Female Asian nurse faces imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome, a term first coined in the 1970s, describes the persistent feeling of self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a "fraud" despite evident success and competence. In the nursing profession, this psychological pattern is notably prevalent, affecting individuals across various levels of experience and roles. From new graduates to seasoned executives, nurses often grapple with the inability to internalize their achievements, attributing success to luck or external factors rather than their own skills and efforts. 

Kimberly Pate, DNP, RN, Director of Policy and Professional Development at Atrium Health's Carolinas Medical Center, highlights the critical role that healthcare systems and academic institutions play in alleviating imposter syndrome among nurses. By implementing strong mentoring programs, fostering a culture of support and teamwork, and incorporating educational content about imposter syndrome in nursing curricula, these institutions can provide essential tools for nurses to build confidence and acknowledge their professional competencies. 

Understanding Imposter Syndrome 

Imposter syndrome refers to a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their accomplishments and harbor a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. This significantly impacts nurses, undermining their confidence and professional self-esteem. Nurses affected by imposter syndrome struggle to internalize their successes, attributing them to external factors or sheer luck rather than their own skill and hard work. This self-doubt not only hinders personal growth but also affects their ability to function optimally in high-stakes environments. 

Studies investigating the prevalence of imposter syndrome reveal its widespread nature across various professions. Research by Bravata et al., involving over 14,161 participants across 62 studies, indicates a striking prevalence rate of 9% to 82%. In nursing, this syndrome can affect anyone, from new graduates grappling with the transition from theory to practice, to seasoned professionals taking on advanced roles or specialties.

Prevalence rate of imposter syndrome is up to 82%

The Role of Healthcare Systems in Supporting Nurses 

Strong Mentoring Programs at All Levels 

Effective mentoring is crucial in combatting nursing imposter syndrome. Healthcare systems can establish comprehensive mentoring programs that cater to nurses at different stages. These programs offer guidance, support, and a platform for sharing experiences, significantly aiding in building confidence and competence among nurses. By pairing less experienced nurses with seasoned professionals, these mentoring relationships can provide practical advice, emotional support, and valuable insights into navigating the complexities of the nursing profession. 

Well-Being Programs 

Addressing the mental and emotional health of nurses is essential. Healthcare systems can develop well-being programs that focus on stress management, mental health support, and work-life balance. These programs not only help nurses cope with the day-to-day challenges of their job but also provide tools and resources to combat feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt associated with imposter syndrome. 

A Culture of Support and Teamwork 

Fostering a supportive workplace culture is fundamental. Healthcare systems can encourage an environment where teamwork, collaboration, and mutual support are prioritized. By promoting a culture where nurses feel valued and supported, healthcare systems can help alleviate the isolation and self-imposed pressure that often accompany imposter syndrome. 

Focus on Positive Performance 

Recognizing and highlighting positive performance is key. Healthcare systems should focus on constructive feedback, celebrating achievements, and acknowledging the hard work and dedication of their nursing staff. This not only boosts morale but also helps nurses internalize their accomplishments and recognize their own professional worth and capabilities. 

The Role of Academic Institutions in Supporting Nursing Students 

Incorporating Imposter Syndrome Content into Nursing Courses 

By integrating discussions and educational material about imposter syndrome into the nursing curriculum, academic institutions can help students understand and identify this phenomenon. This awareness is the first step in enabling students to manage these feelings effectively, ensuring they are better prepared to handle such challenges in their future nursing roles. 

Providing Emotional Education to Students 

Emotional intelligence and resilience are crucial for nursing students. Academic institutions can offer programs and workshops focusing on emotional education, which equip students with the skills to navigate the emotional complexities of the nursing profession. This education can include stress management, coping strategies, and techniques to foster self-esteem and self-compassion, which are vital in combating feelings of imposter syndrome. 

Building Mentoring Relationships 

Establishing mentoring programs where students are paired with experienced nurses or senior peers can provide invaluable support. These mentoring relationships offer practical advice, emotional support, and a safe space for students to express their fears and doubts, thus helping to mitigate feelings of inadequacy and fraudulence. 

Educating Faculty and Clinical Instructors on Signs of Imposter Syndrome 

Faculty and clinical instructors play a critical role in identifying imposter syndrome in students. Training educators to recognize the signs of imposter syndrome can enable early intervention. Educators with this knowledge can provide targeted support, encourage open discussions, and help build the confidence and self-belief of students struggling with these issues.

The Impact of Mentorship 

Mentorship holds a crucial place in healthcare systems and academic institutions, playing a major role in the development of nurses and nursing students. Mentorship is a cornerstone for building confidence, fostering growth, and enhancing competency. 

In healthcare systems, mentorship provides nurses with a supportive framework where they can learn from experienced colleagues. This interaction not only imparts practical skills but also offers emotional support and validation, helping nurses to overcome self-doubt and internalize their achievements. Seasoned nurses sharing their experiences and wisdom can significantly mitigate the feelings of imposter syndrome in their mentees, reinforcing the idea that challenges and uncertainties are natural parts of the learning process. 

In academic settings, mentorship takes on a slightly different role. Here, mentors help nursing students navigate the complex transition from theoretical learning to practical application. By providing a relatable and accessible source of knowledge and encouragement, mentors can demystify the professional world for students, alleviating anxieties and building their confidence. These relationships also offer a safe space for students to express concerns and doubts, ensuring that these feelings are addressed and not internalized. 

Nurse colleagues partner to build a culture of support

Building a Culture of Support 

Fostering a culture of support and teamwork within healthcare settings is pivotal for the well-being and effectiveness of clinicians and nursing students. This culture of support acts as a safety net, providing a collaborative environment where individuals can freely express their concerns, share their experiences, and seek guidance without fear of judgment. 

In environments where teamwork is emphasized, clinicians and students are more likely to feel valued and understood. This sense of belonging and mutual respect helps in mitigating feelings of isolation often associated with imposter syndrome. Teamwork in nursing not only enhances patient care but also contributes to the personal and professional growth of each team member. When nurses and students are encouraged to collaborate, exchange ideas, and support each other, it creates a nurturing atmosphere that is conducive to overcoming fears and self-doubt.

Addressing Imposter Syndrome in Nursing Courses 

Integrating content on imposter syndrome into nursing curricula is a forward-thinking approach. By formally acknowledging this psychological phenomenon, nursing courses can provide students with a critical understanding of imposter syndrome, its signs, and its impacts on professional life. This is about raising awareness, normalizing conversations around the topic, and equipping future nurses with the tools to identify and combat these feelings. 

This proactive approach in nursing education aids in demystifying imposter syndrome and prepares students to handle such challenges effectively in their professional careers. By understanding the roots and symptoms of imposter syndrome, nursing students can better navigate their feelings of self-doubt, fostering a stronger, more resilient professional identity. 


Healthcare systems and academic institutions play a vital role in supporting nurses and nursing students in overcoming imposter syndrome. Through the implementation of strong mentoring programs, well-being initiatives, a culture of support and teamwork, and the integration of imposter syndrome content in nursing education, these institutions provide essential resources to address this psychological phenomenon. 

Nurses and nursing students are encouraged to actively engage with these available resources to build their confidence, foster professional growth, and enhance their overall well-being. By leveraging these supportive structures, the nursing community can more effectively navigate and overcome the challenges posed by imposter syndrome.