Does Fear Hold You Back in Your Nursing Career?

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC - 05/22/19

Nursing and healthcare can be stressful environments in which to work, and there are plenty of things within nursing that can strike fear in the heart of an anxious nurse, no matter how skilled or experienced they may be. From new grads to seasoned nurses, fear can easily rear its head. It’s crucial to discuss strategies for overcoming fear and rejecting its negative impact on the growth and success of our nursing careers.

The Many Faces of Fear

In the clinical space, fear can be a driver of what we do and how we do it. Fear can rule us if we allow it to, so overcoming it should be a priority for the anxious among us. How do nurses experience fear? Let us count the ways.

Fear of failure: Failure as a nurse means we’re not able to perform our duties. This can mean receiving a warning from our manager, getting fired, failing the NCLEX, or otherwise not living up to our own expectations, or those of others.

Fear of making mistakes: Let’s face it, some unfortunate mistakes in the course of patient care can result in grievous harm, sometimes even death. Most nurses deeply feel the fear of what an error can cause, and sometimes we learn the hard way.

Fear of conflict: For whatever reason, so many of us are conflict-avoidant, doing our best to not cross a colleague in order to keep things on an even keel. But sometimes conflict is necessary in the presence of a bully, an unreasonable colleague, an administrator or manager who refuses to listen, or a patient or family member who is unnecessarily taking us to task.

Fear of technology: Especially for some older nurses who have more difficulty adjusting to consistently rapid changes in technology, fear of learning new tech-related skills can certainly hold us back in our nursing careers. 

If you’ve documented on paper most of your professional life and must transition to a new EMR, you may not be easily convinced that it’s “user-friendly” enough for you to master. And with robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) being rapidly adopted in most sectors, this angst-ridden attitude can land you in the position of not being up-to-date with the latest technologies being used in work environments that pique your interest.

For those accustomed to job-hunting the old-fashioned way, the world of online applications, LinkedIn profiles, video interviews, and the depersonalization of the job search process can seem overwhelming and impossible to conquer.

Fear of the future:In the 21stcentury, the future of healthcare can seem uncertain. From the aforementioned technological changes to alterations in reimbursement, workflow, staffing, and the job market, the future can seem uncertain indeed.

Conquering Fear

Conquering your fear and not allowing it to hinder your growth as a healthcare professional can come in many guises. Some strategies for overcoming fear include, but are not limited to:

  • Seeking out a mentor who can guide you on your journey
  • Working with a savvy career coach who understands your challenges
  • Pursuing formal education that will bring you up to date and sharpen your skills and knowledge
  • Finding a nursing specialty that more readily fits with your personality and career goals
  • Researching which employers and institutions are more apt to support nurses who struggle with certain aspects of the modern workplace (e.g.: technology, etc)
  • Using podcasts, blogs, articles, continuing education courses, and social media to stay current and informed
  • Attending appropriate conferences, seminars, and other offerings that can provide you with opportunities for learning without the high cost of returning to academia
  • Spending time with colleagues who are holders of knowledge, skills, or expertise that you seek to obtain yourself
  • Engaging in counseling or psychotherapy

Fear and anxiety can hold us back in our careers, and also other areas of our lives. Fear comes in a variety of forms, and when our fears prevent us from becoming the healthcare professionals we wish to be, it’s in our hands how we confront those common demons.

Feel the fear and do it anyway” is an old adage that often holds true. Can you face your fears and move your nursing career forward even as you question your own intelligence and worth? No one can force you to change; the future of your nursing career is in your hands – how will you rise to the challenge?