I'm not "intelligent." Do I have any business being a nurse (and other questions)?

  1. I'm editing my post with a preface because I thought of something that's crucial for you to know about me before you read this. I am good with the English language. My grasp of the written word is, in my opinion, above average. This skill does NOT change anything I believe in the following post.

    Also yes, I did just post this to Reddit but I don't expect many replies over there because new posters' threads get buried extremely quickly.

    The thread title says that I'm not intelligent. I stand by this statement but please do not misconstrue that to mean that I think I'm "stupid."

    Like the title says I am relatively certain that I'm less intelligent than the average human being (at least in the West - I know very few people from the middle east outside of Israel and from the far east). I'm not ashamed to be "stupid," but every time I make the point that I don't possess above-average intelligence, I get treated as if I just said I wanted to commit suicide or murder a puppy.

    Not everyone can be possessed of "above average" mental faculties. It's right there in the name. Some of us are lower on the totem pole, and many of you are higher. Even much higher.

    I'm starting to feel patronized every time someone tells me I'm "smart." I don't believe it and would go so far as to say that I possess such a profound lack of "common" sense that my everyday life is being profoundly affected by that deficit.

    I'm currently a couple of months away from finishing nursing school and sitting for the boards that would theoretically make me an RN but I'm no longer sure I should take the test. I am confident that I could pass the test but I am also scared that I might hurt somebody if I were to get my RN license and begin to practice independently.
    I don't want to hurt or kill anyone because I've made a terrible mistake. Don't I have a responsibility right NOW to protect the public by keeping myself away from them? I'm NOT trying to be a martyr. I wouldn't want an idiot to take care of me in the hospital so what right do I have to inflict myself upon others? It feels dishonest, dangerous, and plain /wrong/.

    I'm not sure if I'll always be able to assess my capabilities the way I can at this moment so I feel a sense of urgency to do something /now/ to ensure that I don't put myself in a position where I am likely to hurt somebody.

    Why us it so darned controversial to admit that you don't possess a special mind? What's wrong with being average or below? I'm not so much of an idiot that I'm not able to recognize when a problem exists so I feel that I'm being condescended when someone tries to tell me I'm "so smart," whatever the hell that means. I'm not ashamed to be relatively unintelligent - after all, even a stupid human is a super genius whilst standing among the Earth's fauna!!! Compared to the animals with whom we share our home almost every one of us is a genius of relative stature that would by make the smartest people we know to have ever existed, in terms of relative cognitive stature, simply and devastatingly ordinary. From an emotional perspective I don't feel that require the constant validation of telling myself or having others tell me that I'm smarter or better than others. I'm always trying to be the best version of myself that I can be and if I can manage that then i'll be proud of myself for the accomplishment. Being the best that I can be feels like a noble goal worth pursuing and dedicating my life to, and right now being the best that I can be feels like it probably requires quitting school and finding a job that won't lead to others' deaths if I make a mistake.

    So again I ask - /why/ is it so damned taboo to say that I don't think I have such a flippin' smart mind that non-superlative descriptors can adequately capture my condition? I'm not putting myself down and I don't feel terrible and self-conscious about my less developed intellect. I have other qualities that make me stand out from the crowd and my life is generally happy. I'd rather be happy and stupid than miserable and intelligent. I am a hard worker. I'm honest and sincere. I care about people and treat them with respect. These qualities are enough for me and I am proud of myself for possessing them. I feel quite discouraged over the fact that all of these positive qualities I possess are implicitly deemed unimportant in the fact of my somewhat "intellectually-challenged" condition.

    For some reason it's acceptable to point out your own faults but being realistic about your (low) intelligence is a social faux pas on the level of streaking at the Super Bowl. I'll reiterate: we CANNOT all be "smart," because to me that word implies possession of a superior intellect and unless we're comparing ourselves to apes or to fish it should become clear to us that not everybody can possess a "superior" intellect.

    I realize that I haven't said /why/ I'm so sure that I'm not a super-genius, but I don't think that's so important; at least not when compared to the points I /did/ make. I'm sorry for the long post, but if I'm going to give up a career that I truly, TRULY love then I need to be sure that it's the right thing to do. I've never quite loved anything that wasn't another human being nearly as much as I love nursing. Actually, it's not even a close call. So I'd like to hear the consensus. Is the self-awareness of my below average intelligence a good reason to quit? It seems to me like a black and white and simple question with an equally simple answer: I don't belong a spot where I'm making decisions that will affect another person's life, be it positively or negatively. Nothing else matters. My ego is a tiny and almost 100% unimportant droplet of water in the bucket that contains the water that is our responsibility to treat of other people safely, respectfully, consistently, and to the very best of our abilities.. It /doesn't/ matter because if I'm not able to be safe with patients then I don't belong within fifty feet of one, and if I can't treat a patient in a way that allows them to comfortably "open up" around me then I run the very real and now even elevated risk of being lied to, having crucial parts of the story left out, or forgetting something that we should remember or better still have written down.

    TLDR: I'm not very smart (nor am I egregiously stupid. I believe that I am simply below average with respect to my intellectual potential. I want to know two things, one of which is extremely important due to possible consequences that will reach far, far beyond the scope of significance that most of us are used to (have i terrified you into silence yet? I hope not!):

    1) Why is it so damned bad to admit that you're not smarter than the average bear? By DEFINITION some of us are on the left side of the curve while others sit on the opposite side. In my personal opinion, to be ashamed of our own genetics is not just a colossal waste of good time but also possibly disrespectful to our own ancestors. But what do I know? I'm just a dumb guy who puts on some different pairs of scrubs a few days a week!

    2) Should I quit nursing school now while I still haven't hurt anyone? While I still have yet to actually /kill or maim/ anyone? Please don't underestimate the difficulty I had when choosing to ask this question. Nursing is the first thing that's ever made me feel passionate. It's the only thing I've ever studied that made me feel like I could do it for the rest of my life and never run out of questions and never have the river that is my passion for nursing dry up. Asking you all if I should quit is quite honestly one of the hardest things I've EVER done. To have the object of my obsession be pulled out from under me and taken away forever would be more than difficult. More than devastating. I don't know if the English language has a word that could describe what I would feel if i had to quit. But I would still do it. I mean that.

    Thank you so much for reading my post (or the TLDR version!). If you reply - which I sincerely hope you decide to do because each of us possesses a unique perspective shaped by our own lives' experiences, then it would probably be helpful if you told me that you read the entire post or that you just read the TLDR. Don't be afraid of offending me, because you likely won't do so no matter what you say!
    Last edit by The_Muffintime on Aug 10 : Reason: need to change notification settings
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  2. 15 Comments

  3. by   deeCNA2013
    Your post was very interesting to me, and I also hope that you get the answer you seem. My opinion is that you definiteky posses excellent communication skills and, it seems, a genuine concern for the safety and well-being of others, particularly others in your care. I also think that people who are convinced that they are very smart are often much more dangerous to others than those who question their intelligence and abilities. Even geniuses do not excel in every area.

    That said, I do think it's difficult to answer your question without knowing exactly which ways you consider yourself below average in intelligence. If you are like me and are overcome with a mind numbing confusion when faced with certain,math problems, there is help for that. If you are mechanically challenged, finding it hard to figure out how to work hospital bed brakes or drain a catheter bag, you can work with that, by making sure to take extra time to figure these things out and practice them. There are so many areas that many of us have problems with, but I can't think of a lot that would absolutely make you an unsafe nurse, regardless of any effort made to improve. I think that sharing with everyone exactly where your doubts come from.

    I must add that I'm not a nurse, but a MAP certified NA. I am hoping to get into nursing school, and am also questioning if I have what it takes to be a good nurse. In my case, I wonder if I'm young enough or will be quick enough to keep up with my classmates.
    Last edit by deeCNA2013 on Aug 10 : Reason: Adding info
  4. by   shibaowner
    Quote from The_Muffintime
    Thank you so much for reading my post (or the TLDR version!). If you reply - which I sincerely hope you decide to do because each of us possesses a unique perspective shaped by our own lives' experiences, then it would probably be helpful if you told me that you read the entire post or that you just read the TLDR. Don't be afraid of offending me, because you likely won't do so no matter what you say!
    I'm not aware of an IQ requirement to be a nurse. You are close to graduating nursing school. It is normal for students to be a bit frightened and lacking in confidence at this point. As long as you did ok in school and in clinicals, you are prepared to be a new RN.

    You appear to have good communication skills (if too verbose) and to care about doing a good job for your patients. Those are important qualities for an RN. However, another important quality is self-confidence. That does take time to develop in a new RN grad.

    You appear to have issues and concerns around the concept of intelligence. Based on your post, I strongly advise you to get some counseling about this.

    Should you take the NCLEX? Yes. You've come this far, so might as well get your RN license.

    Should you be an RN? Only you can answer that. If you don't feel comfortable with direct patient care, there are other RN career options: case management, clinical research (RNs are often employed to help in clinical trials of new drugs and treatments), weight loss clinics, or you could get another degree like an MBA or Healthcare Administration or even a law degree (law + RN can be a very powerful combination - healthcare law is a good field). Some RNs continue on to get a Master's in Public Health and focus on healthcare policy.

    Good luck and please get some counseling.
  5. by   ItsThatJenGirl
    This is something I've struggled with, too. I make excellent grades and generally do very well in school. That leads people to make comments about my intelligence and abilities - things I don't believe I have.

    There's nothing wrong with having average intelligence, or below average intelligence.

    That said, as my therapist told me when I confessed that people exalting me was starting to really bother me was this: you need to allow room for the possibility that these people are right. Is it so bad that maybe you are more intelligent that you let yourself believe? If several people are echoing the same thoughts, then perhaps there is truth to the things that they are saying.

    So, when people tell me how smart I am, I just smile and allow some room in the way I view myself for that intelligence. Because perhaps I am underestimating myself and doing myself a disservice by immediately dismissing the thoughts of other people. If 99 people say that a flower is red, and you see it as blue, wouldn't you allow the possibility that you're wrong?

    You may also want to read up on something called Imposter Syndrome. It may shed some light on how you view yourself/the world around you.

    As far as continuing on the path of nursing - where are you at in your schooling? How are you doing in your classes? Do you feel as though you're grasping the material being presented? My answer will change depending on the answers to those questions.
  6. by   The_Muffintime
    I'm in my penultimate quarter - advanced med surg. I've done well through the program but honestly I always feel like I know almost nothing. It's hard to accurately gauge how true that actually is.

    @shibaoowner, you're totally right. I do undervalue myself sometimes and have a hard time maintaining proper perspective in some cases. I really need to give myself the same kind of slack that I allow others.

    I meant it when I said that I don't need or want the validation of others. The problem is that I require it of myself and I'm very stingy. I've felt that being a great caregiver requires above average intelligence and problem solving skills and I stand by that. I'm not an idiot but I am not ok with being anything but great because I would want nothing less of the people taking care of my loved ones.
  7. by   shibaowner
    Quote from The_Muffintime
    I'm in my penultimate quarter - advanced med surg. I've done well through the program but honestly I always feel like I know almost nothing. It's hard to accurately gauge how true that actually is.

    @shibaoowner, you're totally right. I do undervalue myself sometimes and have a hard time maintaining proper perspective in some cases. I really need to give myself the same kind of slack that I allow others.

    I meant it when I said that I don't need or want the validation of others. The problem is that I require it of myself and I'm very stingy. I've felt that being a great caregiver requires above average intelligence and problem solving skills and I stand by that. I'm not an idiot but I am not ok with being anything but great because I would want nothing less of the people taking care of my loved ones.
    There are also many types of "intelligence:" emotional intelligence, spatial, creative, etc. Being book smart does not necessarily make someone a good nurse. Being a good caregiver doesn't require above average intelligence. I do agree it requires good problem-solving skills, but there are plenty of Harvard grads that have no common sense or daily problem-solving skills!
  8. by   emmjayy
    What proof do you have to support your idea about having a low level of intelligence? From your post, I gathered that you are a good communicator/writer. You have a good grasp of the English language and proper grammar, which is a lot more than can be said for many posters on this site alone. You have successfully completed several semesters of nursing school and are preparing to graduate - another indication of at least an average level of intelligence. It sounds like you're feeling insecure and scared about being on your own as a nurse. Lots of people tell me I'm very smart/intelligent, so maybe it will help you feel better to know that despite my own perceived level of intelligence, I'm also terrified of screwing up and killing a patient because of forgetting something or not applying my knowledge correctly. And so are all of my classmates, many of whom I see as being smarter than I am. I'm fairly certain this is a common and normal attitude to have as a brand new nurse, that probably gives rise to a healthy level of caution and an avoidance of reckless behavior.

    You say you feel like you know nothing, here at the end of nursing school. I've always heard that nursing school gives you the bare minimum needed not to kill people, and that the real learning comes on the job, with competency/proficiency taking a couple of years of work to achieve.
  9. by   Apples&Oranges
    OP, there was a young woman in my class who could have written what you did verbatim (except that she could not have, she wasn't as articulate, or a strong writer.) She was constantly plagued by the knowledge that she was not as "intelligent" or "smart" as some of the rest of us.

    She was right.

    She struggled with concepts, with exams, she had trouble with math, papers, every aspect of nursing school. I'll be honest, while she was a sweet girl, and my good friend, I did not expect her to graduate. Guess what? She did. And she passed NCLEX in 125 questions.

    When she got her first job, she struggled. With critical thinking, with time management (who wouldn't, on a med surg floor with 10 freaking patients??) and was convinced that she would either kill someone, or get fired, whichever came first. She was counselled and had her orientation extended more than once. I must admit, I had the same fears. I wasn't sure she would cut it as an acute care nurse.

    Fast forward 3 years. She is a charge nurse on the unit, getting ready to transition into the CICU. She has proven herself to be a strong nurse, a mentor to new nurses who are struggling. I'm not saying anything will be easy for you. It is difficult and scary for EVERY new nurse, even those who are super students...but please don't let your fears dictate your decisions, especially when you are so close, when you have come so far. I'm trying to learn this lesson right now, as I contemplate taking my first travel assignment, after finally just becoming comfortable in my charge nurse role.

    I was a late bloomer. Took much longer than others to "get it." Sometimes I'm still not sure I get it. I make mistakes EVERY SINGLE DAY. Sometimes small ones, but sometimes big HONKING mistakes...on, like, a regular Tuesday... that's why I have other nurses there to help me. You will too.

    Ask questions, ask for help. You'll figure it out. I have faith in you.
  10. by   matcha-cat
    Perhaps you won't want to hear this, I don't mean to be "patronizing", but I do think you sound intelligent. Like others have said, you have excellent communication skills, and although you're quick to dismiss that as something that doesn't really show your intelligence, I think otherwise. In order for you to write well and to create an argument, you have to have critical thinking skills, which overall, is what's typically looked at when measuring intelligence. As a previous poster stated, there are many different types of intelligence but the makings of an intelligent person are a bit of an enigma. I've seen people who understand everything they read from a book and sound like absolute geniuses when teaching it to other people, but they can't relate that information to real life, like they don't know how to connect it to issues. If it doesn't follow the pattern they were taught on paper, they're lost. There was also a guy I knew from high school who took all advanced classes with all As and scored high on an exam for the military (he had like an almost perfect score) but he would say the stupidest things, and leave the rest of the class scratching their heads as to how he could have such good grades. I think intelligence is definitely multifaceted.

    Speaking about you, specifically... Look at yourself. You have a great deal of self-awareness. You're sitting here, picking at yourself, and you're actually putting that information to use by seeing how any negatives could affect patient safety and you're realizing your areas of weakness. I think that's a hallmark of intelligence. Not enough people are introspective, and not enough people think about where not just their actions will take them, but their personality and mental nuances, as well. You know what occupation needs people like this? Nursing.

    You have to be analytical in your thinking and you have to know what things to look out for in order to look out for a patient. In your post you've demonstrated self-awareness and critical thinking skills. I think what you need is a boost in self confidence.

    EDIT: PS, I've seen many seemingly "air-headed bimbos" become nurses and they excel.

    PSS- I can't believe you have the gall to say you don't think you're intelligent after writing all of these arguments and analyzing yourself to such an extent.
  11. by   kaylee.
    I echo the above post that what i read was a post from someone with an analytical mind, someone who thinks about ideas. You may be analyzing the world around a fixed point, that being you are not intelligent. This -- may be evidence of room for growth -- because believe it or not no fixed fact about you exists. You can be liberated by dropping this "truth" notion of yourself. Do it and see where your analytical mind can take you.
  12. by   Heylove
    I think that the key is finding your place within the nursing profession to apply your unique skills and abilities.

    I consider myself to have above average intelligence, and let me tell you, I struggled in nursing school. If you are already in a program, you got there with some minimum amount of intelligence. Just getting into a program proves that you have a lot more going for you than you give yourself credit for. I also questioned my ability to do the job without compromising patient safety. I also considered not taking my licensing exam and becoming an Uber driver! (I'm not kidding!) My instructors in nursing school, although they encouraged me to trust my intuition and have confidence with my decision making, I felt like they didn't trust me, and I second guessed myself. We are not supposed to know everything there is to know about everything when we finish nursing school. Our ability to learn, seek out new and developing research and apply this new knowledge to our nursing practice is what makes nurses special.

    Simply put, I think differently and problem solved much differently than my classmates. I was, and still am, focused on psychosocial aspects of illness, hospitalization, recovery and relationships. While caring for patients with everything from a new cancer diagnosis to acute kidney injury, I was focused on psychosocial interventions. Of course I recognize the medical diagnosis, treatments, lab results and can apply nursing interventions while managing patient care.

    What drew you to nursing school? Are there any specific units that you like more than others?

    Stick with it. You've worked very hard to get where you are.
  13. by   The_Muffintime
    Guys, a lot of you are right - I'm too hard on myself and I'll focus on things that don't matter unless I give them credence. The proof is in the pudding, however, and the fact that I was obsessing about this is enough evidence that I'm not so smart XD

    Thank you for all your wonderful contributions and wise words. They were required at that time when they were offered and I appreciate every keystroke. I understand that it doesn't matter much how smart someone is - their work ethic and stubbornness to stick to things are so much more important. I'm not going to waste my time and energy anymore obsessing over nonsense.
  14. by   ILUVERNSG
    Quote from Apples&Oranges
    OP, there was a young woman in my class who could have written what you did verbatim (except that she could not have, she wasn't as articulate, or a strong writer.) She was constantly plagued by the knowledge that she was not as "intelligent" or "smart" as some of the rest of us.

    She was right.

    She struggled with concepts, with exams, she had trouble with math, papers, every aspect of nursing school. I'll be honest, while she was a sweet girl, and my good friend, I did not expect her to graduate. Guess what? She did. And she passed NCLEX in 125 questions.

    When she got her first job, she struggled. With critical thinking, with time management (who wouldn't, on a med surg floor with 10 freaking patients??) and was convinced that she would either kill someone, or get fired, whichever came first. She was counselled and had her orientation extended more than once. I must admit, I had the same fears. I wasn't sure she would cut it as an acute care nurse.

    Fast forward 3 years. She is a charge nurse on the unit, getting ready to transition into the CICU. She has proven herself to be a strong nurse, a mentor to new nurses who are struggling. I'm not saying anything will be easy for you. It is difficult and scary for EVERY new nurse, even those who are super students...but please don't let your fears dictate your decisions, especially when you are so close, when you have come so far. I'm trying to learn this lesson right now, as I contemplate taking my first travel assignment, after finally just becoming comfortable in my charge nurse role.

    I was a late bloomer. Took much longer than others to "get it." Sometimes I'm still not sure I get it. I make mistakes EVERY SINGLE DAY. Sometimes small ones, but sometimes big HONKING mistakes...on, like, a regular Tuesday... that's why I have other nurses there to help me. You will too.

    Ask questions, ask for help. You'll figure it out. I have faith in you.
    Great post!

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