Impostor Syndrome: A Source Of Stress

Some new and experienced nurses have asked themselves, "Do I really belong here?" Why do so many capable professionals second-guess their education, training, fund of knowledge, and abilities? The intended purpose of this article is to discuss the impostor syndrome and provide suggestions on dealing with this stressful problem in today's career-oriented society. Nurses Stress 101 Article


Impostor Syndrome: A Source Of Stress

Although the impostor syndrome is not an officially recognized diagnosis, many educated professionals have experienced the conflicting feelings and distressing emotions that accompany this phenomenon. The impostor syndrome is a term that describes one's personal feelings of not being authentic in the professional or academic world, despite a mountain of evidence that points to the contrary.

The person who suffers from the impostor syndrome begins to believe that his or her career or scholarly triumphs are undeserved, that any positive recognition is not truly warranted, and that he or she is merely 'faking it before making it.' These individuals attribute their successes and achievements to external factors such as luck, being in the right place at the right time, knowing people with the right connections, or proficiency at 'conning' the people with whom they interact.

The nursing profession remains heavily dominated by females in all aspects, including clinical areas, education, leadership, and research. The impostor syndrome may be especially problematic among women (Buchanan, 2006). Nurses in all areas are sometimes overloaded with cognitive challenges that might result in self-doubt. After all, patients' lives depend on the work that we do and the decisions we make. A concern with doing excellent work is also a concern about being of real service (Gordon, 2010). Any quality of nursing care that is lacking in competence may have dire consequences.

The impostor syndrome is the result of certain personality traits and several actions that some individuals take. People who constantly compare themselves with others, overreact when they do not know something, engage in perfectionism, and are devoted to achieving expertise are prone to develop the belief that they are impostors who do not belong.

Fortunately, several techniques exist for dealing with the impostor syndrome. First and foremost, the sufferer needs to admit to the problem by realizing that he or she does have the impostor syndrome. After all, one cannot resolve a problem without first acknowledging that they have one. Secondly, the person must stop caring so much about what others in the peer group think of him or her.

Another option is to celebrate achievements by reflecting on any degrees, certifications, awards, or formal recognitions. In addition, the person must limit the amount of negative self-fulfilling prophecies and counteract any pessimistic thoughts by thinking optimistically. Finally, the person must be cognizant that the impostor syndrome does not last forever. However nasty it feels, impostor syndrome is temporary (Gordon, 2010). This issue can be conquered with much effort and focus. Good luck!


Why 'Impostor Syndrome' Isn't a Bad Thing

How to stop Impostor Syndrome in its tracks: 7 strategies for reclaiming confidence and motivation.

TheCommuter, BSN, RN, CRRN is a longtime physical rehabilitation nurse who has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a Registered Nurse.

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VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

108 Articles; 9,984 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

Wow!!! Another great read from a great writer :D

I remember how long it took for me to feel as though I'd "arrived" in the was a full decade (and as many jobs) before I finally felt comfortable in my role as an RN. Glad I'm not the only one who felt like a fraud for the first few years. Thanks for this article!

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

176 Articles; 27,610 Posts

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.
Glad I'm not the only one who felt like a fraud for the first few years.

In my situation, my parents planted the seeds of low self-esteem during my growing-up years, although I do not think they were intentionally trying to cause harm. I was regularly called 'stupid,' 'sorry,' and other names, and as time passed I actually began to believe what they had said about me.

When I became an adult and accomplished things that the typical 'stupid' person would not be able to do, I still had that doubtful internal voice in my head. I now consider myself capable and worthy, but it took years of positive thinking, determination, and reprogramming to get to this point.

Specializes in Trauma, ER, ICU, CCU, PACU, GI, Cardiology, OR.

enlightening article. needless to say, at one point or another in our nursing career we have questioned our capability or knowledge for that matter, which leads me to believe that is simply natural to have these thoughts whenever we feel overwhelm in our daily workforce environment. having said that, the imposter trait syndrome as the op mentioned occurs in many of us by listening to that negative voice inside of us that triggers fear or doubt, in delivering a high standard knowledge in whatever field chosen. therefore, if i for instance would have listen to every negative thought or the thoughts of those who misguided me at the beginning of my career when i was in nursing school, i would have not finished my curriculum. undoubtedly, i have met several doctors that questioned themselves at times and some that have succumbed to the imposter syndrome, when other doctors have corrected them in any procedure. unquestionably, i'm glad that i overcame the imposter syndrome in my early nursing career with assertive thinking.

Specializes in Mother Baby RN.

I am so glad this was posted. I graduate in 6 months and am already feeling this way! I fit the profile to a T. To top it off, I already have 2 degrees and a certificate from a Big 10 university! I know I'm not stupid, but it IS extremely daunting. This made me realize that I do have a problem that I need to work on. Thanks!

classicdame, MSN, EdD

2 Articles; 7,255 Posts

Specializes in Hospital Education Coordinator.

I never heard of impostor sydrome, but recognized it in the article. What I do not understand is why it is important to acknowledge, accept and "treat". What harm is there in thinking you are not deserving of your achievements? The article did not address the negative aspects. I assume it has to do with general well-being and self-fulfillment.

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

176 Articles; 27,610 Posts

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.
the article did not address the negative aspects. i assume it has to do with general well-being and self-fulfillment.
it is important to one's self image to be able to accept praise and believe it is deserved. the person who feels that they're defrauding people for a prolonged period of time is taking a hit to their self respect.

people who are unable to receive compliments are indirectly damaging their self-respect. after several unsuccessful attempts, most people trying to give genuine compliments will hesitate, feeling uncomfortable in giving positive feedback. the intended recipient of the praise, no longer hearing positive feedback, may begin to question their self-worth.

gonzo1, ASN, RN

1,739 Posts

Specializes in ED, ICU, PSYCH, PP, CEN.

I suffer from this, and am still working on conquering it.


76 Posts

so glad this article was written..I have felt like this since I started nursing school...wonderin when it will end

Thanks, Commuter. I struggle with the concept that I am doing a good job on a daily basis. I'm getting better at trusting myself and those around me. I am also getting better at realizing that just because my Nurse Manager, or DON doesn't think the same thing that I do, that doesn't mean that I am not doing a good job.

Specializes in Hospice / Ambulatory Clinic.

I flux in and out of this phase. Usually for it comes while I'm trying to integrate new knowledge and everything new learned makes me question whether I knew anything at all to begin with.

Specializes in LTC, Hospice, Case Management.

Thanks Commuter for another great article. What I find most interesting is the wide range of experiences in the responses received. Several new (or soon to be) nurses feeling this way but my initial reaction to the title was that you were speaking to me...and I've been doing this for years!

Today I had a phone screening for a clinical nurse corporate position in LTC. I was told at the end of the phone conversation that she was very excited about my knowledge and experience and I should expect a call to set up a more formal interview within a couple of days. I hung up the phone feeling excited but also nervous that this upcoming phone interview would reveal that I was in fact just an imposter.

To the poster asking why it may be bad to feel like you are an imposter: I fear that my feelings may somehow be projected in this upcoming interview. I have done every job there is to do in the nursing department in LTC. I have 27 years experience. It seems absolutely ridiculous that I would have any fear of not being qualified for this job or not being worthy of such a position - but I do. I need to get over it. If I want this position I am going to need to be able to portray all of the strengths that I have spent years accumulating. To use the Army's phrase - I need to be all I can be.

Thanks Commuter for giving it a name. I can fight it if I know what to call it.

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