You may have heard the phrase “imposter syndrome” in recent times, particularly within the context of work and occupations. Put simply, it is a condition where the sufferer feels certain that they have a combination of insufficient intelligence and ingrained incompetence or inability to do their job properly- which manifests as anxiety, sadness and depression.

It also generates a feeling in the sufferer that they are somehow a “fraud” in their occupation and that eventually their incompetence or inability to do their job effectively will be found out.

Imposter syndrome and its attendant feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy can have a catastrophic effect on a nurse’s professional development particularly at the beginning or early part of their career when this affliction tends to be felt most acutely (although this isn’t always the case, and it can be experienced at any stage of the nursing journey).

The healthcare sector is always changing, and the continual adjustment and change often brings a level of discomfort. This is where self-doubt can creep in.

To hide the self-doubt from imposter syndrome, some nurses develop “perfectionist” behaviour, and as a result are likely to overwork and exhaust themselves while giving themselves unrealistically high expectations in terms of their work. On the other hand, imposter syndrome can also cause a sort of paralysis of anxiety and fear resulting in procrastination and inability to carry out much work at all.

The symptoms and experiences of imposter syndrome may also appear in the first couple of weeks of placement in a nurse’s career. This is a period of considerable change (often referred to as a “transition” in your professional life) and many new things to absorb and try to work out all in a short space of time, so it isn’t surprising that imposter syndrome can manifest at this time and in these situations. You are trying your best to keep your head above water and it can be not only daunting but it can also feel as if you aren’t “meant to be” in the situation and that you will inevitably be “found out”. This can be a particularly potent feeling for those people who are especially self-critical and analytical.

Some signs of nurse imposter syndrome include:
• Feeling inadequate and out of your depth in your role
• Blighted by self-doubt – feeling that you cannot do the job
• Increased levels of stress
• Feeling “burned out”
• Not giving your success or career advancement the validity it deserves, i.e believing that any advancement or qualification was due to good fortune or the result of deception
• Poor satisfaction with your career
• Worried about asking for help

So, are there ways to overcome or at least deal with imposter syndrome?

Fortunately, yes! It is possible to defeat the feelings of inadequacy and doubt that can blight your day to day functioning.

Probably the first step towards dealing with it is actually recognising that imposter syndrome is affecting your career and work as a nurse. This allows you to begin the process of sorting through your , which in turn allows you to discover what’s causing or at least contributing to this. This first step can help you to move towards a plan for dealing with the situation.

Talking with others is another important way of helping to deal with imposter syndrome. Admittedly, this can be daunting and perhaps even the hardest of all the steps outlined here, because imposter syndrome can cause not only feelings of inadequacy but make you feel as if there is something wrong with you. It’s important that you choose someone you trust to talk to- this could be a colleague, but it doesn’t have to be. A mentor, manager, therapist or even a supportive friend are all possible options. The important thing here is that this person can provide you with an objective, outsider’s viewpoint and fresh perspective, and give clarity on your situation, which is essential for helping you through these issues. This is a form of “validation” and can help you to understand that their objective view may be closer to the truth than your own, which because of imposter syndrome may have become distorted.

Teaching can be a great way to help validate your skills and experiences in your own mind. Often, nurses don’t realise quite how much they actually know until they begin to teach or train others.

Although it can be difficult, being able to see yourself in a positive light is of immense importance as it eventually allows you to become more confident. It’s therefore always worth keeping a list of accomplishments, skills gained, training courses attended and passed, and any positive feedback from managers or colleagues.