By Hayley Pollock MACN (Undergraduate)
Moving through a degree in nursing is really exciting, however, it can also feel bizarre at times. Suddenly, you’re out on placement, with real patients who are relying on nurses to care for them. This is an enormous responsibility that nurses take very seriously but, as a student, it can be utterly terrifying.
Today, I want to share my own experiences with these feelings throughout my degree to highlight to student nurses who feel the same that you are not alone and share the strategies that have helped me!
In my first semester of third year, a lecturer told us that on our third-year placements we have the scope of practice of a registered nurse. She explained that this was the time to practice all of the skills we have learnt in the countless hours of labs because, in a few short months, we will actually be registered nurses. I laughed. How have I done such a good job of fooling people into thinking I am at all capable of this?
Whilst on clinical placements, I have frequently found myself thinking ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ or ‘I really shouldn’t be allowed to do this.’ It can feel quite surreal thinking about your responsibilities and what you are expected to know. It’s easy to be overcome with anxiety and self-doubt and feel like an imposter but the truth is I have worked hard to get out onto clinical placement and there are many things that I am capable of doing!
Reflecting on these experiences, I can clearly see that, at times, I have been riddled with self-doubt. The thought of being a registered nurse in less than eight months from now still feels like a bit of a prank. Will I really be capable of caring for patients independently? Can I give medication without supervision or write progress notes in patient folders without a draft first? What about doing a handover without a buddy nurse ready to jump in to fill the gaps if I miss an important detail?
Thankfully, I’m not the only one that feels like this. It is a pretty common and real experience among students and early career nurses and has already been labelled as the phenomenon of Imposter Syndrome. The idea of being an imposter is a belief that you are somehow fooling people (and yourself) that you are qualified or deserving of merit (Day-Calder, 2017; Parkman, 2016; Persky, 2018).
The truth is, I haven’t fooled anyone. I’ve worked really hard to absorb every ounce of learning from my teachers, preceptors and peers over the past three years. By no means is my learning finished and I know I am not yet at a point where I can confidently perform every single skill from every single lab without guidance but, disregarding the things I can do isn’t helping anyone. In fact, it does very little for my confidence and certainly isn’t going to help my patients.
I’m now approaching the final few placements of my degree and improving my self-confidence has been a big focus of my learning and development for this year. I am slowly finding strategies to challenge the belief that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. I know this is a really common experience among my peers, and I hope that some of the tips I have outlined below help others who feel like they are doing a fantastic job of fooling everyone in to thinking they belong in a hospital, caring for actual patients!
Strategies to help student nurses overcome self-doubt
- Write down what you do know
This is one of my biggest regrets and I wish I kept a list after every skills lab of the things I have practised and am able to do. When you spend time doing this you will realise just how much you have been taught and you will feel confident in understanding (and utilising) your scope of practice.
- Seek feedback often
I’m a big believer in asking people I look up to if I’m doing the right thing or if there is a way my practise could be improved. Sometimes the best confidence boost comes from someone else pointing out a strength you didn’t know you had.
- Give yourself some credit
Nursing shifts can feel like a smooth walk in the park some days and a marathon race the next. Take time to write down the details of the smooth days or anything that made those marathon shifts a little easier. Did a patient give you a lovely compliment or say something funny? Did something happen that you still can’t believe? Write that down! On the days where it feels like everything is chaos or I had no idea what I was doing, having a little book of feel-good or funny moments can put the day into perspective. One bad day doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be a great nurse!
Things will inevitably go wrong, and you will make mistakes, but there are also lots of times that you will do the right thing and have successes. It’s human nature to take negative experiences or feedback to heart while simultaneously disregarding things you did well. I make a conscious effort to write down the small wins.
Day-Calder, M. (2017). Imposter Syndrome. Nursing Standard, 31(43), 35.
Parkman, A. (2016). The Imposter Phenomenon in Higher Education: Incidence and Impact. Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice, 16(1), 51–60.
Persky, A. M. (2018). Intellectual Self-doubt and How to Get Out of It. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 82(2).
Hayley Pollock MACN (Undergraduate) is a Stage One Emerging Nurse Leader and final year nursing student from Melbourne.