Things I wish I knew before nursing school

This article is officially dedicated to all the students who have chosen to become nurses.

Becoming a nurse is not for everyone. Nursing is an occupation that requires an enormous list of skills—and a special type of person in general. Nursing students are often those who wants to become a nurse because of a strong sense of compassion, and they also have to be able to cope with many emotionally-charged and high-pressure situations.

And we do mean very high pressure. After all, you’ll be dealing with people who are in sometimes life-threatening need. You and each patient’s doctor are the professionals turned to so that the patient can become well.

But you know all that well before becoming a nurse. You know that, and it doesn’t scare you or let you down. Quite the contrary. The image of yourself wearing that white lab coat and helping patients might even have been a long-standing dream you had for yourself. And this dream, along with the satisfaction you’ll feel when you help your first patient, will empower you to see the most challenging situations as yet another opportunity to prove yourself and ultimately become a great nurse.

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All that said, there’s a lot to know before starting the path to become a nurse

If you have what it takes to become and practice as a nurse, your job can be among the most rewarding occupations. Economically-speaking, nursing is a generally well-paid occupation. The average annual salary of a registered nurse in the U.S. is $73,550 (or $35.36 per hour), and can even reach up to $102,700 per year in some states.

But we just established that it definitely is not just about the money. The psychological benefits of becoming a nurse are huge, too. Helping people not only gives an enhanced sense of value to the work you do, but it also dresses up how society sees you. You’ll be one of the figures who helps people when they need it the most.

But many of you reading this aren’t there yet. In fact, most of you reading this probably aren’t. First comes the endless hours of study and some truly grueling work to get through nursing school.

You already know that nursing school is one of the toughest things you will ever do, and is probably one of the biggest decisions you’ve ever made (if not the biggest). But it’s a direct reach toward your dream, and that never comes easily. Countless hours of studying paired with your clinical rotation program will soon make you feel like there is no life beyond school—and forget time for yourself!

Quick! PSA for nursing students: that last part might not be entirely true.

Although life as a nursing student is undeniably tough (don’t get us wrong), your life can become easier in a few key areas if you have an idea ahead of time of what you’re going to go through and be up against. That way, you can plan accordingly.

This article, therefore, is dedicated to those students entering nursing school. We’ll talk about what to expect, how to properly study, how to properly manage your time, healthy habits during your graduation program, how to best prepare yourself to become a good nurse, and things to do as a student to get hired after you graduate. Let’s start!


You will have to study hard

Right, this goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. During your time in nursing school, you will quickly notice life getting much busier. Nursing school is difficult and, like any other healthcare-related program, involves a lot of studying. And not only that, but you’ll also have to devote time to a clinical rotation program. Clinical rotation typically requires 5-8 hours per week in a healthcare facility. Pair these two obligations with the actual time you spend in nursing classes, and finding extra time can become a nightmare!

But don’t get discouraged, either. When you decided to become a nurse, you knew you were going to face challenges every day on the job once you were a practicing nurse. Right? Of course. Therefore, it shouldn’t be that big a surprise that the education and training in nursing school are equally rigorous.

Like we mentioned above, becoming a nurse requires a special set of skills and a special type of character. With these qualities and some purposeful time management, you’ll be able to make it.

We can get more specific than that, too. Let’s look at some of the things that are worth knowing about nursing program studying before nursing school even starts.


1: Take a break when you need it

When you end up feeling overwhelmed from studying (because the time will come, again and again and again), just take a break. As long as you’re getting back to it as quickly as you can, you’ll be more efficient when taking breaks in their due moments. It’s true! Studies have shown that taking a break can actually clear your mind and make you more productive. Don’t fall into the trap of “more studying equals better studying.” Aim for quality, not quantity.


2: Know your learning style

women entering science dr james designer lab coatKnowing your learning style will not only make you a better student, it will also save you a lot of time.

Do you prefer taking notes? Do you like learning by reading?

Whatever the style, acknowledge it and use it in your studying routine.

And how much time can you save by doing this? According to Chris Caulfield RN, NP-C (Co-Founder at IntelyCare), a lot! Caulfield has said that it’s all about finding your individual style of learning. When he started his own academic career with textbooks as his primary resource, he was averaging more than 20 hours per week of studying. And when he switched to digital flashcards to reviewed questions, his study time was cut in half.


3: Organize your time

Literally the only way to find the adequate amount of time to study—and have a life at the same time—is to properly manage your time. Start by finding a day each week when you’re at least a little more relaxed, which for many students will be during the weekend, and take the time to schedule your upcoming week. Schedule it block-by-block, taking note of due dates, classes and other commitments.

By going through this practice each week, you’ll have the queue card you need to stay on track and have a clear, one-glance look at when it’s the time to work, study, do homework, go to lectures, do clinical rotation and take care of other commitments.

Calendar applications are a “must” for most of us to help build out an easy-to-follow schedule.

And then, by simply organizing your time, you’ll seemingly “magically” find more time to study—and also find time for yourself, which is essential (more on that matter soon).

Studying is the heart and soul of your nursing program. That probably sounds cliché, but it really is. And yes, it’s true that studying to become a nurse is incredibly challenging. However, along with challenge comes real knowledge. Being in a nursing program will broaden your horizons, empower you with new perspectives, and also sharpen your critical skills. The reason is simple: when you become a nurse, these skills will be essential. Every day, patients’ lives will depend on it.


Start networking as early as possible

The nursing field is a highly demanding line of work. This isn’t only because working as a nurse is a rewarding (and, therefore, competitive) occupation, but even more so due to the nature of work.

Because, like we said, the decisions and roles of a nurse are vital factors in the well-being and treatment of more patients every day. As a result, healthcare facilities want only the best and brightest nurses. To have a better shot in landing your first job in nursing, you should start networking during the years in your program. This includes:

  • Connecting with peers in the nursing program
  • Getting involved where you can in professors’ research
  • Attending events for nurses
  • Asking to interview practicing nurses to get more information about the career
  • Going to conferences related to the medical field

Next, we’ll give you some even more ambitious ideas to start networking:


1: Get a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) job

Getting a CNA job while you’re getting through nursing school will not just expand your network and put a big “plus” on your resume, you’ll also gain invaluable experience relating directly to what you’ll be doing after graduation.

Getting to meet and work with registered nurses on these jobs, too, will give you a first-hand taste of job. You will face real-life situations, too. Ultimately, getting a CNA job will make you see if being a nurse is everything you had hoped.


2: Volunteer

If, for any reason, you cannot get a CNA job, volunteering is also an option. Volunteering at hospitals or nursing homes will get you a taste of how being a nurse is and can also help your networking with employers and other nurses. In addition, it can help you determine if nursing is the right fit for you while enriching your resume.


3: Helping on research projects

On the other hand, participating in research can also be very rewarding. Not only you will work on cutting-edge projects in medicine, but you’ll also get valuable knowledge and opportunities to network across medical fields.

Participating in research can open new horizons for you and enable you to pursue an even more specialized career later, like a nurse practitioner. Imagine how incredible it will be one day to wear that nurse practitioner lab coat!


Have a (healthy) life

Your daily routine as a nursing student will be tough. Attending classes, studying hard and working to get experience in the field AND network will suck the majority of your time and energy, resulting (according to some nursing students) in a monotone life.

It’s true that nursing school will be busy. However, if you don’t take good care of yourself, your reality won’t only be torturous but you won’t fully perform as a student.

There are countless studies that indicate that feeling good goes hand-in-hand with performance. So let’s start with this: what nursing student doesn’t want to make friends and have fun during their graduate years? It’s not only normal to want to connect, it’s healthy!

Let’s take a look at how these health factors each come together for nursing students.

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1: Entertain yourself

Spending time only on your responsibilities will leave you feeling miserable—you’ll be stuck in a torturous routine. Find some time to do the things you love in order to feel better and even more motivated (because you’ll have something to look forward to as a reward after work).

This can include hobbies, too. Hobbies are those activities you love to do simply because they fit your personality. You’re able to zone out and enjoy. Having a hobby can lower your stress levels and add quality of life to some of the most strenuous years you’ll experience. And there’s an infinite list of hobbies you can have! If don’t already have one, start trying new things or work to remember what you used to love doing when you were a kid.


2: Embrace healthy habits

As a nursing student, you will get first-hand experience about the human body. And you’ll learn intimately how the human body, just like a machine, needs proper fuel and rest. Having healthy habits will ensure good health (and a longer life), and can absolutely increase your productivity while you work your way through nursing school. Without having healthy habits, you will not be able to make it in the demanding environment of nursing school.


3: Eat healthy foods and drink (a lot of) water

This is the most important of all the healthy habits! Healthy foods equal a healthy life and better academic performance.

Drinking a lot of water is equally important. Let’s not forget that our bodies are mostly made of water.

You should know this stuff, right? You’re going to be a nurse! Knowing it is different than practicing it, however. Do yourself the favor and take care of yourself.

Being a nurse is not for everyone. And the hard parts start even before becoming a nurse—nursing programs are brutal, there’s no doubt.


However, if you are determined to do it and are ready to follow some of these tips, you’ll feel better and even have fun along the way. Arm yourself with patience and this guide, and in short time you’ll find yourself in the place you have always dreamed of—in your nursing program’s white coat ceremony, wearing your graduate lab coat!