome are students. And nursing students are no exception. Think back to your pre-requisit courses. There’s a good chance you were one of the top students in your class. And now, here you are in nursing school surrounded by a whole bunch of other “top students.” Suddenly, you’re just “average.” When this abrupt transition occurs, it can be very easy to think thoughts like, “I don’t belong here” or “I don’t know what I’m talking about” or “can I really make it through this program?” 

Imposter syndrome has no basis in reality

The funny thing about imposter syndrome is that it has usually has no basis in reality. Oftentimes, those who suffer from this affliction are actually held in high regard by their peers, or seen as successful by others. The feeling of inadequacy is internal, but that doesn’t make it any less REAL. So with that said, I want to give you the pep talk I would give if we were sitting together in my office. Ready? 

My pep talk for you!

  • You are here for a reason. You did not get accepted into the nursing program because of a fluke or an error. You worked hard and you earned your spot. 
  • Yes, other people may be smarter than you. Big whoop. You are surrounded by intelligent, accomplished students…and you are one of them.
  • You aren’t expected to always know what you are talking about. You are a STUDENT, and you are here to learn. If you already knew everything, what would be the point of nursing school? The whole reason you are here is to gain knowledge, not show off your knowledge. Nursing is not the career for those who think they know everything, or who think they have nothing left to learn. 
  • You WILL make it through the program. The fact that you’re even here, at this website, shows a level of dedication that goes above and beyond. You are seeking out additional resources to guide your learning. That fact alone tells me you are a dedicated student. You WILL graduate, and you WILL earn your RN.
  • Learn to accept criticism and feedback with grace. For someone who already thinks they’re not qualified, criticism can be especially difficult to take. When someone offers you criticism, think of it as feedback. Thank them for the FEEDBACK and do not take it personally. In addition, I’d love it you took this a step further. Instead of fearing criticism, I want you to seek it out. Go to your clinical professor or RN or whoever and say, “I value your feedback. What could I have done differently? How can I improve for next time?” The more comfortable you get with the idea that criticism and feedback are tools for learning, the less you’ll let it reflect on your opinion of yourself.
  • The flip side of accepting feedback is learning to accept compliments and praise gracefully. Stop the, “Oh it was nothing” self-negating talk or the “If I can do it, anyone can” spiel (I am guilty of this one!). Instead, simply say “Thank you” And, if it’s someone whose opinion you truly value, you can add, “Coming from you, that means a lot.” And if you REALLY want to go Next Level, say, “Coming from you that means a lot. Do you have any other feedback for me? I’m always looking for ways to improve.” See how your self-talk has gone from “I’m not talented” to “I acknowledge my talent and seek out ways to get even MORE accomplished” Think how much you’ll grow if that’s how you frame criticism and compliments!
  • Recognize when you need help and actively ask for it. Many times students are too embarrassed to reach out for help, so they try to solve problems on their own. Maybe you are just NOT GETTING the whole concept of distributive shock…or you cannot for the life of you palpate a posterior tibial pulse. Your professors WANT you to come to them with questions and it’s the whole reason Office Hours were invented. Use them. Your professors are also a rich source of information about other resources available at your school…this could be a writing lab, math tutor or even counseling. You’ve paid for these resources, so use them if you need them!
  • Choose your friends wisely. In nursing school (or any other high-stress environment) it’s so much easier to complain, worry, stress, and doubt. Be careful that you’re not surrounding yourself by people who spend their time and energy in this negative landscape. Either re-frame the culture of your study group, or create a new one with people who share the same positive outlook as you. But before you go “all-in” on study groups, check out what I have to say about them here.

To close, I just want to leave you with the understanding that if you do feel this way, you are certainly not alone. What you are experiencing is not unexpected or unusual. 

I have written 11 books but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to to find out now I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’

-Maya Angelou

I hope these tips help and that you deal with those nagging feelings of inadequacy because I, for one, think you are amazing! 

Get this pep talk on audio in Episode 69!


References

Penn, A. (2017, July 11). Overcoming the Phenomenon of Imposter Syndrome. Retrieved August 25, 2019, from Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network website: https://www.psychcongress.com/blog/overcoming-phenomenon-imposter-syndrome

Pinto-Powell, R. (2018, December 20). What colleges can do to help students avoid impostor syndrome. Retrieved August 25, 2019, from Inside Higher Ed website: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2018/12/20/what-colleges-can-do-help-students-avoid-impostor-syndrome-opinion

Young, V. (2011). The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. Crown Business.