The Truth about Imposter Syndrome as a New Grad Nurse

Over the course of my career, I have witnessed something that happens to almost every single new ICU nurse. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you are a new grad nurse, or a nurse who is new to critical care. You are overwhelmed with the thoughts such as:

I am not smart enough to be here. I will not be successful. When will they realize I’m a failure? I will never be able to get there (and the idea of there is for an entirely different post).

It always amazes me because I witness this happening to some pretty badass nurses. Nurses who I know will be, and are, successful. Who have the skills, or are on their way to having them. Who are intelligent, but just new.

Nurses who I don’t doubt, yet who are plagued with their own self-doubt. What am I talking about?

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is a thought pattern in which we doubt our own skills, achievements, or talents and is laced with the fear of being found out as a fraud. It is a shared experience among many people. When it was first being studied, it was said to mostly impact high-achieving women. Now it affects everyone on the gender spectrum, but usually those who are high performers, hard workers, or perfectionists.

Does that sound anything like Critical Care nurses to you?

The funny thing about imposter syndrome is that we often hear conversations about it being related to new nurses. However, the truth is that it does – or will – impact you in many different stages of your career. I have had my own exacerbations of imposter syndrome many times in my 14 year career.  It happened when…

…I was a new grad nurse starting out in the ICU.

…I took the role of a charge nurse with three years of experience.

…I signed up for my first travel nurse position (when I had eleven years of experience in this specialty)

…I became a formal Critical Care Nurse Educator.

…I started I See U Nurse.

…I – well, I’m saving secret for now. But, let me tell you my imposter syndrome is screaming at the moment!

Each big milestone has been met with that little voice that basically discredited all my achievements I have accomplished, made me scared that I would somehow be seen as a fraud, fail miserably, or that I just happened to be in the “right place at the right time”. I say all of that to let you know:  You are not alone, and it doesn’t just go away. So, what do you do about it?

How To Manage Imposter Phenomenon

Many times, people will give you advice on how to conquer or overcome imposter syndrome when that isn’t helpful at all. Instead, we need to learn how to manage it for when it pops up over the course of our lives. This is exactly how I manage mine, and how I mentor others to manage theirs.

Be Curious.

It is important to have an understanding that the imposter voice will be the loudest when you are on the cusp of doing anything you have wanted to do, worked hard to do, and is a little unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Sounds about right, huh?

Whenever the imposter voice pops up, I encourage you to be curious. What is happening that has woken it up from its slumber? Why now?

If you are starting out in the ICU – expect discomfort. You are new and you have probably worked hard (hello nursing school) to be here. You went from knowing information to pass a test, to now learning to be an ICU nurse.

Fact Check.

Secondly, fact check all those statements taking up your mental space. Write it down and challenge it. What is some evidence that you are being successful? Why can others do it, but you can’t? What have you done to be prepared to be right where you are? Are you actually dumb, or have you just not learned the information yet?

In case you needed to hear it: You are not dumb, you are just new. Every critical care nurse you compare yourself to, or anyone else for the rest of your life, started right where you are – not knowing shit.

If they can do it, you absolutely can too. You worked hard to be right where you are, and if others didn’t see that in you then they probably wouldn’t have hired you (or wanted you to do that next big move).

Celebrate It.

I expect the imposter voice when I am being asked to show my skills, knowledge, or expertise. At this point, I welcome it and use it as a sign that I am on the right track. It motivates me to keep moving forward. I give myself some compassion for being scared or uncomfortable, then move on. I also take a moment to give myself some credit. I make a list of small or big victories to remind myself that I can do hard things, scary things, and that I made it through the last time I felt this way.

What are some of your small or big victories? We often become overly focused on the deficits that we forget to focus on the wins.

All in all, imposter syndrome is a very common reality for anyone new at something being asked to grow. Whether that is you as a new grad ICU nurse, or you as an experienced nurse taking that next big move. Or me, starting a small business to help critical care nurses feel more empowered through education and mentorship.

Keep going. You got this.