Like most nursing students, there came a point in my education where I literally slammed my textbook shut late one evening and yelled, “Why is nursing school so hard!?!”.
The more people I talked to about my nursing school headaches, the more I find that so many people struggled during their nursing school years! I couldn’t help but wonder just exactly why nursing school is so hard to muddle through. As I chat with colleagues or with students who are going through the nursing programs now, I’ve come to realize that there is an abundance of reasons why we all just thoroughly dislike nursing school. We each come from different backgrounds and go into nursing school at different phases of our life, so each of our experiences is going to be different than the rest. But the consensus remains: nursing school is equal parts extremely challenging and incredibly annoying.
I say all of this to lead up to an encouragement: It’s worth it. I love being a nurse and the multitude of opportunities it presents to me on a daily basis. We all have war stories, but now as I think back upon the challenges, I get a little laugh about it, and I see how it’s made me a stronger, way cooler version of myself. So whether you’re struggling with nursing school today, or reminiscing upon your nursing school experience forty years ago, I hope you find encouragement that you’re not alone and that you’re in good company.
The Many Different Reasons why Nursing School is So Hard
Part of the uncomfortable reality is this: There’s no good way to prepare to be a good nurse. I’m fully convinced that is one of the main reasons people wonder to themselves “Why is nursing school so hard for me?”
Classroom, Hands-on Experience, and the Real World
To be a great nurse you have to have clinical experience, knowledge, and excellent clinical judgment. Developing all three of these things takes time. They don’t all click at once. No one can tell you how to have good clinical judgment, you just evolve into it, even after you graduate.
Nursing is all about hands-on experience. You can read textbooks all day long and sit in the best lectures, but until you are actually a registered nurse and taking care of patients, you won’t be learning how to be a good nurse. The information just doesn’t really click. Unfortunately, in order to get that “RN” behind your name, you have to go to those lectures and read those textbooks. For many RN programs, the first 8 weeks or so is spent entirely in the classroom. The thing about this learning is that you’re learning about the pathophysiology of disease, but it’s so complex and overwhelming because you don’t actually have any hands-on experience yet. Many nursing students have never had any experience in healthcare. It’s like learning how to fly an FA-18 fighter jet when only ever watching YouTube videos for two years. The dots just don’t connect, and so you become exasperated.
It makes sense to have some level of book knowledge before seeing patients. After you’ve obtained a base level of clinical knowledge, you start clinicals which is where you can start to put things into practice. The biggest challenge once you’re in clinicals is keeping yourself straight on what the book says, and therefore the answers you’ll need to pass the tests and the NCLEX, and how things actually occur in the “real world.” The real world is not a textbook, and keeping them straight can be difficult.
Every Answer is Correct
There’s also the simple fact that the questions aren’t straightforward. Nursing school is as much an excise in teaching you to think critically as it is to educate you on medical conditions and interventions. On many nursing school tests, every answer could be considered correct. It’s up to the nursing student to decide what is most correct. This is the critical thinking they are trying to instill, but you don’t even really understand what means for most if your nursing school experience.
You Don’t Know How to Take Nursing Tests
No one teaches you nursing school and NCLEX test skills, which are entirely different than any other tests you’ve ever taken. If nursing schools taught you how to actually take their tests and eliminate the stress, there’d be a lot more nurses in the world.
One of the reasons I think that nursing students should get NRSNG Academy when they start nursing school is they actually teach you how to take nursing school tests and the NCLEX. Then they give you video, audio, and other versions of knowledge that your instructors might expect you to get from a book. Plus they give you a 200% pass rate on the NCLEX. It makes nursing school easier and helps you pass the NCLEX. A total-no brainer.
Care Plans are the Devil
Then there’s care plans (groannn…..!) They’re just plain awful and tedious. No real learning going on (or at least it doesn’t seem that way), just trying to crank them out before 2am so you can sleep and go to your 630am clinical. Every single clinical instructor has a different version of what makes an excellent care plan. The students that got the best scores were the ones that used the nursing diagnosis books (NANDAs back in my day) and pretty much copied everything word for world. How is that learning?
Your Home Life is a Train Wreck
Next, we have family dynamics.Often nursing students don’t have much money and have little time to earn it while giving two years of their life, and the price of a car, to academic institutions. Nursing school is one of the fastest paths to middle class as even in downturned economies nurses can still often get work. There are quite a few young moms that go to school to earn a degree they can support their family on.Talk about stress: nursing school + young kids!? Hats off to you folks, you’re amazing. I also knew middle-aged women going to school as a second career choice, and balancing the complicated demands of nursing school with family life is such a challenge. I admire all of you who do that! There are also quite a few men I know who got out of the military and wanted to become nurses, so transitioning to civilian life in addition to nursing school is stressful.
Your Relationships Might End
Having a partner that is supportive of your nursing school journey is imperative. If they are at all jealous or can’t help pick of the slack, things could get rocky. I knew of several nursing students that divorced their husbands during or shortly after nursing school. The stress takes a lot out of you and sometimes the strain is too much on an already delicate marriage.
A Few More Reasons…..
I could probably go on for days regarding the multitude of reasons why nursing school is so hard. But allow me to summarize a few more.
- You recognize the seriousness of being a nurse and just can’t quite connect it all in your head at the moment. So you study and study and get A’s on all your tests but you still just never feel prepared; and that scares the heck out of you.
- Some nurses are just plain mean, and they like to bully or not be good preceptors during your clinical experiences. Also, it’s a bit awkward to be a student in a busy hospital setting, isn’t it? That’s anxiety-inducing.
- Your friends are taking online classes and can stay out until 3am, but you can’t because you have early morning lectures/clinical. You feel like your social life/social support is dwindling.
- Nursing school can be very expensive! So you go to class during the day and then moonlight as a waitress or bartender to make rent and pay for your education. That’s really hard!
Nursing school is hard for all the above reasons, and then probably fifty-five more. On paper, nursing school education seems pretty clear-cut and it makes sense, but as you’re going through it you realize that it’s actually a very convoluted, time-consuming, and challenging education! For every one thing you learn, you have ten questions and ten possible scenarios that you’re scared you’ll someday find yourself in (which you probably will, but don’t be scared because once you get experience you’ll know what to do!). So, really, why is nursing school so hard for so many of us? Because the lectures, the clinicals, the care plans, and the presentations don’t give you the “ah HA!” lightbulb moment(s) that only actual nursing experience can give you. But you’re always grasping for it and exhausting yourself. All is not lost, however. When you are a practicing RN, you can look back upon your old textbooks and notes and re-learn the information to help you become an even better nurse today!
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For more information on nursing school check out:
- 3 Best NCLEX Prep Apps
- Best NCLEX Guide: Saunders Strategies for Test Success: Passing Nursing School and the NCLEX Exam
- How to Create a Nurse Mission Statement