When 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.
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.
One 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.
There’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.
While 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.
There 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!