Things They Don’t Tell you When You’re In Nursing School: Advice for New Grads

Portrait of Florence Nightingale.
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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not one of these people who grew up being a nurse. It would be nice to say that I put bandages on my dolls, and had dreams of nursing since I was a child. But I just can’t say it. It’s not true.
I came to the realization that wanted to be a nurse 6 months after passing my NCLEX and working as a nurse. Before then, I knew I could be a nurse, but I didn’t really know I wanted to. I did well in school. I found the best places to study, went to class and passed my NCLEX.
I went to nursing school because it was local, cost effective, and would be a bridge to my more lofty aspirations of plastic surgeon or lawyer.
I’m sure you will have people tell you not to even dream of wasting you’re time with nursing school if you are not absolutely sure you will love it, but I beg to differ. Nursing is many different things to many different people and I found my love when I realized the impact I could make as a nurse.
Besides being able to use a new nurse survival kit, there are things I wish someone had told me. Here are a few things I learned after nursing school, on the floor, that I certainly was not taught in a book:
  1. I have to think every day. Sometimes I think so hard my head hurts. I had no idea that this job would require so much thinking, but it does. Every day, all shift, all the time, I have to think.
  2. You should never be bored or burnt out. Although it happens, there are so many avenues in which to practice that you should never allow yourself to get burnt out as a nurse. If you get tired of bedside care, then work in the OR, the ER, a doctors office, home health, Informatics, and any of the other facets of this career.
  3. Sometimes its what you say to someone, and not what you do for someone that makes the biggest difference. I work with many competent and skilled nurses who perform their tasks for their patients flawlessly, but they do not take the top to stop and talk with the patient. They do not acknowledge the fact that this person is a person and not a bracelet to scan or a vital sign to record. I did not realize just how much talking would be required of me to provide good care, but honestly, it’s one of my favorite things about nursing.
  4. Nurses Eat Their Young. This was a topic not discussed in school and only known to me in fleeting whispers before I became a nurse. In a field that is meant to promote nurturing and caring, it is unfortunate that there will be many nurses who soul source of joy appears to be making the lives of new nurses miserable. If you find yourself being a victim: Do your best to avoid them. Stand up for yourself and your patients. And Speak out about the issue – it is the only way that we as professionals can help to stop it!
  5. Don’t loose touch with your non-nursing friends. You’ll need the sanity they will provide you when you’re able to relax and chat with them about matters that don’t involve bodily fluids, activities of daily living, or nursing management and administration.
  6. If you do your best to do the right thing, critically think, and avoid laziness, you will be a much happier nurse and person.
  7. You may not always be told if you are doing a good job. In fact, most nursing job descriptions have some line in them that states something alone the lines of  “work with minimal to no supervision” – what this line really means is don’t count one someone patting you on the back if you’re doing a good job, if you still have a job, you must be doing it good enough. What I mean by this is that just because your management doesn’t approach you to tell you they appreciate you, does not mean you are not appreciated. Your patients and your fellow nurses appreciate you. I appreciate you. Please don’t forget it.
  8. The fruits of your labors will often be emotionally rewarding far more than monetarily. Nurses are paid a decent living , it could always be more, but it is decent. But I truly feel one of our greatest compensations is the reward we receive when we are able to provide good nursing care for our patients.
  9. You will be the keeper of many secrets.
  10. You will be with with people in their most vulnerable state and help them to transition to new phases in their life or death. – Dont forget to be respectful of just how much trust we are given. People are letting us into their inner circle just because we are assigned to them. Respect it. Honor it. And make them proud to have you as a nurse.

What has being a nurse taught you? What would you tell other aspiring nurses?


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13 thoughts on “Things They Don’t Tell you When You’re In Nursing School: Advice for New Grads”

  1. Thank you! You will be pleased to know that the BSN program I am about to graduate from had a lecture on Bullying and Incivility in the work place and just how common it is in nursing. It prepared a lot of us on what to expect and how to handle these situations. I just don’t get why some nurses are out to get new nurses? There has to be an influx of new nurses if we expect to fix the short staffing issues. Why not help us learn and grow and be better if not for our sake, for the patients sake! An intimidated new nurse might be too scared to approach an experienced nurse that acts like she doesn’t exist or treats her unfairly. That’s putting the patients at risk and makes for an unhealthy work environment. I will never be one of those nurses! I am really looking forward to starting my career 🙂

    1. Christina,
      Putting education about lateral violence and bullying in nursing school will give new nurses the tools they need to handle the situation in their nursing careers.
      We are given tools to do so many other things, but these are missing and the curriculum of many nursing institutions.

      I and thrilled to hear that you received this as part of your nursing education and sincerely hope that many other universities choose to include this in their curriculum. It is desperately need to build strong and confident nurses who will advocate for patients and themselves.

      You will be a great nurse Christina if you advocate for your patients, yourself, and your fellow nurses. I am sure you will.
      Please let me know if I can ever be of any assistance to you!

  2. Thanks so much for all these! I graduate in August and I could not be any more scared/excited/nervous. I am glad I found this blog!

    1. Julia!

      I’m so excited for you! graduating nursing school is a huge accomplishment and one rightlyful to be axioms about. You’re stepping into a role with much responsibility, but also many rewards.
      I am gald you found my blog too! I really enjoy sharing my stories with others and connecting and creating community.
      I’m going to have to take a peek at your blog and see what fantastic little musings you have created for the world to see.
      Thank you for taking time to read my little nerdy nurse musings and for taking the time to comment.

  3. Thank you! I have been an RN for over 20 years, and sometimes Nursing threatens to take over my life with all that it demands of me; as well, there are a lot of requirements to keep up. I try to make myself and my family my priority when I’m not at work; they try calling me in all the time on my off days. Vacations are key. YOU ARE RIGHT-it is the patient interaction that makes a difference for me! And it’s my faith in God and Jesus that gets me through with a great feeling of what He can do for others, through me. What a priviledge.

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