15 Things Every Nursing Student Needs to Know

15 Things Every Nursing Student Needs to KnowWhen I entered nursing school I didn’t know very many nurses. I questioned everyone that I thought might know anything about nursing on what I needed to know to do well in nursing school.  Unfortunately, I was given very little practical advice. But I don’t think it was the fault of the people that  I had asked. I honestly think that many in nursing school struggle to make it through and wipe many of those memories from their brain. Sort of like how mothers somehow forget that agonies of childbirth mere years after giving birth and decide to go through that traumatic experience again when they decide to have another baby. But I’m a firm believer that the nursing school experience doesn’t have to be a terrible one. Even though it’s going to be hard, you will be tired, and you’re probably not going to have a great social life, you can make it through nursing school while enjoying the experience (or at least not completely hating it!).

One of my personal goals in nursing has been to help mentor new and emerging nurses to give them the knowledge they need to be successful. I want to share what I’ve learned with you to make nursing school a little more tolerable.

of course I am tired I am a nursing Student

The following represents 15 things that I feel every nursing student needs to know.

1. Nursing is nothing like you think it will be.

Even if your life is filled with nurses and you think you know exactly what you will encounter when you hit the floor you will soon find that you know nothing. I could give you a hundred examples but you won’t get it until you’ve been there. There are so many facets or nursing that you just can’t understand until you have lived it. Don’t feel bad about it. Just see it as an opportunity grow and learn.

2. You don’t need all the books listed on your syllabus.

Although many may not agree with me on this, in my humble opinion that $1000 in text books per semester is outrageous and unneeded. Most of the information you need will be delivered in class and you might only look at them for a sentence or two. I suggest finding out who your instructors are and asking them if you really need 4 books for the 2 credit class you are taking. If you can’t reduce the amount of books you need to buy then you should partner with a friend and each buy half the books then share. If you’re working together as study buddies then you won’t miss the books that you didn’t purchase. Also, you should buy or rent your nursing textbooks online from somewhere like Amazon. Most of the time you get free 2-day shipping and it’s usually much cheaper than the college bookstore.

3. You probably won’t keep your 4.0

If you’re a perfectionist then you are among your people. Many nurses have type A personalities and strive for their best. This often includes making good grades. But alas, dear nursling, you might not be able to maintain that immaculate 4.0 you’ve had throughout the rest of your college experience. Nursing school is a different brand of difficult and incredibly smart young men and women find it very difficult to maintain the same grade point average they had going in. You might make a B or two. Heck you might even make a few Cs. That’s ok. As you will find out soon enough, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. I haven’t met a nurse yet who was asked for his or her transcripts when applying for a job. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase “C equals RN.” No? Now you have!

4. Study groups will help you keep your sanity

On the very first day of nursing school our teachers highly recommended that we find people to carpool with and study with. While I didn’t take them up on this suggestion initially I really wish I had. It wasn’t until my second year in nursing school that I found a group of friends to study with and it really was a huge life saver. I would have done so much better the first year if I had just done this in this first place.

5. Every answer is correct. Your job is to know what is “most” correct.

imageOne of the most difficult things for nursing students to grasp is how to answer NCLEX style test questions. What nursing school is really all about is teaching you how to critically think. This means that the answers aren’t always on the surface and you really have to know how to think about the bigger picture to know what answer is correct. In nursing there are many ways you can take care of patients and perform the same task but there are methods that work best. Nursing school is meant to try and teach you this skill. One of the best things you can do for yourself is find yourself an NCLEX strategy guide (I used Saunders Strategies for Test Success: Passing Nursing School and the NCLEX Exam read my review of it here) and study it before you even start nursing school. This will help you retrain your brain to answers the types of questions that will appear on tests in nursing school and the NCLEX and will really give you an edge in school.

6. If it feels like the teachers are trying to weed you out it’s because they are.

Not everyone is cut out to be a nurse. The hoops you jump through to get into and complete nursing school are not put in place simply to amuse your instructors. Nursing schools are ranked based upon their NCLEX pass rates and they only want students to make it through their program if they are sure they will be able to pass the NCLEX and work as a nurse. Think about all the responsibility a nurse has. Do you want just anyone taking care of you or your loved ones?

7. Your definition of busy will change.

Your priorities will shift and you will determine what is really important to you. Because of this you will have a new definition for what it really means to be busy. In the past you might have said you were busy because you didn’t “feel” like going out. Now you’ll actually be busy because you need to study the entire weekend to pass the test that is scheduled on Monday. You’ll regret blowing off many events and outings from before because they won’t even be an option any more.

8. If bodily fluids make you queasy nursing isn’t for you.

no time for datThere’s always at least a few students who make it into nursing school with a deadly fear or blood or an utter revolt for urine and feces. While I can tell you it isn’t all about poop, pee, blood and vomit, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that at least some portion of your nursing school experience will involve these lovely liquids. If you can’t cope with the sight of blood then you need to do some some serious immersion therapy to get over it now. Your clinical rotation is not the time to come to term with these fears.

9. You will have to give bed baths, wipe butts, and take vital signs.

Someone keeps spreading the rumor to nursing students, especially RN and BSN nursing students, that they won’t have to give bed baths, handle a code brown, take vital signs, and other ‘menial’ task. They’ve been told that nurses aides will take care of this and they will mostly be responsible for ‘paperwork.’ Let me be the first to give you a reality check: you’re gonna do all those things AND do paperwork. You don’t graduate from these responsibilities once you become a nurse. You own them. If you are lucky you might have a nurses aide to help you, but you better appreciate him/her for anything they assist you with. And you should NEVER ask them to do something you have plenty of time to do yourself.

10. Your sense of humor will expand.

imageWhile my sense of humor has always been on the dry side, nursing school gave me a new appreciation for quick a wit and the ability to find humor in any situation. Nursing is stressful, emotional, and can be extremely tragic at times. Sometime in your life you will find yourself in the middle of a code situation with several nurses laughing and carrying on a conversation. You will learn that they aren’t doing this to be cruel or disrespectful. Nurses just have to find ways to cope with the tragedy and pain you will experience. Having a good and expanded sense of humor is a great way to do this.

11. Start networking now!

Do you know 10 people who could help you get a job if you were in a pinch? No? Well you need to start working on it. Yes? Well add 10 more.  Job leads and referrals is just one of the many benefits of social media for nurses.

Finding a job as a new nurse can be very difficult. And while some would have you believe there is a nursing shortage there are many new nurses who go months without securing employment. You need to make sure you have a good network so you can get your foot in the door and get your first nursing job.

12. Your first job probably won’t be your dream job.

I know you’re still in nursing school, but the time will come when you are seeking employment. The ‘exciting’ areas and specialties in nursing are usually very desirable and don’t often take new graduates. You might get lucky and land your dream job, but if you don’t then don’t let it get you down. With just a few few of years of experience under your belt you should be able to transfer into just about any nursing specialty you desire (I’m living proof). If you hate your first nursing job, after a year most will hire you readily.

13. Being a team-player is critical.

If you’re a introvert the time is now to get comfortable working with others. No nurse can operate on an island. You will often need help from your peers. In nursing school you will need help with studying, group projects, and graduating preparation. On the job you will need the help giving baths, answer call lights, and any number of things you may be too busy to tackle that way. Be prepared to give what you expect to get back or else you’re going to have a miserable experience in nursing school and as a nurse.

14. Maintain contact with your non-nursing friends.

The time will come when you are no longer in nursing school and you may or may not maintain contact with your nursing school classmates. If you do, that’s awesome. Even so, you need to be friends with people who aren’t nurses. Not every conversation has to focus on bodily functions or nursing horror stories. It’s nice to have a friend who doesn’t want to talk about nursing because moments with him or her are moments when you can truly escape from being a caregiver.

15. It’s okay to enjoy nursing school.

imageThere are a million and one things that will irritate you and stress you out in nursing school. There are probably also a million and one articles and books about doing well in nursing school. Many of these tend to focus on the ‘work’ related with nursing school. But don’t let the ‘work’ of nursing school ruined the entire experience for you. While nursing school is hard it can also be fun! You gain an education and experience that will mold you into a nurse. You will make memories that you can get nowhere else. As a nursing student you need to make sure you work hard but you also need to play hard. Don’t forget to take time to enjoy this exciting milestone on your nursing journey!

Are you a recent nurse graduate, seasoned nurse, nursing student or someone who is considering the field of nursing? I’d love to hear your tips for nursing students. Sound off in the comments below!


  1. says

    I love your post. I am a psychology major because I love learning about psychology. However, I love the health care industry. My sister had cancer and I practically lived in the hospital so I got see nurses all the time and how they dealt with their patients and everything. I was always very inspired by them and deep inside wanted to be like them too. I always took care of my sister and I got to see so much at the oncology department. I want to be a nurse and work at the pediatric oncology department or neonatal (I was born a preemie). I just wonder if it is too late to change my mind on careers. My anxiety always gets in the way. I’m scared that my anxiety won’t let me be successful in nursing school.

  2. Tired of Being a CNA says

    CNA’s are tired of being taken advantage of. We are tired of being underpaid, unappreciated and overworked. We are tired of being treated like maids instead of healthcare professionals. We are tired of employers looking at us being as replaceable as toilet paper. If you are a CNA or thinking about becoming one you might want to hear from others who already have the job, at a CNA forum ( tiredofbeingacna ), it’s not at all what they tell you it’s going to be, it’s a lot worse.

  3. RN82 says

    TheNerdyNurse trblmkrtess 
    You both are well spoken and spot on!  Nursing is hard but so rewarding.  Please take care of your CNA’s and LPN’s they are on the front line and can be your best asset or your worst obstacle.

  4. The Nerdy Nurse says

    Donna Drake that was the absolute worst part of nursing school! How can EVERY answer be right and yet you’re still wrong?

  5. Donna Drake says

    I trained at a training hospital a century or 3 ago, and we didn’t have to buy a ton of books (and a stipend of $64/month) with no money. But #5 got me!

    • RN 2015 says

      It really was the worst I’m answering two questions in one reply. I was a CNA, so I can identify with how your treated and now I’m a RN as of June the 23rd 2015. Please RN take care of your cna’ s be considerate, nice, and say please and thank you. They are your eyes and ears so be pleasant because they could save your behind one day!!!

  6. Brittany says

    Really helpful post! So glad that I found your blog and will be posting to my website’s twitter page @NursingDG

  7. says

    unfortunately there are many nursing teachers who are burnt out and care far less than they should. I have, however, met many that did care and I think of them fondly still today. 
    You know what they say “C=RN”

  8. says

    CraftyNurse it makes me so happy to read comments like this. I started this blog because I was looking for a community help me through a tough point in my nursing career and now I get to help others in their nursing career. It’s wonderful.

    I think that your life experience will give you an advantage in many areas! Embrace it and use it. :)

  9. CraftyNurse says

    I start a nursing program for my ADN in January. I was looking online to get some helpful insight about what I am in for. I am an older nursing student (37) as many might think that is a disadvantage; I see it as a plus. I’ve been around the block in corp. america and had a successful career and I have a strong foundation at home. My kids are not babies anymore and I think it’s the perfect time for them to see that we can achieve what we want out of life through hard work. My husband is so amazingly supportive; With that being said, I am also very nervous about the work load and juggling act. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be where I am. I am so happy to have found your website, its all t he good insider stuff I need to know. ~ Angela

  10. Sequin DeMar says

    This is a great article! I never ran into the issue of #6….and as for books….you can also rent them by the semester, and return shipping is sometimes free. I bought a few and rented a few. Ended up saving a lot of money that way!

  11. Matt Hasheider says

    AMEN TO HALF OF THIS, ive given up on my GPA (im ok with it) and really dont look for my teachers approval because most nursing teachers DONT CARE

  12. says

    TechiJones You’re comment is the very reason I do what I do. I am so happy that this blog have done anything to make your life better. I am every happier that it has helped to solidify nursing as your career choice. The best of luck to you in nursing school. Please stop in from time to time and let us know how you are doing.

  13. TechiJones says

    I feel sooo glad to have found this! I was just accepted into a nursing program that starts in the spring and while trolling the internet I happened to stumble upon this article. I am extremely excited and apprehensive at the same time, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do career wise and your pointers definitely made me more confident in my decision and abilities! Thanks for all the tips and advice!!

  14. EHRTutor says

    I love this article! It’s amazing how many people get into nursing only to realize they can’t handle bodily fluids.

  15. RebeccaWard2 says

    Once you have taken fundamentals take the state CNA test and get a job as a CNA to gain some experience. Even if you only work during summer, the experience is well worth it and I believe it could help make you a better Nurse when you do graduate!

  16. says

    iloveanaddict I think you get a taste in nursing school but, for me  at least, it didn’t sync in until I was on the floor and on my own. At that point I was like “Oh crap! I actually have to think for myself?!?!?” It was just much “more” than I thought it would be and I had to relearn what being a nurse meant.

  17. says

    trblmkrtess I think they are great tips. Many new RNs suffer from delusions of grandeur that can cause them to be downright snotty to LPNS. This is really unacceptable. Unfortunately also think they do this to CNAs. We’ve all got to work as a team and be appreciative for all the qualities that everyone brings to the table. This is a great comment. If you’d ever like to write a guest post I’d love to hear from you!

  18. iloveanaddict says

    I love #1! It is SO true. I guess I had the mindset of rainbows and butterflies: helping, caring, loving…It’s definitely not like that in the workforce as a nurse. Actually, nursing school makes you quite aware that it is not what you thought it would be.

  19. says

    superfunkymonkey you are so right! I think that nurses and nursing students alike struggle with self care. I’ve been a nurse for many years now and I still struggle with it. There is something inside me that drives me to care for others but I have to make a conscious effort to care for myself in the same manner. And then there is a large amount of guilt that goes along with doing for myself what I would always do for others. 
    I think you are right and that this is a key way to avoid burnout. We all need to do a better job at this.

  20. says

    InscolAcademyIndia you are very welcome!
    I really hope that many nursing students will gain some increased confidence from reading this post. If I had known a few of these things when I was in nursing school I would have had a much better experience.

  21. says

    Supreya nursing is such an important profession and you can really make an impact in many lives. I think that many nurses struggle with knowing when to say no, especially to an employer. Everyone is so job-scared these days that it can be hard to know when it’s ok to say no or when you might get yourself fired.

  22. says

    znwile you are so welcome! I wish I had a guide like this when I was in nursing school so I am thrilled that you found it helpful. Please keep in touch and let us know how you are doing in school. :)

  23. trblmkrtess says

    I can think of a couple things that I would add.  1) Having your BSN does not make you smarter than the LPN’s and CNA’s you will be working with.  LPN’s have the benefit of greater hands-on clinical experience, and your CNA–he/she can be your best friend!  I came out of nursing school with lots of head/book knowledge, but not much practical experience.  There are no stupid questions.  If you’re unsure of something, ask–your patient’s life/health may depend on it.  2) Love your CNA!  Make sure and thank them for what they do.  If you are available when they are bathing a patient or wiping poo, get your butt in there and help.  You’ll discover that it is the best and least intrusive time to do a skin assessment.  And, when you are not available, your CNA will be your resource (hands/eyes/ears) in the same way that you are the hands/eyes/ears of the physician.  Treat your CNA well.  Praise them to their face and to others.  They generally have more patients than you do!

  24. Supreya says

    Thank you for taking me back…….several years.  I was so glad to make it through!  I am grateful for you reminding us that it is an important job.  I am (most of the time)… so glad to be able to get close to people in a special way and help them if they will let me.  What a privilege….most of the time.  If you can figure out a way not to allow whoever you’re working for— to bleed you dry, -and they will…..  so there’s nothing left for the rest of your life…then you’ve got it MADE.  If you truly LOVE nursing.

  25. superfunkymonkey says

    Hey Nerdy Nurse!
    Great list!!! I think you might be missing one important point: Self-care! I forgot about self-care through nursing school and my first three years of nursing. I became burn-out and took a year off of nursing to recover.

  26. says

    katykatz Thank you so much! 
    I remember having so many “ideas” about what it meant to be a nice before I was one. It would have been really nice to have some of this info up front.
    I am so glad you enjoy my blog. It’s totally a labor of love and people like you remind me I am doing something good here.

  27. katykatz says

    This is such a great, comprehensive list for students. I particularly like that you combined tips with some “reality checks.” I really enjoy your blog!


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