Whether you’ve been accepted into nursing school or are thinking about nursing as a career, nursing school usually places most students in a shock state pretty quickly. I knew I wanted to work in the medical field throughout high school and had heard nursing school was pretty intense. You have no idea how difficult – until reality smacks you in the face and you have your first meltdown day one. Completely normal I might add.
Here’s what you should know before you start your journey to placing that RN after your name.
1. You will have no life. Let’s just start with the truth. Your life will 100% revolve around everything that is nursing school. Whether it’s studying for nursing school, crying about nursing school, failing a test in nursing school, not sleeping in nursing school, going to clinical (in nursing school), and maybe actually enjoying nursing school. Your days are packed with classes. Even more so if you’re taking other gen-eds. Then after class you’re studying or doing your write-up for clinicals the next day. Relationships will be challenged, your social life will decline. Accept this and you’ll be okay.
2. Study groups can help or hurt you. Some study groups are awesome. If you stay engaged and focused, you can learn a lot from other people. Stuff that you maybe zoned out on in class or missed reading yourself. Make sure you demonstrate some contribution to the group. You don’t want people to think you’re mooching off their notes/knowledge. Other groups can encourage distraction and negative talk. If you find yourself in one of these groups, slip away and start studying yourself. You’re just wasting precious time and sleep hours.
3. Suck up to your professors. You need these people on your side. Whether it’s for clinical assignments, your grade on a paper, or writing you a letter of rec. Some of them might even work part time in a hospital you’re interested in.
4. Get organized. You will have so many things going on at once, your organizational skills have to be top notch. Get yourself a nice planner, colored pens/highlighters. Try your best to schedule in some down time. Whether it’s going out to dinner with friends or having a hobby, you really do need the balance during these stressful years.
5. Be okay with a bad grade. High school may have been easy for you, but nursing school is a whole separate world. You WILL get a bad grade and you WILL be okay. Use it to motivate you to do better next time. Your GPA really doesn’t matter as much in nursing school. As long as you pass your classes, you’ll most likely have a job after school. Hospitals are more interested in your experience and extracurricular involvement than GPA.
6. You will be up early and stay up late. All the time. Classes and clinical start early. Like 5am clinical early. Sleep when you can, and fill yourself up with nutrition. Know the time when sleep is more helpful than studying more. There were nights where I knew I wouldn’t retain anything past 2am and times where I had enough energy to study more. Listen to your body.
7. Get a job in the hospital. If you can handle a job throughout nursing school, I highly recommend working or volunteering on a unit you’re interested in. This is for a number of reasons. First, you get to know the staff/management and they can see your work ethic. Second, nursing school barely brushes on your clinical skills. You really do learn mostly everything on the job, so this gives you a head start on learning the nurse’s role, as well as the coordination of care between the interdisciplinary team. And third, some hospitals only hire internal applicants, so this would already put you in the hospital system. The hospital I work at now has started to only hire internal applicants.
8.Build your resume throughout school. Volunteer, join clubs, etc. Hospitals want students that go above and beyond the basic requirements to graduate. You can read more about how to build your resume on my blog post here.
9. There is a lot of poop. And vomit. And bile and mucus and blood. Maybe you’ll have some shmegma action? (HA look that one up). Now of course after you graduate this may vary depending on what unit you’re hired into, but during school you will have lots of experience with the above. Oh yes indeed. When an RN has a student for the day they’ll be sure to give you that “learning experience.” Nursing is not a clean job. You’ll have to be okay dealing with the bodily fluids of complete strangers with infections, with scabies, with someone trying to punch you while you’re cleaning them up. Nursing is so rewarding sometimes.
10. Connect with everyone you meet. You really do get hired based off of people you know. That’s just the reality in most cases. Introduce yourself to the manager at clinical, befriend your preceptors. You never know if one of those connections will help get you a job after you graduate. As lame as this sounds, I had business cards made with basic contact info for people I wanted to stay connected with.
I hate to say this but, not every RN you work with in clinical is going to be nice to you. They might very obviously make you aware that they don’t like having students. This is unfortunately common and something that makes nursing school not so fun. Regardless of who you work with in clinical, just try and make the most of your hospital time. Some days the RN may let you do a lot of things hands-on, other days you may just be more of a shadow. Learn as much as you can with both scenarios, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and write down everything you don’t understand – so you can refer back to it when you have time to look things up. You retain so much more if you have a mental picture of a patient associated with a diagnosis/medication.
I hope I didn’t scare you away from starting nursing school because it really is worth it in the end. I just wanted to give you a touch of realism to counteract what most people hear about being a nurse (money, working 3 days a week, being ridiculously sexy in scrubs…etc). Please, do not go into this profession for those reasons. It’s not easy work! You truly have to have the passion to care for people, the drive to work hard for long hours at a time, and the confidence to advocate for your patients and yourself when challenged.
Any questions about my nursing school experience or anything at all? Leave them below!