Being a nurse involves taking on immense responsibility for people's health and well-being. Therefore, it's not uncommon to experience low confidence in your ability to carry out your work.
Whether it's because you've failed a licensing exam, are just starting to practice as a nurse, are transitioning into a new specialty, have made an error, or are overwhelmed by your responsibilities, it's common to feel a lack of confidence on the job. You may feel scared or concerned that your colleagues will judge you, but you can take steps to counteract these feelings.
In this blog post, you'll learn how to build self-confidence as a nurse so you can put your best self forward on the job, support your patients and feel competent.
Taking Action to Combat Low Confidence
First things first: If you're feeling stuck in your career because of your lack of confidence, remember that action is how you boost your confidence.
Whether its booking your licensing exam or applying for a job, figure out the first step in getting what you want. Action usually comes before confidence, not after. In other words, you don't have to wait until you feel 100 percent ready to take the next step; this may never happen. Instead, take a small step in the right direction trusting that confidence will follow.
If you need a gentle push or accountability, speak to a friend or mentor about your feelings about being stuck, and ask them to ensure you follow through on your action item.
Getting Your Footing
It may take months or even a year to feel more confident when you're in a new position. However, if you're in a new environment, becoming acquainted with your surroundings can give you a confidence boost.
If you're transitioning into something new (such as a new facility), ask to receive training. If you're going to be working night shifts but received training during the daytime, ask for orientation during a night shift so you can feel more confident as you navigate a new role.
Students transitioning into full-time nursing work often lack confidence when working alone, which is normal. After working closely with other nurses and your preceptor, it can feel daunting to realize you're responsible for your own patients and won't have someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you won't make mistakes.
To prepare for being "alone" as a nurse, ask your preceptor to take a step back towards the end of your placement and check in with you periodically to ensure you're taking all the proper steps with your patients. If you spend the last two weeks of your placement simulating the experience of working as a nurse rather than as a student, you'll be primed for when you start working.
When in Doubt, Ask!
Nurses deal with overwhelming information and situations, so don't expect to know everything—especially if you're starting out in a new position, speciality, or work environment. So long as you're open to asking and learning, no one will mind if you ask questions.
It's crucial to ask questions if you're not feeling confident in a particular situation. Your colleagues would much prefer you ask questions than deal with a code blue in a patient emergency.
Remember that nursing is the type of job in which you learn every day as you're confronted with new situations, technology, tools, research, and best practices. Tap into your team's collective knowledge by sharing your issue and asking them for solutions.
Listen to Your Gut
Having low confidence is common, particularly when you're out of your element or if you've made an error in the past and are working on rebuilding self-confidence as a professional nurse. Imposter syndrome—doubting yourself to the point of feeling like a fraud—is also real. Studies show that women in medicine may pass up opportunities for professional advancement because of imposter syndrome. Studies also consistently show that women are more likely to experience lower confidence than their male colleagues.
However, there is a difference between experiencing imposter syndrome and needing more time, training, or other resources to help you prepare for a specific role or responsibility. Ultimately, you should not "fake it until you make it" when patients' lives are at risk. Listen to your gut and ask your manager or preceptor for additional support to help you become more confident.
If you're considering stepping into a new role or work environment, assess the situation as best as possible by meeting team members and touring the unit. If you sense that the environment may not be one where you can ask questions, lean on colleagues, and continuously learn, trust your gut. It isn't worth joining a workplace where you'll feel intimidated or isolated.
Tips on Building Your Confidence
Building confidence takes time and experience—and the only way to get there is by taking action, asking questions, and setting yourself up for success.
Here are some final tips to help you boost your confidence as a nurse:
- Tap into the multidisciplinary team at your disposal—from doctors to occupational therapists, dietitians to healthcare assistants, you likely have access to a support team willing to discuss patient care and support when possible.
- Nursing can create a lot of anxiety. If you continually experience this, look into strategies to cope with your stress and consider reaching out to a mental health professional for additional support.
- Practice reflecting on situations that happened during your shift. Reflecting, or having a postmortem, can help you notice patterns and assess your learnings.
Whether you're new to nursing or are an experienced nurse who still struggles with confidence, practicing these tips and seeking support from your colleagues and managers can help you feel more confident and ready to tackle whatever nursing brings your way.