When Do You Know You’re Really a Nurse?

There’s an imaginary line that one crosses when becoming a nurse. This line divides the floundering nursing student from the confident and experienced nurse. After four months of nursing, I found myself wondering where it could be found so I could cross it. Everybody around me already accepted me as a bright and talented nurse, yet I had doubts. I could manage patient care assignments calmly and efficiently, but I sensed that nursing wasn’t as superficial as checking off items on a list. Sooner or later, I’d face a more complex situation, with no instructor nearby to give me confidence.

That’s the first paragraph of the August Reflections column, “The Letter,” which was written by Melanie Patterson, a mental health supervising RN at a hospital in the Pacific Northwest. It’s about making the extra effort for a patient who might otherwise have been forgotten in his isolation.

Was there a moment, an event, a time when you began to feel confident in whatever your nursing role might be?—JM, senior editor

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Kelly Furlong September 6, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I don’t think there’s “time” that’s defines when you really become a nurse, it just happens. You struggle along asking experienced nurses questions you know the answers to, but just need reassurance. And then you “just start doing”. One day you go into a patient’s room and start answering their questions like someone who actually has knowledge on a subject, and when you leave their room you think “was that me answering those questions?”

    At that moment you realize you are a nurse and you do know what you’re talking about and that drives the momentum of your confidence. It’s confidence that propels you to get national certifications as reinforcement of the knowledge that spills out of your mouth when with a patient. And as for the caring part of the job, it’s natural when you’re meant to be nurse.

  2. Barbara H. Portland OR August 18, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    It is hard for me to talk to this. I have spent much of my life preparing to step into opportunities as they present themselves. I’ve always known where I want to go, what I want to experience. I would take the occasion to delve deeper, to learn more and gain confidence so when an opportunity arose, I could step into it or grab onto it or jump into it fully and completely.

  3. Marcy Phipps August 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I remember that moment; it was when I learned to trust my instincts.

  4. Virginia Delvalle MS,RN August 18, 2011 at 11:30 am

    I have been in the Leadership role as a nurse, and I have learned in my capacity is that when nurses take thes roles they think that they are not expected to help the staff in times of stress for ex. a nurse with a demanding patients. I lose that role & begin to help my staff with triage, starting IV, assist with ACLS intervention. This dedication that I have to my staff has rubbed on on me, and I see other nursing leaders also helping out their staff.

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