Many nurses are steeped in the mythology of nursing; we’re almost brainwashed by the culture around us, and even though we know we’re capable of so much more, there are beliefs that keep us from realizing our true potential. I’ve covered similar material in other episodes of The Nurse Keith Show, but in this episode I’m going to expose the symptoms of Nurse Self-Limiting Syndrome and what you can do about it.

Nurses don't need limits!

On episode 21, I discussed how we limit ourselves by saying that we’re “just” nurses, and I cajole listeners to never use the word “just” in relation to who they are or what they do. On episode 7, I talked about nursing thought viruses, and how they can infect you with limiting beliefs and shut down your forward motion. And during episode 51, we looked at how we can expand what it means to be a nurse.

So, what is Self-Limiting Nurse Syndrome (which I’ll periodically be referring to as SLNS)? How do we know we’re infected, and how do we cure the infection and free ourselves from unnecessary limitations that we’ve internalized and currently hold as true?

American Sentinel UniversityThe Symptoms

The symptoms of SLNS are varied, and every infected nurse will manifest those symptoms in idiosyncratic ways. Be mindful that this is a highly contagious syndrome and its roots may be deep. In fact, for some of us, psychotherapy or counseling may be necessary in order to enjoy a true long-term cure. We’re going to focus on the cardinal symptoms here on episode 54.

Low nursing self-esteem: A main symptoms of SLNS is low nursing self-esteem. Like I mentioned on episode 21, you may often refer to yourself as “just” a nurse, and, akin to the discussion on episode 7, you may be infected with several nurse thought viruses that are holding you back.

Stunted career growth: Stunted career growth may be another symptom of SLNS. Based on your low self-esteem and an inner devaluing of yourself as a nurse, your career may be stuck in its tracks, unable to move forward. Your low nursing self-esteem may inform your career choices. For example, you may stay in a current job because it feels safe and you don’t believe you’re capable of more. Or perhaps you may not go back to school for a higher degree because you don’t feel smart enough to do so, or maybe you’ve been told that it’s useless to get another degree because there aren’t any jobs for nurses like you. Or maybe you’ve just internalized too many negative beliefs about the healthcare industry or the nursing profession, and you feel like there’s just no use in doing anything.

Chronic negativity: For many nurses, chronic negativity can set in at any point in a long or short nursing career. If you’re hanging around with other negatively oriented nurses, they’ll certainly infect you if you’re not using psychic and emotional protection against such infection. When you’re steeped in a negative nursing culture, making a move in an  inspired direction can feel pretty much impossible, especially if those around you want to keep you down. If you’re surrounded by Negative Nancys, listen to episode 23, where I talk about how nurses can behave like a pot full of crabs being slowly steamed to death; those nurses will do anything to keep their coworkers in the pot to die with them. Does that sound familiar?

Burnout, unhappiness, and compassion fatigue: Nurses with Self-Limiting Nurse Syndrome will exhibit classic signs of nurse burnout. They may develop deep, profound fatigue, chronic pain, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, or all manner of physical symptoms. The burnt out nurse may feel less able to exhibit compassion towards patients, a condition sometimes referred to as compassion fatigue. These unhappy nurses could turn into bullies, taking out their frustrations on others. They may also make mistakes at work, lose their ability to concentrate, lose job after job, or burn bridges with colleagues based on negative behavior. Burnout is real, and it can run like a deep river through every aspect of your life.


Now that we’ve identified the cardinal symptoms of low nursing self-esteem, stunted career growth, chronic negativity, and burnout, we need to talk about treatment and how to assuage your symptoms.

  • Build confidence: One of the main treatment for SLNS is confidence building. This can be done through many means, including positive self-talk and ignoring the naysayers who try to dampen your spirits and convince you that you can’t do more and be more. Seeking education, certifications, and deepened knowledge and skill will certainly build your confidence, as will reminding yourself of everything you’ve accomplished to be where you are now.
  • Choose your friends well: If you’re surrounded by Negative Nancys who have nothing positive to say about the nursing profession and healthcare in general, it’s time to say goodbye to those individuals and find some new friends and colleagues. Spending time with those who don’t feed you in positive ways is simply not worth the energy. Listen to episode 52 if you need ideas about how to create a powerful tribe.
  • Sharpen your career tools: Updating your resume, upgrading your cover letters, and taking your LinkedIn profile to the next level are ways to cement an image in your mind of your awesomeness. Sharpening the tools in your nursing career toolbox will improve your confidence and remind you of all you’ve accomplished.
  • Seek positive voices: There are plenty of positive nursing voices out there; RNFM Radio, this show, Elizabeth Scala’s Your Next Shift, my friend Renee Thomson, Sean Dent, Donna Cardillo—the list goes on and on. Seek out those who understand the nursing profession most profoundly, and fill your head with their inspiring visions.
  • Take inspired action: Inspired action is the remedy for ennui, malaise, and the feeling of  being stuck. If you’re experiencing Self-Limiting Nurse Syndrome, you need to take action against the negativity, build up your confidence, and make decisions and plans that are in the interest of your career’s expansion. Stay positive, and focus on why you’re a nurse and how it feeds your heart, mind and soul.


American Sentinel UniversityThis episode of The Nurse Keith Show is sponsored by the good folks at American Sentinel University. As a fully accredited online university, American Sentinel offers a variety of courses related to healthcare and nursing, including RN to BSN, and five MSN programs: Informatics, Case Management, Nursing Education, Nursing Management, and Infection Prevention and Control. They offer an RN to BSN/MSN, a program, as well as two tracks for those wishing to pursue a Doctorate of Nursing Practice. American Sentinel also offers a certificate in Prevention and Control that assists clinicians in acquiring the knowledge they need to develop best practices for infection prevention and control. Please visit for more information.


The Nurse Keith Show is adroitly edited and produced by Tim Hallowell of The; social media and promotion are expertly handled by Mark Capispisan.

Please consider leaving a review of The Nurse Keith Show over on iTunes; this helps more nurses and healthcare professionals find the show and benefit from the information being shared. Just visit iTunes, click on the iTunes store, search for The Nurse Keith Show under podcasts, and leave a review, and voila. Thanks!

Be well, dig deep, and keep in touch!

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BCKeith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.

Keith is co-host of, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. Keith is also the resident nursing career expert at

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.” He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and currently writes for MultiViews New Service,, StaffGarden, and Working Nurse Magazine.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives.


Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap