Advice for future nursing students

I’ve been reading through all of my comments, and I have received several requests for advice from people entering nursing school in January. I will post the advice I have given them, and would love if those of you in school now (or those of you who graduated years ago) could add to my list.
My advice to a soon-to-be nursing student:
1. Never forget that every other person in that classroom is just as scared as you are. If they always look confident, it is just an act. So don’t let them stress you out.
2. Be prepared to work hard. You will have to do a lot of reading, and it will be very confusing at times. Do the best you can to get through it, and highlight anything that might sound important.
3. Find a few classmates you get along with, and stick with them through the whole program. At times when no one else in your life fully understands what you are going through, they will. I can’t emphasize enough how important this mutual understanding is, and I guarantee that these people will talk sense into you every time you are 100% sure you are going to quit. (Danielle, John, Natalie & Rachel, I love you guys and will never forget all you have done for me!!)
4. Be prepared to feel lost. My first time doing everything (including putting a patient’s sock on her foot), I was so scared I was shaking. It is normal to completely forget how to do everything (even the most
simple tasks) when you are nervous. So don’t let this make you feel stupid or inferior- it is NORMAL!!
5. Ask tons of questions. If you are told by a nurse to do something on a patient and you are not familiar with it or are uncomfortable, ask for help. Don’t let it bother you that she rolls her eyes at you, you have the right to learn, and your patients have the right to receive safe care.
6. Be prepared to laugh at yourself. If you fail to do this, you will be more stressed out than necessary. When you do something stupid, laugh. Don’t be embarassed, we all do dumb things. Also, allow your patients to laugh at you. One patient told me that watching me frantically search for my clipboard (the clipboard I was holding in my hand) and then laughing with me when I realized my mistake, was the highlight of her week.
7. Even though you are extremely busy, take one night off. This means do not do any school work whatsoever one night every week. Thursday night is my night off. I watch TV, catch up with friends, just do whatever I want. On Monday, when I really want to watch something on TV or feel unmotivated to work, I keep telling myself that I only have a few more days until Thursday.
8. Find an outlet for your frustrations. This site has been wonderful for me- I just write about what I feel, and even though I usually don’t end up posting those things for the world to see, just writing about them makes me feel a lot better. Although this takes away from my study time, it is well worth it. I don’t think I could keep going all those hours if I didn’t have some way to release some steam.
9. Know that you are not alone!! If you need someone to vent to or share your wonderful experiences with, leave me a comment and I will get back with you (just don’t forget to leave your email address).
Good luck!!

39 thoughts on “Advice for future nursing students

  1. I LOVE your idea of taking one night a week off–I don\’t know that I would have had that kind of discipline!! My advice to ANY student is to be in the moment. You have chosen to go to school, and now is the time to DO IT. Do the best that you can do and then be happy with the result.I am anxious for my turn to go back to school… it probably won\’t be for a few more years (or so!) but when I go, I am going to be more focused, more determined, and keep "an eye single to the" goal of graduation. 🙂

  2. Sounds like your tips are hard-learned via baptism of fire! I was in my college\’s broadcast journalism program and we spent MANY early hours and all-nighters in the newsroom getting stories ready to air. That kind of stress bond people together…forever (as I\’m sure you can relate!)

  3. thanks for the advice- I hope to be in my program in august. I just finished advanced physio and am enrolled in micro next semester- I hope you keep this site going so I can come back for advice then!!

  4. I have two suggestions:Really work at any science pre-req\’s you are required to take. You will use this knowledge in nursing school. Yes, even microbiology and organic chemistry.When you start school, walk up to anyone and everyone you don\’t presonally know and introduce yourself. Make friends with as many people as you possible can. This cannot be done alone (at least not by me, anyway). If you see another student struggling, try to help them. You learn best by teaching others.

  5. All of these comments and advice are great, but the MOST IMPORTANT one is LAUGH!!!! At yourself, the patients, the other students, the instructors, anyone and everyone!!! Yes, nursing school is like going through hell in many ways. It\’s supposed to be hard! That weeds out the people that don\’t love it! And prepares you for what all you will go through in the years ahead. I\’ve been a nurse for 29 years, and I still can\’t imagine myself doing anything else! I\’ve done quite a few things, tried everything (just about), and loved most of it. There will always be procedures, patients, bosses, co-workers, shifts, etc you can live without. But being a nurse becomes a part of your soul, and your self-identification. One of my best bosses ever told me that being a nurse meant you were doing God\’s work, so sometimes it was hard, sometimes impossible, and sometimes totally effortless! And she\’s right. Just know that someday you will work on a bleeding, retching, pooping patient (insert your own fear), and you\’ll walk out of the room, wash your hands and go eat dinner. Then you know you\’ve had your baptism of fire!!! Good luck to all of you!

  6. I just recently started reading your blog because I saw it was nominated for the best of msn. It is the funniest and most inspiring blog I have read so far. I am not in nursing school yet but I am hoping to get in this fall. I will remember all the advice you have given. Thanks so much!

  7. Take advantage of outside resources, such as NCLEX review books, CD roms. These were particulary helpful in getting prepared for the types of questions on the tests and how to get your head around answering them. These test will be like no other test taken before. It\’s not your typical multiple choice test. There is more than one right answer but you have to know hoe to choose the best answer and NCELX books help to do that because most give you the rationale for why the right answer is right and the wrong answer is wrong.

  8. I\’m so glad you chose this as your outlet for the stress of nursing school! My mom sent me a link to your blog and I have been so much happier and so less stressed since. Your advice has helped me and other girls in my class so much. You\’re right when you say that no one really knows what they\’re doing, they just look like they are. Reading your blog has helped in so many ways. Hang in there, we\’ll finish this degree sooner or later. Sooner for you, I\’ve got another year in the program. Thanks so much! And remember, if you get stressed, tell yourself what the girls in the FSU nursing program tell themselves, WOOSA!

  9. You said "highlight anything that might sound important." When I was in police academy we used to tease this one guy because his WHOLE book was highlighted!

  10. Katie,I totally agree with you!! Since my first language is not English, I lost my mind completely in the first couple weeks into the program. However, I leared that almost everyone in my class got lost at least once or twice. I felt ok after I found out that everyone is struggling and is trying very hard to get through the program. Enjoy this winter break and get ready for the next semester!

  11. Nursing school is hard. I\’m going into my 2nd semester in January. Everything you\’ve said rang true. My hardest time 1st semester was the first two weeks. I always felt disorganized, but once I got everything together, it ran smoothly. Good Luck to all the "newby\’s" starting in January.

  12. Add to your list—–Form a study group, try to get a variety of personalities and styles in it. No one person can see it all and we all see things, much of the time, from only our perspective. The old addage in Nursing is see one, do one, teach one. As you progress you must learn from others, not only the right way but the wrong way. ps. Another little piece of advice, from an old timer Nursing Administrator—"You don\’t need to know everything, you just need to know where to look it up."Build a resource pool of good reference material(books and people)

  13. Katie,A friend of mine found your blog and emailed it to me and I am addicted. All of your advise and adventures have been such a great source of support for me and I haven\’t even entered Nursing school yet! I live in the KC area and I believe I will be attending the same accelerated program you are currently attending only not until 2007. I would love to hear from you about the school and how good/bad/ugly the year is going to be for me. Anything you\’ve learned about getting through on top of what you\’ve posted would be so helpful and welcome. I have a business degree so this is like learning a new language to me. I am so excited to get started. Looking forward to hearing from you!

  14. Thank you for the encouraging words. I am a non-traditional student a year away from my clinicals and I do feel at times over whelmed by what I have to know and memorize. I even feel at times I should have never persued this, but my love for helping those around me over come these feelings. Keep up your good work!

  15. As a future nursing student, thank you Katie, and all those who have posted on this site, for the *best* Christmas present I have received so far!

  16. I am a nursing student and found that friends – buddies – is essential. It\’s either laugh or cry… and we\’ve decided to laugh. And being that I\’m slightly older than most, I am not sure if I\’m nervous or having hot flashes, but sometimes at clinicals, I feel like I\’m in the sauna! I had to buy men\’s deodorant cuz I was afraid of smelling bad. I\’m glad I\’m not alone when it comes to being nervous and scared. I, too, feel like a fraud.

  17. Echoing what everyone else has said…make friends. Help your classmates out when they are stuck on something, if for no other reason than if you help them, they will help you. Be organized…I keep my lecture notes bound together in packets by exam. So I have an Exam 1 bundle, Exam 2, etc…it made it much easier when it came to study for finals. My experience is that they love to hand out papers in Nursing school, and inevetibly, the one you lose is the one that has the really important info on it. (Like next semester\’s reading assignments…luckily, I found it!)Whether you do or don\’t have to take the HESI test, has good case studies to go over, and they have a workbook you can purchase too. Use the study tools that you are given. CD-roms in books, textbook websites, etc. After a couple of exams, we noticed that some of the questions came straight from our textbook\’s website. As an extension of that, pool your resources. Use the aforementioned friends, and maybe each of you buy one study guide or NCLEX book, and rotate them around through the group. If everyone brings one to a study group, you have a good variety of questions and rationales to work through. Fear is a totally normal reaction. Everyone is afraid…afraid of patients, afraid of instructors (I decline to name names lol), afraid of exams, afraid of actually performing a procedure on a patient…It\’s OK to be scared. The more you see and do, the easier things will come. Back to using your resources…use your clinical instructors. They lke to act like they are there to pick YOUR brain, but turn the tables and pick their brains. They\’ve been in the game a long time and are clinical instructors for a reason. Yes, they like to intimidate you, but in the end, they are there to help you succeed.

  18. In the future, when you are working in your new career, you will find yourself up to your elbows in blood (if your lucky, it will be blood, if not,something worse) when one of your fine co-workers will come and take over and relieve you for your lunch break-should you be so fortunate to get one- and you will wash your hands, heat your lean cuisine in a hand-me-down microwave in your breakroom that used to be a patient room before the most recent renovation of the hospital, sit at the table that rocks back and forth, and not miss a beat. It is then that you will know that you have reached a milestone. Don\’t soak in the moment too heavily though, because the co worker that relieved you 5 minutes earlier is back in the breakroom, formerly known as a patient room to tell you that they are swamped and they need you back NOW and oh by the way your patient in room ?? is screaming your name and can be heard all the way to the neighboring unit so you\’d better go see what it is they want. You\’ll hear the sound of that patient screaming your name later that night in your sleep as well, along with the sound of beeping IV pumps, cardiac monitors and various other disturbing sounds, depending on the type of department you work in. I hope you enjoyed that partial lean cuisine you inhaled. I know you probably have to pee, but that will just have to wait because your patient in room ? didn\’t and now they are covered in urine. There is no additional nurse, CNA, tech or kind stranger to help you because although hospitals are ALWAYS adequately staffed and the patient/nurse ratio is always reasonable, it unfortunately isn\’t today, so you are on your own. That patient is still screaming your name and other patients, even ones you aren\’t caring for, have caught on and are screaming your name as well. Hey, you have a call at the desk, it is Dr. Painintheass, he has a long list of new orders for you to take and administer to your patient despite the fact that it is less than two hours until shift change. You\’ll get right to those orders just as soon as you finish helping your pal with her patient that just coded in the bathroom. After slipping on urine on the floor, losing your namebadge in the toilet and seriously straining your back, you and your pals get the patient squared away, turns out he just vagaled down on the potty. Hey look, it\’s the oncoming shift! Hey guys! Great to see you. After a cozy session of shift change report it looks like it may finally be time for you to go home and pee…….except that all of that fun you\’ve been having has to be documented on all of your charting that you just haven\’t found the time to do. So grab an age old office chair that\’s missing a wheel and is stuck on the high position, some leftover uneaten cornbread from your patients dinner tray and hide in a corner, closet or comatose patient\’s room and get charting! Tomorrow you can do it all again, and laugh about everything you went through today, cause thats part of the job! Oh, and do tell your patients goodbye before leaving, especially the one thats been screaming your name–the ones that scream your name are usually screaming it because they like you, not because their pissed off. The ones that are pissed off almost always use obsenities. Good luck! Don\’t worry, you\’ll do fine. You\’ve got a great sense of humor and that is a requirement for this job. Emily RN emergency room nurse-Alabama.

  19. In reference to my entry below, I just wanted to make sure that you know I am cheering you on and wish you the best of luck. I didn\’t stress that enough I don\’t think. Got a little caught up in the "day in the life" thing. You sound like you are going be a GREAT nurse! Oh and by the way, I spelled obscene incorrectly in the earlier entry. Hey-nurses aren\’t always spelling bee champs okay? If we were then we\’d be ENGLISH MAJORS! Hahahaha. Best to you, Emily

  20. This isn\’t exactly advise, but I had this when I was in nursing school and although it is tongue in cheek, it also rings true.Dear Lord: I know we go through this every day, but please give me the knowledge as to why I actually wanted to go to nursing school. Lord, give me the strength to make it through those boring three hour lectures without falling asleep. Lord, please give me the patience to make it through 12 hour clinicals with instructors who can\’t just give you the right answer. On the same note, give the nurses the ability to remember what it was like to be a student and give us just a little more respect. Lord, give me the endurance to read all the assigned readings and be able to remember it when I am taking a test with 4 right answers. Lord, give my family and friends the ability to realize I really am on the edge of insanity. Finally, Lord, give me the vision to see that one day I will be a real nurse and I will never have to wear this ugly uniform again.Amen

  21. Even though I\’m not a nurse a piece of advise for all ER Nurse hopefuls: Take the time and get involved in an EMT course. It gives you a good way to expereince life outside the hospital in the street where it really gets crazy. Also you know what the medics bringing the patients in to you are going through. A good way to experience the whole spectrum of emergency medicane.

  22. I am just finishing up a few pre-reqs now and will be applying to accelerated nursing programs next fall.  Any suggestions on the essays? 

  23. You sound like you will make a wonderful nurse!!! Just some motherly advice. I read the story about the hair disaster in the shower. Have you thought about washing your hair in their sink instead when you go there, this way you wouldn\’t have to go without washing it. Just a thought-  Denise

  24. I graduated almost 2 years ago and i still learn something new every shift. I had the worst time taking tests and swore up and down i WAS going to fail my NCLEX, i took the KAplan course and it was the best choice EVER. I passed the first time!
     You really sound like you are going to be a great nurse. It\’s scary being in school but when you get your first job the first 3 months are like a free pass, you don\’t know something, your preceptor teaches you and they don\’t look at you like you\’re an idiot, they totally pity you.
    The stories are what i feel keeps us afloat, who else can tell a story that has the word poop in it every other sentence or starts "so i was straddling this guy and pounding on his chest when…." my office friends can\’t compete.
     Good luck!
    Another Newby

  25. You never stop learning!
    There\’s classes, inservices, articles, other nurses!
    There\’s new medications and procedures being introduced everyday.
    I\’ve been in nursing for too many years to never ask a question or take advice to learn more.
    The older nurses have the experience and knowledge while the new grads have learned more new information directly from their clinical rotations.
    Good Luck!

  26. I want to be a hospice nurse. My last rotation was on the oncology floor. I was honored to be with a lady who chose to have all medications and procedures cut off to satisfy her belief that life is about quality rather than quantity of days. This feels good to me – and I love this aspect of nursing. I spent most of my day talking to the daughter and rubbing lotion on my patient\’s skin since the radiation treatment caused much dryness. FINALLY I have found an aspect of nursing that makes sense to me. Dying is real and there\’s no bull involved because once you\’re there, you\’re there. I\’m regenerated and can\’t wait for my next rotation on the medical floor. I have one month left and then my first year is up. I\’m not on a fast track and although I\’d like to be, there\’s nothing in my area. I was looking at the possibility of becoming an apprentice nurse at the hospital nearby, but they\’ve already hired their 5 workers. That leaves me out. I\’m now wondering what it will take to become an apprentice worker in the New Orleans area where I know they are short of nurses?? I would LOVE to work there for the summer – even for free – if it meant I could get experience. Anybody know?? Please respond, and I\’ll ask my instructors because I am willing, able and excited to offer my help to anyone who needs it. Woo hoo!Priscilla

  27. As a long time R.N.  It is time for me to hang up my license. I miss all the  excitement of never knowing what is going to happen at work that day.  Many times, even after leaving school behind , I would be afraid because  of being left alone and having to make big decisions about a patient, being swamped and  of the awsome responsibility when left alone.  What a life!  Now that I will be giving up my license because of retirement, I feel sad of having to give up my identity.  I loved nursing and always had planned on becoming a nurse even before starting first grade.  I worked mostly as a O.B nurse most of my life .  Talk about excitement!  Not because of helping babies into the world but the responsibility of caring of two lives or more at the same time. The responsibility doubles when the mom  and baby are both in trouble.!
     A bit of advice:  Take plentty of pictures of your classmates  (when you get time).  Once in a while an action shot is fun at work.  ( When you have time and all is quiet that is. )

  28. I just graduted from Nursing after four years…when I first started I honestly thought I had made the biggest mistake. As others have said on here, you really do feel like you are the only one who feels like a complete idiot and have no clue how you\’re going to get through the next 4 years. I remember being in one of my first placements and having to practically be thrown into the patients room because I was so nervous! Over the years I have done (and witnessed) some very embarrassing things at the hospital (I will post them on that story page as soon as I have more time!).
    My biggest advice to nursing students would be:
    – STICK IT OUT! Once you get to the point where you feel somewhat confident and competent at your placement, it is well worth the wait, time, effort and embarrassing moments that came along the way. Yes, one day you will no longer feel like you\’re doing everything for the first time. I promise :o)
    – Practice on your roommates/friends. Ok…so there are not many people who would want you to practice certain things on them, but how will you know if you don\’t ask?! I\’m not suggesting inserting catheters or needles into them (yes, I\’m sure it\’s been done!), but try out the less invasive things on them. For example, I practiced my \’Head to Toe\’ assessment on many of my friends, and once testing day came, I felt MUCH more confident with my skills. Also, make sure your friends know that you keep all of their info confidential, should they ever come to you asking for health advice (and my guess is…they will!). I can\’t tell you how many health \’dilemmas\’ have come my way from friends, and even if I didn\’t know the answer (as I was still a student!), it created the perfect opportunity to look it up. Doing this helped me a lot, and if you run into similar situations (or exam questions) in the future related to what your friend experienced, you have a much better chance of knowing the answer!
    – Get as much sleep as you can. I realize how much homework/reading/assignments and clinical practice hours come with being in nursing school, but honestly, if its getting late and you need to be up insanely early the next morning…go to sleep! It\’s not worth it. At least that\’s the way I always looked at it! I remember in 2nd year when I had a rough week of long hospital hours and LOTS of assignments due, and I ended up getting up really early one morning, heading toward the subway, and then noticed how quiet the streets were compared to all the other mornings…it was a weekend!!!
    – I will probably think of more advice later on, but in the meantime, if anyone has any questions, feel free to e-mail me – I know what it\’s like to be a nursing student!!

  29. OI am 4 weeks into my first year as a student nurse as we have so much work already and the things im learning i keep thinking argh il never learn all this.. i guess its the same for most when first beginning? I feel so silly at the moment to what will seem so easy to you im re reading paragraphs on to try and get my head round!! On top of that i have a summative essay to write.. ON that note can anyone give me some ideas to expand on.. I need reasons on why poverty affects health so far i have obesity then got writers block!! Any advice or help would be much appreciated!

  30. I have been stressed and out of my mind lately about the NCLEX I have just taken. I am so sure I will failed. I just don\’t know how to find out if I passed or fail without waiting for the next four weeks for the results to be mail home. My other classmates who took the NCLEX same time as me or even later has their name posted on the BRN websites and mine is not. So to me that means I failed, I sure hope there is a miracle right now.

  31. I have been an RN for 13 years and I take nursing students with me all the time on my job as a home health nurse (which I love by the way). The best advice anyone can give you as a student is to observe everything you can and jump in whenever anyone will let you. Then once you graduate and start working, no matter what you want to concentrate in, try to get a year of Med-Surg experience so you can go work in whatever section you want and will have the assessment skills you need to work independently and confidently. Good luck!

  32. Hi, I\’m a first semester nursing student and I am scared out of my mind! Today in clinical, I had a mean patient that wanted nothing to do with me since I am a student.  For class, we have to do a complete physical assessment and diagnosis for this patient and I could not even lay one finger on this patient.  Does anyone recommend any good strategies that can allow a student to actually try to get within 5 feet of a patient?

  33. Hi, I\’m an LVN x 1yr and am i\’m in an associates degree program. During clinicals I get really nervous when doing certain procedures? I can\’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe i expect myself to be better. I feel as though everyone is expecting me to be perfect at my skills. It really gets me down when i get nervous because it shows on the outside. Is it normal for even a nurse to be nervous? I get nervous to the point that i have tremors when doing an IV or giving an injection or drawing up medication. It really affects me and I really want to be a good nurse. I love my job, but i hate being nervous around others. Any advice.

  34. Wow, thats great ! Reading this put a smile on my face, my goal in life is to become a successful nurseand yeah like everyone else i always hear the negetive, the put downs, and everything else, but i try to keep my head up and stayed deteremind. I always say to myself if i want it and i belive i can do it thani shall get there 🙂 i try to turn the negetiivity and turn it into motivation. In the meanwhile before i startthe nurseing program im trying to do as much research as i can trying to learn as much as i can about thehuman body and the important systems the body carries, would you suggest thats a good idea? Idk i thinkrefreshing my memory and knowing somethings in advance might help ?

  35. This wonderful! This made me laugh, smile and # 3 made me cry because its so TRUE. Sometimes being in this program noone understands what your going through except for the girls by your side that are going through the rigorous hoops of nursing school along with you. Theres even days I just want to quit, I\’m either to sleepy to go on, frustrated because I\’m lost or just feel like this is not for me.This past semester seemed like the worst for me In clinical, I was put up to the most challenging patients and skill that even the nurses on the floor had a difficult time caring for, but I got through it.However, reading the comments are very encouraging. So future nurses hang in there it will be well worth it in the end. GOD BLESS YOU ALL

  36. Wow, this is really great….I try to tell myself these things on a regular basis, but haing them wrote down made them really sink in. I\’ve printed then off (hope you don\’t mind) and taped it to my wall!!!

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