Transitioning to Professional Nursing Practice

By Catherine Best posted Thu September 12,2019 01:55 AM


Transitioning from student to registered nurse can be a daunting experience. Rachel Lichtensztajn.. newly registered nurse reflects on this challenging and very rewarding time in her career. 

Nothing prepared me for the sheer feeling of terror on that first shift of a busy hospital ward of mixed medical acuity. No longer a student, no longer supernumerary, I was part of the registered nursing team. I was assigned a bay with seven patients, and - in my mind - expected to perform at the same level as the other three nurses who had years of experience behind them.

I remember thinking 'I'm not a real nurse, I'm just pretending'. 'Is it written all over me?' 'Do the patients realise that they are in the worst hands possible'? Someone calls out 'nurse' - and I look around to find the nurse who can help them, and as reality sinks in; I realise that’s me.

The doctor approaches to ask about a patient, and my heart’s in my mouth as I think, I have no idea what I'm meant to say. The first medicine round takes me over two hours and the ward sister sends in two other nurses to help me complete it. I feel a complete failure. My mind continues to whirl with the myriads of jobs building up, and, as I begin each one, someone or something interrupts to add another task to an ever-growing list. How on earth do all the other nurses look so competent and calm? What am I doing wrong?

I leave work and reflect on my day. It feels like I’ve not been able to spend more than five minutes with each patient; but is that really true? A sense of guilt overwhelms me. This is not why I came into nursing. Is this really what every shift is going to be like?

Six months later I stop and realise the huge learning curve I have climbed. While it still feels as if the sword of Damocles is inches away, ready to drop as I make a mistake; I realise that each shift has presented new challenges, new knowledge and new experiences. 

The support of every staff member from every discipline is invaluable. To work as part of a team, with one shared goal; to enable each patient to achieve a sense of wellbeing is imprinted on my heart.

I have learned to focus solely on the current task at hand - while of course keeping every one of my senses attuned to those in my care. Most importantly I continue to realise that in order to survive I must be true to my professional role; to ensure the provision of safe, effective and compassionate care for each and every patient and metaphorically close my mind to the millions of other things that are on my list for the day. The list will always be there, ever growing, until the last minute of the shift. However, those in my care are the essence of my work, and that is what I must endeavour to prioritise. 

During these past months, due to discussions with colleagues, friends and mentor advisors in Sigma, I have learned to realise that these experiences, these thoughts and feelings are perfectly normal. Newly registered nurses are at risk of developing Imposter Syndrome, a phenomenon first introduced by Clance and Imes, (1978) as they can undergo extreme periods of self-doubt and uncertainty. Taking each day one step at a time, whilst ensuring I care for myself both physically and mentally, is I believe an important aspect of being a nurse; the value of which, should not be underestimated.


Clance PR, Imes SA (1978) The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice 15(3): 241-247.

As with all great work, collaboration is often key. I would like to thank Rachel not only for writing this blog, but also for allowing me to work with her to make it a success.