Self-doubt after nursing school.

The Ugly Truth After Nursing School

I remember FINALLY getting through RN school, only to feel like I had learned nothing like I knew nothing. I was so SCARED because I felt like I wasn’t prepared to work on my own as a nurse. Not only was I afraid I would suck as a new nurse,

  • I was afraid I would overlook something important or that I would miss something on an assessment.
  • I was afraid I wouldn’t call the doctor at the right time because I was afraid of being yelled at.
  • I was afraid of being made fun of by other nurses for not knowing something or asking too many questions.
  • I was afraid someone would die because I didn’t know what I Was doing.

“I felt so stupid…..”

You talk about anxiety, I had it. I remember crying to my husband telling him I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and that scared me. Did any of the other people in my class feel this way? If they did, it didn’t show because nobody ever talked about it. I felt so STUPID, how could I have gotten all the way through nursing school and not have a clue what I was doing?

Have you ever felt like that? Like you weren’t prepared at all for the task ahead?

Well let me tell you, that’s normal! It is pretty normal to get all the way through nursing school and think, now what? RN school gives you the foundation for your career and teaches you to pass a test, but the real learning starts after you graduate.

“I still get scared and nervous”

And you know something else, you are not going to know everything after orientation either. I have been an ER nurse for a year and a half, and while I have improved tremendously on my skills, I still have so much to learn. It is still scary and I still get nervous. There are still moments of self-doubt and fear. I still second guess myself sometimes.

Part of being a good nurse is to always be learning, always ask questions. If you don’t know or you’re not sure ASK! The great thing about nursing is that it is forever changing and growing.

“My first big trauma came rolling in those ER doors…”

Nursing is scary, your first code will be scary. The first time you help a mom bring her new baby in the world, the first time you take care of a new stroke patient and mix tPA, the first time you have a STEMI; they will all be scary. You will always wonder did I do that right? Should I have done something differently? The first time I had my first big trauma come rolling in those ER doors, my heart was beating so fast and my hand was shaking, no one saw it but I knew. I was so nervous, but I got the IV in immediately, within 60 seconds, drugs were given and the patient was intubated. BUT I WAS SCARED THE WHOLE TIME.

You will be scared but I promise it will be okay! Find a strong nurse and learn from her/him. Never be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Take each shift one hour at a time, one minute at a time.

My advice…

  • Never be afraid to ask questions, never be afraid to say you don’t know how to do something to a coworker. I remember once we were doing a conscious sedation and I had never done one before. I told the doctor that I had never done one and he needed to let me know if there was anything I needed to know and he did. He didn’t make fun of me or belittle me as I had envisioned before, he helped me.
  • Always be willing to learn. As nurses, we are required to take continuing education so make the most of them. Also, take the time to read more or learn more about things that you don’t know much about.
  • Take classes, find resources to help you learn concepts or skills. If you are an ER nurse, the ENA has some great stuff to help you grow as an ER nurse. (You can find it here: https://www.ena.org/)

Just know that you are not alone, lots of nurses feel totally lost when they first start. No one starts out with 100% confidence, we all started straight out of nursing school.

Keep an eye out for my nursing diaries where I share all the things going on with my nursing career and education!

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14 Comments

  1. I have felt this same fear, and insecurity too many times to count. Your advice is on point. It cant be stressed enough…”if ever in doubt ask!” I still ask questions every day. That’s what being a great nurse is all about, Be willing to learn even about the things you think you already know. Nursing is an everchanging, ever evolving career, a successful nurse is willing to adapt and change with the ebb and flow. Thank you for opening up and sharing this. So many of us feel alone and scared. It’s nice to hear those feelings are normal and comforting to know, we are not really alone.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting on my post! I remember feeling like something was wrong with me because I was so scared that I wasn’t prepared even though I applied myself all the way through nursing school. Everybody else seemed so confident and I didn’t. Even today, I find myself asking lots of questions, lucky for me, I have a very smart and understanding nurse on shift with me and she never seems to grow tired of my questions. I am so glad you enjoyed!!

  2. I am graduating this Thursday and I feel that way completely. I’m nervous about my new job and life as a nurse and the transition from school to real life is completed different is what I’m hearing from the nurses that work on the floor. But I believe God didn’t bring me this far to leave me and he will guide me and show me the things I need to do to succeed in helping care for my patients.

  3. This article honestly fills me with so much hope. I’m in my third year of my nursing bachelors, and even though I’m super excited at the thought of graduating soon, I still get feelings of dread because I feel like I’m never going to learn enough. I always felt like all my classmates had so much security in what they were doing meanwhile I just felt stupid. But this reassured me that as long as I do what I think is best for the patient and keep on learning, most things should be alright. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I think it is supernatural to feel that way, it is just many people do not talk about it. You will learn so much when you start working and even then you will feel unprepared sometimes. Let people know when you have questions, find the people who are willing to teach you and become best friends with them. Know you will have some nurses who treat you bad (maybe, I did) but there will be someone who is willing to answer your questions and be a mentor!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing. I am currently 6 weeks into my orientation on labor and delivery as a brand new RN. Almost every shift I come home feeling stupid, useless and defeated. I’ve cried in the bathroom and in my car so many times I’ve lost track. The thing that pushed me over the edge happened yesterday when I had a needle stick scare…I was about ready to walk out the door for good.
    It’s been extremely difficult to deal with these feelings of self-doubt while trying to maintain a strong outward appearance. However, it’s really comforting to know I am not alone in feeling this way. I understand the reason many people avoid this topic; nurses want to appear competent and admitting doubt is seen as a weakness. But this doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it at all! I hope as a nursing community we can work to the break the stigma and communicate openly about this.
    Again, thanks for your story. It helps newbs like me feel less alone 🙂

    1. I hope things have gotten better for you! They say it takes a year to get comfortable, not even confident, just comfortable. I really hope more nurses start talking about this and supporting one another. I remember feeling so alone, like how did I even get through nursing school I had zero confidence and constantly second-guessed myself. You will get through this, we will get through this!

  5. I just like the helpful info you supply on your articles.

    I will bookmark your blog and check again right here regularly.
    I am reasonably sure I’ll learn plenty of new
    stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

  6. Thank you for sharing Barbara.
    This is such an important topic that ideally, should be shared openly as to encourage one another, and yes, even become better nurses.
    If you have not already, try research and read about the “impostor syndrome”. Very interesting content and hoping we can come together as health professionals especially, to build one another up, rather than tearing others down as I have experienced by colleagues.
    Keep up the good fight. God has your back. 😊💕

    1. Thank you so much for the beautiful comment. I feel like it is so scary to talk about not being ready or not feeling confident as a new nurse. I was very lucky to have a few really good nurse who were patient and great teachers.

  7. Wish I would have seen this sooner. I graduated nursing school May 2019 at 48yrs old with two younger children. I started my first job in November 2019 and left after two months. It was a nightmare. Preceptors eat their young….told me they were not my teacher and weren’t there to teach me. Orientation was a joke. I decided that floor and hospital was not for me. I did not feel supported. Bad enough being a new nurse with anxiety and feeling inadequate but also not supported. So far I’m having a hard time motivating myself to get back in. I know I need to but afraid of same experience.

    1. I am so sorry that this was your experience, unfortunately I have heard this from many new nurses.
      keeo in mind, there is more to nursing than floor nursing. While many want nurses to have floor experience, some may hire you if you have other really good attributes. Community health nursing is big right now if you have any interest. I pray your next experience is a truly wonderful one.

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