Recognizing your unique contribution to oncology nursing is an important part of self-care. Identifying personal strengths, however, can be challenging because we see ourselves from the inside out. Self-depreciating thoughts about not measuring up to our own or others’ expectations are part of our subjective view (Wittman, Kolling, Faber, Scholl, Nelissen, & Rushworth, 2016). Coworkers, patients, family, and friends (observers and recipients of our actions) can offer a more objective view of our talents, which in turn can boost our self-esteem and help us value our uniqueness.

What Research Tells Us

Positive self-esteem and professional identity are closely linked. Nurses with high self-regard tend to be more confident in their abilities and judgment, have less ethical conflict, and have a greater overall sense of well-being than nurses with low self-esteem (Iacobbuci, Daly, Lindell, & Griffin, 2012).

Build Confidence

Additional research suggests relationships can be either competitive or cooperative. Competitive relationships may cause inner conflict, whereas cooperative relationships can foster a sense of self-worth as individuals support each other’s unique contribution (Wittman et al., 2016).

Ron Culberson (2015), motivational speaker and former hospice social worker, tells the story of enjoying exceptional service while dining at a restaurant with his “5 foot nothing” niece. The servers at the restaurant competed in a game they called customer poker. Customers with specific characteristics represented a card from a standard playing deck. His niece, by way of her height and gender, scored their server a queen of hearts. At the end of the evening, the servers compared their customer poker cards to see who had the best hand. What a great way to honor people’s differences.

How to Practice

Attempt to see yourself through the eyes of others. What words might supervisors, co-workers, and patients use to describe you? Often, it is through the eyes of others that we can learn to identify our personal characteristics. For example, a coworker may see your organizational capacity, your aptitude for leadership may be evident to a supervisor, and patients and their caregivers might list empathy as one of your traits.

You could make this exercise a team event by having team members anonymously write down positive words describing each other. Consider creating a mini bulletin board using the words or a pictorial representation of the things that make you a valuable member of your team. Embracing our uniqueness can help us focus on cooperation rather than comparison and potentially lead to higher self-regard and well-being.

Culberson, R. (2015, February 5). Customer poker. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Iacobbuci, T., Daly, B., Lindell, D., & Griffin, M. (2012). Professional values, self-esteem, and ethical confidence of baccalaureate nursing students. Nursing Ethics, 20, 479–490. doi:10.1177/0969733012458608

Wittman, M., Kolling, N., Faber, N., Scholl, J., Nelissen, N., & Rushworth, M. (2016). Self-other mergence in the frontal cortex during cooperation and competition. Neuron, 91, 482–493. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2016.06.022

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