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Do you struggle with perfectionism as a nurse practitioner?

Perfectionism as a nurse practitioner

Perfectionism as a nurse practitioner can be debilitating.

The negative thoughts can create feelings of anxiousness, stress, and frustrations. In the challenging and dynamic field of healthcare, understanding the nuances of perfectionism as a nurse practitioners to strike a balance between excellence and self-compassion, ensuring not only the best outcomes for patients but also the well-being of the healthcare providers themselves.

What is perfectionism as a nurse practitioner?

Perfectionism as a nurse practitioner refers to the tendency to set excessively high standards for oneself. Perfectionism is the act of engaging in relentless efforts to achieve flawlessness in one’s work and performance.

While having high standards and a commitment to excellence can be positive attributes, perfectionism as a nurse practitioner can become problematic when it leads to excessive self-criticism, stress, and a fear of making mistakes. Perfectionism as a nurse practitioner can show up in many different ways. 

  • Feeling of imposter syndrome
  • Fear of legal implications
  • Fear of looking dumb
  • Thoughts your school wasn’t good enough
  • Fear of not known enough as a nurse practitioner
  • Fear of other people’s opinions

What else would you add to the list?

Prone to perfectionism

Nurse practitioners are prone to perfectionism for multiple reasons. This section highlights four of those reasons. 

Do no harm

As nurse practitioners, we are taught in school to “do no harm.” We are taught that even the smallest mistakes can cause serious harm. Afterall, we do take care of patient’s lives and well being. That is why the information is drilled into us to “do no harm.”

However, this causes a sense of perfectionism as a nurse practitioner. Meaning there is no room for error and we have to do everything perfect. While patient safety is the most important factor of our work, we have to remember that we are humans. Sometimes humans make mistakes. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes (most of the time) they don’t do everything perfectly. 

Fear of legal implications

One of the causes of perfectionism as a nurse practitioner is the fear of having a malpractice lawsuit filed against us. Medical malpractice cases are happening everyday in healthcare. And the fear of having one happen causes a sense of perfectionism as a nurse practitioner.

This is one reason why nurse practitioners tend to over chart (also known as “note bloat”). Nurse practitioners are making sure to add enough information to cover their butts. However, this added information may actually be worse than what APRNs think.

More on that in the Legal Issues with Charting Course

External sources

Many nurse practitioners face preconceived notions from external sources. For example, nurse practitioners may hear opinions from other colleagues that APRNs are not “good enough” to practice medicine. Maybe we are told that our training was not good enough. Or that other providers do it better.

Society in general holds healthcare to a high standard. Nursing has been the most trusted profession. These high standards can contribute to imposter syndrome or fears of not being enough. This can cause perfectionism as a nurse practitioner. 

Personal traits

Perfectionism as a nurse practitioner can present based on personal traits. Maybe you have childhood trauma or past experiences that have formed you into a perfectionist. Maybe you had negative comments or exposure to how nurse practitioners are sometimes treated in healthcare. Maybe you have been through a medical malpractice lawsuit or experience that leaves you paralyzed with fear. These can all create perfectionism as a nurse practitioner. 

Results of perfectionism as a nurse practitioner

Here are just a few of the negative results of perfectionism as a nurse practitioner. 

Excessive self-criticism

Nurse practitioners who are perfectionistic may be overly critical of their own work, constantly finding flaws even in successful outcomes. They may struggle to acknowledge their achievements and focus more on perceived shortcomings.

Fear of making mistakes

A strong aversion to making mistakes is a classic sign of perfectionism. Nurse practitioners with perfectionistic tendencies may experience intense anxiety or fear associated with the possibility of making errors, which can impact decision-making and confidence.

Reluctance to delegate

Perfectionistic nurse practitioners may find it difficult to delegate tasks to others, believing that only they can meet their high standards. This reluctance to share responsibilities can lead to increased workload and stress.


Perfectionists may have a tendency to overcommit themselves by taking on an excessive number of tasks or responsibilities. This can result in a constant feeling of being overwhelmed and may contribute to nurse practitioner burnout.

Difficulty coping with criticism

Perfectionistic nurse practitioners may struggle to handle constructive criticism. They may take feedback personally and feel a heightened sense of failure, even if the criticism is constructive and aimed at improvement.

Decrease in productivity

Perfectionism as a nurse practitioner can lead to procrastination and ultimately a decrease in productivity. Nurse practitioners may fear the chart note will not be “perfect” so they avoid signing it off altogether.

Or nurse practitioners will read and reread chart notes, editing until they have the perfect chart note. When APRNs are overwhelmed with the amount of work and negative thoughts of perfectionism, it can lead to a decrease in productivity.

Lack of work-life balance

Nurse practitioners with perfectionistic tendencies may find it challenging to strike a balance between work and personal life. So many nurse practitioners stay late at the office or bring their charts home, just trying to catch up.

This increased amount of work and overwhelm creates a lack of work-life balance. Many nurse practitioners prioritize work at the expense of their own well-being, self-care, and time with families.

Persistent anxiety and stress

Perfectionism often leads to persistent feelings of anxiety and stress. The pressure to meet unrealistic standards can contribute to a constant state of tension and may increase the risk of burnout.

It’s important for nurse practitioners to recognize and manage perfectionistic tendencies to maintain a healthy work-life balance, prevent burnout, and ensure the delivery of high-quality patient care.

Developing self-awareness, seeking support from colleagues, and adopting strategies such as mindfulness, time management, and setting realistic goals can be beneficial in managing perfectionism. Additionally, fostering a culture of open communication and learning from mistakes within the healthcare team can help reduce the negative impact of perfectionism as a nurse practitioner.

Erica D the NP is a family nurse practitioner and The Nurse Practitioner Charting Coach. Erica helps nurse practitioners STOP charting at home! Erica created The Nurse Practitioner Charting School to be the one stop for all documentation resources created specifically for nurse practitioners. Learn more at www.npchartingschool.com

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