Building Confidence As A New Nurse. Steps To Success

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[This post was written by one of my clever, passionate and incredibly kind nursing friends Elle Greenwood.]

“When did you start to feel confident as a new nurse?” I asked this question over and over again as a nursing student and even more once I entered the chaotic world of emergency nursing.  I still hear this question a lot but now I am at the answering end (pressure!). 

Unfortunately, I don’t have a straightforward answer that lets you press fast forward, dodge some obstacles and smoothly make it to the finish line.  What I do know is that confidence is not an “all or nothing” phenomenon.  It is dynamic, and constantly fluctuates as you grow. 

The steps you take toward becoming confident, are the most important parts to achieving this goal. So even if you fall backward down a few stairs, you’ll repeat these steps better the second time. Just like a workout, the more times you repeat the same exercise, the stronger you’ll become at it.  

Confidence is a quality we all strive to exhibit both professionally as a nurse and personally, like when we go on a first date. The more I delved into exploring what self-confidence incorporates as a new nurse, the more similarities I found between these two very relatable situations in life. 

I decided to ask a few of my friends who are also nurses, for their perspectives and experiences when they first started nursing. Once I mentioned the unexpected comparison between dating, it was like opening Pandora’s Box. This ended up being a very therapeutic reflection on our nursing careers, feelings and our dating lives.

I hope this piece provides some helpful strategies for anyone starting their nursing career and of course, a few nifty tips for tackling those first date nerves. After all, we are nurses and fabulous multi-taskers. 

First-Year Nursing Nerves

I still vividly remember how I felt during my first year of nursing.  A mixture of excitement, curiosity and self doubt are some of the many emotions I felt as I navigated my way through the hospital maze and complexity of being a nurse.  

Sound similar to a first date? Your stomach’s filled with butterflies, your heart is racing and your hands get a little clammy as you try not mumble your words. You feel both excited but nervous as you want to impress but also be impressed. 

Well that’s exactly how I felt walking into work (and on my last first date…), but I’d probably describe the feeling in my stomach more as a Zoo, rather than a single butterfly house when I first started nursing.  

So what actually is self-confidence? And why is it important?

By definition, confidence is,

“a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities and qualities”. 

Abilities develop over time with practice and qualities are shaped by both positive and negative experiences. So, as a new nurse how can it be expected that you are already oozing confidence as soon as you step onto the hospital floor? It’s not. You are only beginning to learn who you are as a health professional.  

Yes you’ve completed your placements and studied (or been on a few dates and listened to a few “how to date” podcasts…), so of course you know a few things. But until you look after real patients or go on that date, do you really develop these skills.  

So why is confidence so important? And why do we seek advice, enroll in courses and listen to podcasts about the many ways we can achieve a healthy amount of self confidence in every part of our lives?

I always knew confidence was important and desired, but writing this piece has revealed the wealth of benefits a healthy amount of self-confidence can have. 

Internally confidence influences how we feel and how we view ourselves and consequently it externally shapes how we behave and how others perceive who we are. 

When your confidence is low, the “inner critic” we learn to suppress, can become very loud especially when feeling overwhelmed or intimidated.  This is what you want to avoid!

When this negative voice takes over your thoughts, it can lead to anxiety, poor communication and a lack of assertiveness, affecting the way you practice as a nurse and your general well-being. 

However, our “inner critic” does have a purpose as a healthy amount allows you to reflect and motivates you to learn, improve and develop as a person and professional. So don’t banish this voice to the darkest corner in your mind, but keep it controlled and use it to better yourself, not to cut you down.  

Alternatively, positive self-confidence is so important as it allows you to enjoy what you’re doing and can motivate you to step outside your comfort zone. 

As your confidence grows, you begin to value and be proud of your capabilities and accomplishments. 

It is about believing in yourself and knowing you have valuable skills and traits that allow you to complete tasks, deal with difficult circumstances and reach your goals.  

As a nurse, developing confidence helps you maintain clarity, stay focused and keep calm when you’re faced with a new challenge or stressful situation, a common occurrence in any nursing specialty. By radiating confidence, you subconsciously create a safe, comfortable and trusting space for your colleagues, patients and family members. 

This wasn’t a trait I suddenly had or was aware of, but the prospect of facing a challenge at work became exciting and enticing. I was happy going to work and was proud to talk about my career.  

Achieving New Nurse Confidence

If only it was as simple as being handed a jar of self-confidence along with our nursing certificate at graduation. But confidence is a trait you learn over time.  

It is completely natural to feel nervous in a new role, especially nursing. You have new colleagues, supervisors and instead of a quiet, well-behaved mannequin you now have very real, unwell patients to take care of. 

So despite your training and hours of study, nerves and feelings of self-doubt can creep in and shake your confidence. Even the most experienced veteran nurses still get those first date feelings when faced with a new challenge at work.

It is important to have realistic expectations of yourself and understand you’re still learning. Whether you are someone who thrives in an unfamiliar, challenging situation or you are someone who blossoms in a comfortable environment, everyone develops self-confidence differently and at different times. 

Don’t be ashamed if you have these feelings! It shows you’re passionate about the care you deliver. 

Here are a few steps you can use to start boosting your self-confidence.  Let’s call them the “10 commandments toward achieving self-confidence”. And like I said, feel free to use these tips for not only your nursing career.  

1. Build Your Nursing Knowledge

Knowledge is power! 

Surprise surprise, all of that information on your lecture slides, the clinical lab classes and the repetitive questions your preceptor asked, are actually important to prepare you for your career!

So despite cramming a semester’s worth of information in your mind one week before an exam, you need to file the important parts into your long term memory. Even if this means staying home and having to miss out on a social event now and then – you will thank me later.  

When you’re well educated and have put in the time to build your knowledge, tackling tasks, answering tricky questions and approaching challenging scenarios will be less daunting. 

Having a pile of useful information in your mind which will help you feel comfortable, prepared and allow you to succeed. And when you do succeed, this will boost your confidence even more!

Knowledge was one of my strengths when I started nursing so I often relied on this to boost my confidence and motivate me to grow. If this isn’t your strength that is still okay! Everyone has something different to provide to the team. But it is still very important to have a baseline understanding of your specialty. 

If you’re in Cardiology – your knowledge of the cardiovascular system needs to be strong. If you’re working on a Plastics ward, you need an in-depth understanding of different wound dressings. And like myself, if you’re in ER, your assessment skills need to be advanced.  

This is important not only for your confidence when you start, but to ensure your practice is safe, efficient and effective. This may mean you need to spend some extra time before you start working to revise relevant information.  

One of the best ways I found to boost my nursing knowledge was NURSING.COM was officially started in 2014 as NRSNG by Jon Haws, a registered nurse who, at the time, was working as a Neuro ICU nurse.  Jon started sharing some of his study tips online and very quickly realized that nursing students all around the globe were struggling – just like he did.

Today NURSING.COM offers clear, concise, and visual supplemental courses to nursing students and we couldn’t recommend it higher. This is what we love most about;

  • Concise videos (around 10-12 minutes)
  • Their comprehensive NCLEX book
  • Practicing experts (meaning the staff giving advice still actually nurse)
  • Epic Cheat Sheets
  • Mobile App
  • Practice Questions

If you want to find out more about click here – you won’t regret it.

2. Be Prepared

I couldn’t stress how important this step is! It is so simple but makes a huge difference.

I’m sure we all remember our parents telling us to get ready for school and to get our clothes out the night before so we know it’s clean and dry. I certainly do and I definitely learnt the hard way as I still remember those days when I “forgot” and had to make a drastic outfit change because the dress I had mentally planned to wear that night was in the washing machine. So despite rolling my eyes every time Mum told me to prepare everything the night before, I thank her now for the valuable lesson – be prepared!

When you’re going on a date, you plan what you’re going to wear and you look up where the restaurant or bar is so you’re not too fashionably late .  Use these tactics when you start your nursing career! 

Preparing what you need the night or day before will eliminate the mad rush in the morning and the panic you feel once you realise you’ve left your stethoscope or ID badge at home. 

This will allow you to have more mental clarity and focus on your practice, instead of feeling frazzled because you’ve forgotten something important.  When your attention is completely on the task at hand, you will learn and more likely succeed, building your confidence.  

So what do you need to prepare?

  • Get your scrubs or uniform out the night before or know where they are. 

I couldn’t count the numerous mornings I searched for my navy scrubs with my eyes half-closed at five o’clock in the morning during my first year.  My Mum’s voice telling me “I told you so” certainly crept in despite living out of home.  

  • Pack all your equipment/nursing gadgets you need into your bag or have it all in the one spot.

There is nothing worse than being asked to auscultate a chest and realizing your stethoscope is not around your neck but sitting on your dining table.  Of course you will be able to borrow one, but we’re all a little superstitious at times and we’re trying to avoid anything that may shake confidence.

I had a little box that held my stethoscope, eye torch, ID badge, tape (I am not proud of how many rolls I have collected), a few pens and a notepad.  During my first year, this was so helpful as it meant I could focus on what assessment I had on, instead of whether I had packed everything. But remember – put everything back in it after work so you know where to grab everything during that pre-work rush.  

Here are our favorite nursing goodiesOpens in a new tab. if you’re in the mood for some shopping.

  • Prepare your meals.

Whether it is breakfast, lunch, dinner or a midnight snack – having something healthy and nutritious to eat on your break is so important. 

During your first year, your brain and body is working in overdrive. You’re now a shift worker so your body is adjusting to a drastic change in your sleeping schedule, eating regime and activity level.  You’re always on your feet and walk about 10,000 steps per shift. And to top it off, you’re learning new information every day and have assessments to pass. 

You need your energy – so you need to make sure you’re staying hydrated and eating something nutritious during your breaks. 

Here are our favorite beverages to enjoy on night shift.

Preparing healthy meals will allow you to have the energy to be focused, motivated, enthusiastic and ultimately boost your confidence at work.  

If you’re struggling to eat the right volume of fruits and vegetables, you’ll want to check out SuperGreen TONIKOpens in a new tab.. It’s a green juice I’ve found in the last few years and it’s brilliant. We did a whole review here with a discount code you can use to give it a try.

3. As A New Nurse Don’t Compare Yourself To Others  

Naturally, as humans, we compare ourselves to the people around us. As kids we compare our toys and as we grow up we compare what we wear, what grades we get on a test and who can run faster. 

I’m sure many of us are guilty of searching our dates “ex-love interest” on Facebook or Instagram when we were younger. We compared ourselves hoping to feel better. But it does the opposite, so if you’re doing this put down your phone!  

More often than not, our insecurities come from watching someone do a great job sending us into a negative mindset as we analyze our own performance and worry about how well we will do in comparison. As a new nurse, this mentality can send your confidence into a downward spiral very quickly. 

If you approach your day as a competition you will be stressed and focused on what your colleague is doing, rather than the task you’re completing. When your concentration wanders, you’re less likely to perform to the best of your ability and are more likely to make a mistake, chipping further away at your confidence. 

Instead, focus on what you want to achieve and how you are going to do it. 

Your confidence will grow the more you practice and will be influenced by the ups and down you experience. Keep in mind, that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses but these differences are what make a great team. 

The best outcomes occur when different minds, ideas and perspectives come together. As a new graduate, you may be inexperienced but your knowledge is fresh and up-to-date which is very valuable amongst a group of nurses who haven’t studied in years. So instead of comparing yourself, be proud of the skills you do have and focus on performing the best you can each day. 

Just like Elle Woods said in Legally Blonde “most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself” (if you have not seen Legally Blonde before you start any of these steps please sit down with a bowl of popcorn and watch this motivational movie before starting your career!). 

This is all about changing the way you think, focusing on yourself rather than others. So rein in all of those complex thoughts and go back to the basics, get to know yourself.  I completely empathize that this is a lot easier said than done.  

I started my nursing career when I was only twenty-one and had just moved out of home. So, not only was I organizing bills, food and coming to grips with adult life for the first time, I was expected to quickly develop my professional identity and learn who and what kind of nurse I wanted to be.  Pressure! 

So firstly, take a breath. Next, take note of experiences and thoughts that increase or decrease your self-confidence. Focus on what boosts your self-esteem, what makes you excited and feeds your curiosity and identifies your strengths. Be proud of these qualities no matter how small and focus on them.  

We talk a lot more about this is a post titled, Being a New Nurse is Hard. How to Stop Feeling Incompetent which I highly recommend you open in another tab to save and read for later.

4. New Nurse Communication

Communication is such a powerful tool in life! Personally, I think this is one of the most important skills to have, especially as a nurse and on a date!

The best dates that leave you feeling beautiful and confident are filled with lengthy conversations which make you lose track of time and chat even when the restaurant is closing. Whether this is on a date or with your best friend, these conversations are filled with different kinds of communication skills like talking, listening and body gestures.   

We all have different communication strengths, find out what yours is, this skill will be invaluable to boosting your confidence. Whether you’re a chatterbox, a great listener, have the ability to interpret body language like a detective or you’re a walking Duolingo app (I am very jealous), use this as your strength and then practice the communication skills you’re less comfortable with. 

By practicing and increasing the variety of skills you have, you will feel more confident approaching challenging circumstances. 

When you’re caring for a patient you’re struggling to communicate with, this can shake your confidence very quickly. 

You want to help, but you don’t know what they want. Commonly it is a language barrier and you need an interpreter. But if you have a pile of communication strategies in your mind, more often than not you may find one of them works. This is a great feeling. On the other hand, your social group will no longer want to play Charades with you unless you’re on their team.  

Developing your communication skills works like a positive feedback loop (quick flashback to anatomy and physiology). The end product (confidence) of an action (communication) causes more of that action to occur and amplifies the original action. So the more you communicate, the more confident you’ll be communicating and the loop continues! 

Communication is also so important to build relationships in the workplace like it is in our personal lives. 

By getting involved and talking to your colleagues you will start to feel included and a part of the team. Having a strong social support network at work will boost your enjoyment and confidence. You will feel more confident to tackle challenges, step outside your comfort zone and ask for help. So get involved in social events, use your colleague’s names, be friendly and enjoy how interactive nursing is!

For me, becoming confident at work not only included completing tasks well, on time and becoming more orientated to the workplace. But a huge factor was feeling like part of the team, having friends and knowing your skills are valued. To achieve this, you need to speak, listen and get involved in your workplace. 

Take a look at another nursing post I’m sure you’ll love too. How to Stop Feeling Like An IdiotOpens in a new tab.

5. Ask Questions! 

Yay, you’ve graduated but you still have so much to learn and your colleagues will be the most valuable source of information! So ask questions!

Avoid falling into the mentality of thinking you know everything or, you know enough. Nothing will deflate your confidence and restrict your professional development more than this.

Asking questions helps you learn, be safe and efficient, but it allows you to get to know your colleagues. Asking your colleagues for advice allows you to learn their name and introduce yourself and your level of education – so let them know you are new! More often than not, they will not only answer your question but will give you a few handy tips and ask a question about you.  

It is still important to think through your question and come up with a possible solution. Asking questions isn’t about taking the easy route but making mistakes in certain circumstances can be dangerous, especially in health care. 

The health and safety of your patient comes first, so eliminate the fear of asking a “stupid question”, this doesn’t exist. If you’re unsure, ask for clarification. This will mean you learn it correctly from the start, minimize mistakes, increase patient safety and you will be more effective and efficient throughout the day. 

If you find yourself trying to complete a task or find a specific dressing in the endless storage cupboard for too long, ask someone. Being nervous to ask a question will blow your time management out the window, impacting your confidence. 

Asking questions will not only improve your practice but it shows that you’re interested, eager to learn and that you’re listening. 

You’re colleagues, supervisors and educators will notice this. This is just like a date! You ask questions to learn more about them and to show that you’re interested and listening. We know how important questions are on a date so much so I’m sure many of us are guilty of planning a few backups just in case. 

A date is built around asking questions. More often than not and correct me if I’m wrong – the best dates that leave our stomachs filled with butterflies and our cheeks sore from smiling and laughing all night, are filled with lengthy conversations and lots and lots of questions. It feels good.  Try to have a similar outlook surrounding asking questions at work. 

Instead of feeling intimidated or nervous to ask a question, look at it as exciting, purposeful and something that has a good outcome. More often than not, confident people are those that aren’t afraid to say they don’t know how to do something and will ask for help if they need it! 

Having clarification will allow you to complete your tasks successfully, you’ll be more efficient and you will feel more supported. This will boost your confidence! 

Related: An Organized RN’s Essential Holiday Gift Guide For Nurses

6. Find a Mentor and Surround Yourself with Positive Influences 

Mentorship is important in any career, especially in a dynamic and stressful profession such as nursing. Your educator or manager should facilitate this when you start whether you’re a graduate nurse or new to the ward or hospital. 

If you’re not allocated a preceptor, find yourself, someone, you aspire to be like, trust and respect. A mentor should be a positive influence and provide constructive criticism to improve your practice. Someone who makes you feel intimidated is disinterested or doesn’t follow policy and procedures isn’t the work ethic you want to mirror. Find someone who inspires you to be a great nurse.  

A mentor can be a great source of information and full of helpful advice.  When you’re completing a new task, ask your mentor for advice and to watch you perform the procedure. They can be the supportive presence you need to succeed! This will make you comfortable and prepared to independently tackle the situation when it arises again. 

Knowing you have someone that believes you’ll be successful, will make you feel more confident and consequently you’ll make better decisions.  Mentors will let you know if you’re making a mistake but will also celebrate your achievements. When someone gives you positive affirmations, this can help you recognize your own talent, validate your progress and boost your confidence. 

A mentor should make you feel comfortable, secure, assured and included.  They will be there for you when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just remember, your mentor was once a new nurse as well, they will be sympathetic. If you’re struggling with a task or work-life balance, sitting down with your mentor can help you process how you feel and come up with a solution.  

7. Positive Self-Talk  

For any person in any aspect of life it can be hard to remain positive and happy when you’re going through something sad, frightening or uncertain. As a nurse, a large part of our role is to advocate, support and care for our patients, especially during times of pain and grief. However, we’re often not very good at instilling this positivity within ourselves because we’re stressed, exhausted and have carer’s fatigue. 

So as a new nurse, it is important to find ways to promote a positive mindset to boost your health, well-being and ultimately your confidence at work. 

Positive self-talk can be really helpful and can be done in numerous ways to suit the way you like to reflect (don’t worry I won’t be asking you to complete a Gibb’s reflective cycle piece).  

You may like to write in a journal or diary, listen to a podcast or Netflix documentary on positive self-reflection or you may like to use positive affirmations. 

Each of these methods stimulates a conversation in your head with yourself.  It can have a powerful influence on how you perceive yourself, how you behave and how you react. 

Positive self-talk aims to increase your self-esteem, improve your stress management and boost your wellbeing! Personally, I like to reflect on public transport on my way home so that by the time I am home, work is left at the door and I can enjoy my social life without dwelling on what I did or didn’t do.  

The goal is to think about your strength, what you have achieved and remember that mistakes are a part of your learning.

Write down or type in notes on your phone how you felt, what went well and what didn’t go to plan. Sometimes we’re unaware of how much we’ve improved and how far we’ve come until we look back and reflect on how we once felt. You’ll be surprised and hopefully have a nice boost in your confidence and abilities as a nurse. 

Most importantly, remember it is okay to make mistakes. 

Making mistakes helps us learn and improve. They allow us to reflect, identify alternative solutions, approach challenges differently and ultimately achieve better outcomes. 

Practicing self-talk helps you acknowledge that mistakes are part of your learning and helps you be critical of the situation without being critical of yourself. Don’t put yourself down if you slip up. Cut out the negative language and think about it as another learning experience and step towards becoming confident. 

Like I mentioned earlier, it is just like a workout.  During a workout it hurts, you may want to give up or possibly cry. But at the end when you’ve achieved something new or overcome something challenging, that feeling of accomplishment is intoxicating and overshadows the negatives.  Remember this feeling and replay it in your mind when you’re having or had a difficult day. 

8. Create a New Nurse Goals List 

How many times have you made a New Year’s resolution and then six months later half the year has suddenly gone, you haven’t achieved that big dream and you’re left feeling a little deflated. 

Sometimes if we only have long term goals we get tunnel vision and become blinded from all the amazing little achievements we have along the way.  

Your first year of nursing will fly by and you will feel the same way if you don’t write a goals list. This list should include big milestones like your crazy New Year’s resolution but most importantly, you need to have smaller, short term goals that you can strive towards each day, week or month.  

Goal setting provides direction, gives you clarity and keeps you focused on what is important. It gives you control of your future and is a way to stay motivated. 

Every time you are able to tick another goal off your list or simply take another step towards achieving your goal, your confidence will increase.  Goal setting shapes the person and professional you are, whilst building your sense of accomplishment.  

So get a pen and paper and write down a mixture of big milestones which feel a little too tricky to achieve right now, and surround that dream with smaller, achievable and realistic goals you can strive towards each day. 

Keep adding to this list and keep ticking them off! 

Your goals list will soon turn into an achievements list and looking back at it will be so impactful. By doing this you train your mind to focus on your strength and the amazing progression you’ve made as a nurse. You’ll be very surprised at what you once thought was difficult, scary or unrealistic. 

And your big nursing dream that originally felt more like a fantasy New Year’s resolution, will suddenly be realistic and attainable.  

9. Celebrate Your Nursing Achievements and Reward Yourself! 

This is my favourite step!

Make sure you celebrate your wins, your good days, when you’ve received positive feedback or passed an assessment. You deserve it! 

By acknowledging these successes and rewarding yourself, you will remember why you became a nurse, that you are a good nurse and you will feel great about yourself. There is no better confidence booster than this!  

So have a celebration plan, big and small for those big and small wins. Buy yourself your favourite bottle of wine or block of chocolate, get a massage, buy a new stethoscope or get your hair done or simply call your best friend.

Whatever it is you do to spoil yourself, do it. This will make your achievements extra special and feel real. Your new sense of accomplishment will be intoxicating and empower you to work towards your next goal.  

10. Share Your Nursing Experiences With Friends and Family

For me, speaking to my friends and family about work is the way I debrief, reflect and celebrate my day. If I’ve managed an interesting case, completed a new procedure or faced something difficult, I talk to my friends (maintaining confidentiality of course – I have looked after many John Smiths…). 

As a nurse you will see, hear and manage things you couldn’t imagine.  These things may be exciting, hurt your nostrils or leave your eyes watery.  Friends and family can be the best people to turn to, to celebrate with or help you move forward. 

When it comes to your achievements – often we suppress how we speak about them if we are talking to a colleague or peer because we don’t want to sound competitive or like we’re boasting. But these steps are about building your confidence, so find people who will make you feel good about yourself and what you have achieved. 

Sometimes this means talking to a friend who is also a health professional so they can understand the medical jargon you’re about to rattle off and relate to the situation. 

On the other hand, sometimes you just want someone to sit there in amazement and just say “wow, that’s amazing”, “I can’t imagine doing that” or “I’m so proud of you”.  

Just like you would after going on a date. You call your best friend and talk for hours about every little detail that happened. You’re almost more excited now after talking to your friend than you were leaving the date.  Your friends and family make moments in your life extra special. 

So share your experiences and accomplishments with them, they are surprisingly great at making you feel good about yourself and boosting your confidence.  

In Summary: Building Confidence As A New Nurse. Steps To Success

My confidence built over time and it is still growing. There are still moments when I am faced with a challenge that makes my heart rate increase and I’m unsure what to do. 

But working in a team, having experience and being prepared to approach a new situation makes these challenges exciting and rewarding.

Like I said at the start, confidence fluctuates but if you apply some of these strategies it will fluctuate on an upward trajectory! So enjoy the journey, accept the bumps and be proud to be a nurse.   

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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