It takes time to become familiar with a new role and new responsibilities, whether you’re just starting your career or making a career change of some type. This is true in any industry. Yet in healthcare, the stakes are high and the pressure can mount quickly, considering one mistake could contribute to a patient’s death. This kind of pressure can lead nurses to experience stress and self-doubt. Confidence issues are not limited to new, inexperienced nurses, however—even seasoned nurses can have the feeling they are in over their heads.
Have you ever had a crisis of confidence? Maybe you had a particularly challenging patient, or encountered a situation you’d never dealt with before, or were juggling more patients than you felt comfortable caring for at one time. It’s normal to feel concerned about the quality of care you’re able to provide at such times. And as long as you’re not dealing with severe self-doubt on a daily basis, you’re probably doing fine.
A popular “life hack” mantra says fake it till you make it. Clearly, as a nurse you cannot ethically fake skills or knowledge you don’t have. What you can do is to convey confidence that you don’t necessarily feel, by flipping the script. For example, when you don’t know what to do for a patient in distress, don’t focus on your knowledge gap—instead, try to feel confident about your ability to leverage whatever resources you need to figure out the next steps.
Here are a few strategies that can help you build your confidence overall, and to get through the times in which you experience self-doubt.
- Admit your mistakes. Confident people are able to apologize, do whatever is necessary to correct an error, and take steps to make sure they don’t repeat the same mistake over and over again. You cannot convey or build confidence by covering up or denying your role in a mistake, or by reacting defensively.
- Own your flaws. It is a strength to be transparent about your own limitations and weaknesses. When you confidently acknowledge your shortcomings, your colleagues are more likely to step in with mentoring and advice, and to trust you for your strengths.
- Be aware of your body language. Confident people make eye contact, rather than glancing around the room or looking down. They are still and relaxed, rather than fidgety or hurried.
- Use active listening techniques. Confident people can convey empathy by listening with the goal of comprehension, rather than just waiting for it to be their turn to talk. They can hear someone out without interrupting or using negative body language like eye-rolling.
- Be prepared. If there’s a procedure or situation that makes you doubt your abilities, give your confidence a boost by doing your homework. This might mean practicing the steps in a procedure, using checklists, reading up on something you don’t fully understand, or simply jotting down important information before you call a physician.
- Practice humility. This means doing your job because it’s your job and you want the personal satisfaction of doing it the best way you can—NOT because you expect compliments, thanks, or expressions of approval. Confident people don’t need constant recognition for doing a good job.
- Keep learning. Confident people are not afraid to ask questions when they need advice, clarification, or explanations.
- Avoid comparisons. There will always be someone out there who is more experienced or more knowledgeable than you are. Confident nurses feel inspired in the presence of high-performing colleagues; they don’t diminish their own self-worth by negatively comparing themselves to others.
- Reject perfectionism. Confident people set reasonable and attainable goals. They don’t undermine their own self-worth or set themselves up for failure by setting unreasonably high standards.
Building your confidence ultimately benefits your patients. It takes a confident nurse to advocate effectively for a patient, to speak up when something doesn’t seem right, and to work toward positive change. Remember, knowledge is power—and furthering your education may be the most effective confidence-boosting strategy of all. In one study, many RNs reported that earning a BSN was a transformative experience for them, boosting their knowledge, skills, and professionalism.
Empower yourself with knowledge through an online RN to BSN or RN to BSN/MSN degree. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees, including programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in nursing education, nursing informatics, and executive leadership.