Your web browser is outdated and may be insecure

The RCN recommends using an updated browser such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome

Before studying to be a nurse, I was a maths teacher. I often came across students who believed they were “rubbish at maths”. This sometimes became a self-fulfilling prophecy with many students failing before they even began. I worked with them to build their confidence, helping them to understand that doing well in anything is about trying, getting it wrong, learning and trying again.

There are always those who get something right the first time. And there are those who need more attempts to achieve a goal. Both deserve praise. It’s a fact of life that all of us will fail at some point, and to manage this we need to build resilience.

It is the courage to continue that counts Winston Churchill

A failure could be an assignment we didn’t pass or a job we didn’t get. As part of the process we often receive feedback about where we went wrong and how we could do better next time.

In my current placement, I’m often told that feedback is a gift. Although this can be true, it isn’t always the easiest gift to receive. As well as giving feedback to us, the practice education team also take feedback from us so that they can learn from having fresh eyes and perspectives. Knowing our opinions matter helps us feel valued and boosts our confidence.

As future nurses it’s vital we don’t take feedback personally. It can help to work towards a growth mindset where failure is part of the learning curve and not the end of a journey, or a limitation of our ability. 

Tips to help combat feelings of inadequacy

Here are a few tips that have helped me when I feel like I'm a failure.

  • Acknowledge how you’re feeling. I do this by keeping a journal. It can also be helpful to share your feelings with others – you might be surprised how many others feel the same way, even those you really look up to. 
  • Celebrate your own success – however small – and never downplay your achievements. Even if you had a fabulous tutor, or support from a friend, it doesn’t diminish your success. It was still you that made it happen.  
  • Build each other up. Be proud of the achievements of others without judging yourself. When your time comes, chances are they will be proud of you too.
  • Be honest about things that didn’t go well. There is no shame in getting something wrong – let’s normalise it.
  • Take the risks required to progress. Put yourself out there. 
  • Listen to your own self-talk and keep yourself in check. It’s important that you are kind to yourself just as you would be to patients and colleagues.
  • Finally – remember, to quote Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts".

Jade Hunt

Jade Hunt, image by Alex Young

Imposter syndrome

Another issue some of us might be affected by – even when things appear to be going well – is imposter syndrome. Have you ever felt inadequate and doubted yourself?

Or felt like a fraud, that others will “find you out” and that you shouldn’t be a nurse? If so, it is likely that you’re experiencing imposter syndrome. 

Comparison is the thief of joy Theodore Roosevelt

At the end of the academic year many students go to social media and share their hard-won successes. These successes should be celebrated but it can also give us a slightly skewed view of how well everyone else is doing or how easy other people are finding their journey as a future nurse. 

imposter syndrome masks

Theodore Roosevelt said: “comparison is the thief of joy”. Feeling as though we aren’t doing well enough or that everyone else is doing better than us can be hard.

Seeking help and support from those around us can be a good way of learning to acknowledge our achievements.  

As you progress through this academic year, remember your journey to becoming a nurse is as individual as you.


Jade Hunt is studying Adult and Mental Health Nursing and is the RCN Students Committee member for the South West

Rachel Wood, the RCN's professional lead for students, says:

“When someone gives you feedback, first check – is it feedback aiming to help you develop or is it just criticism aiming to hurt you? If it's the latter then disregard it.

Second, if you don’t respect the person offering feedback you may still choose to ignore it. However, if you do respect the person then try to learn from it, however hard.” 

Support for students

The RCN has lots of support and resources available for students and newly registered nurses including:

Read next