Lack Confidence in Completing Nursing College

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I began nursing school in 1983 and got near completing it – to the final year. Although my grades had always been superior emotionally I was a wreck and had to drop out. However, I DID discover at this time I had hyperthyroidism, and believed that had much to do with my stress over the last part of nursing ed. I had to stop, have treatments of various sorts for that condition, and it has since been under good control.

From that time until 2 years ago I have repeatedly restarted nursing education. I make top grades and do well in clinicals, but become so stressed, fearing I will fail, etc., I have dropped out every time due to this emotional state. This gets very bad as I try to remain in school.

Now, I am to begin once again – first of all – a class I need to retake having now taken it so long ago, then will re-enter the nursing aspect of it. Already – before beginning, I am becoming nervous and terrified. I must find the cause and remedy for this. It is my desire more than anything to accomplish this. In early years I worked as a nursing assistant in hospital and home, and love it.

I have been told my fear and the feeling I don’t belong may be due to the severe poverty level I was born into, and lived in until age 10 when I began living largely at my pastor’s and pastor’s wife’s home, literally being part of their family. They were able to give to me things others of my birth level never had – music training, I was the first to graduate HS in my biological family, and college. This pastor’s wife from back then – ’70s, is still in my life, and has tried so hard to encourage me through this (she herself is an R.N.). She has told me she has proven to herself she cannot encourage me through this and suggested I seek counseling for such – both beginning before, and seeing a counselor during the last part I have left, but never succeed in completing. Can you please help by answering and/or suggesting such a counselor. I live in …

I, the member of this site, have written this for the person who is in this situation. She has been like a daughter to me most of her life, but there is something that causes her to really break down when she attempts to go through nursing school. It’s not even that it’s a struggle for her – she makes top scores, does excellent in clinicals, and her instructors do not understand why she is so stressed, ending up quitting when she does so well. In her home there was some abuse of a serious nature, yet her mother was a very loving person – wanting the best for her children, and encouraged this girl TO stay with us to be provided what she could not give her – not only in monetary value, but in teaching her. She knows I am writing this to you – and if you wish I can give you HER email, etc., so that you may deal with her directly. I am just trying to assist her as it is now so close to when she once again attempts this, and tells me already she is getting panicked. Thank you very much. — pastor’s wife

A: Thank you both for writing. To help keep this answer straight, I’m going to call the nursing student “NS” and the pastor’s wife “PW.” The problem might have something to do with early abuse but in NS’s case there is a huge mitigating factor. NS was well loved by her bio-mom who so much wanted the best for her that she encouraged the relationship with the pastor’s family. She has also been loved and supported by PW who gave her what her own mom couldn’t. One possibility is that there just may be some loyalty issues at play here for NS since PW is a nurse. Does becoming a nurse feel to NS like some final betrayal of her mother?

If NS were seeing me, I’d ask her to imagine that we had some magic and all the obstacles had been cleared away and that she has become a nurse. How would things then change? What would she expect of herself? How would her relationships with important people in her life change? What does she imagine others now expect of her? Often imagining a positive outcome will highlight the fears. Then we would address those fears directly.

I do think PW is correct: NS needs a counselor to help her identify what is blocking an otherwise smart and motivated woman. At 47, I imagine that NS is really sick of this and wants to get on with a career she has been working toward for so many years. I can’t suggest a counselor but NS’s primary care physician would be able to help her know who to call. Someone in the PC community who comes from the same area might also have suggestions. I do have a bias that a therapist who is close in age to NS would have a more intuitive understanding of what it means to be getting older and to be feeling that it may be “now or never” to go for her goals.

I wish you well,
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Jan 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). Lack Confidence in Completing Nursing College. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/01/31/lack-confidence-in-completing-nursing-college/

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