What To Bring To Nursing School 2021: The Ultimate List of Must-Haves
If 2020 was the year of the nurse, then 2021 may just be the year of the student nurse. I mean, it makes sense, right?
The world has seen—now more than ever—just how crucial nurses are, not only to our everyday health needs but in times of health crises that we just can’t predict. When the world seemed like it was crumbling, we all turned to nurses to be the ones leading us through the storm. Nurses are the ones who plunged headfirst into the unknown and kept the world going, even if they were scared themselves.
Needless to say, if you’re a nursing student right now, you have chosen a profession to be proud of, and one that will be more rewarding than you ever thought possible. But first, you just gotta get through nursing school. In a lot of ways, nursing school is harder than being a “real” nurse, thanks to the uncertainty, stress, and um, no paycheck. So we’re here to help in any way we can, by arming you with the tools + tricks to make up the ultimate nursing school survival kit.
We asked our Instagram community of over 120,000 nurses and nursing students for their must-have nursing school products and tools. Here is what they recommended! Some of the following products might have an affiliate link but, if hundreds of nurses recommend them then we totally back them.
Must-Have Nursing School Supplies
First up, let’s talk practical. What do you actually need to get through nursing school? Obviously, this list will vary based on your own needs and budget (and hopefully, your nursing school experience doesn’t include barf bags for puking from morning sickness in your patient’s room during clinicals as mine did), but the point is this: even if you’re short on cash, investing in tools for long-term success is a very smart move.
1. Nursing School Planners
The top nursing school supply by far was a good planner. Many people said that even if you never used a planner before you will want to use one in nursing school. Keeping everything--from classes and exam schedules to clinical rotations and study groups--(basically your whole life) organized is very important.
When it comes to choosing a planner, it may be helpful to choose two different planners,
- Desk planner - so you can see things easily at a glance while working and another to carry with you to class. this comes highly rated and in nice designs, great price too!
- Smaller planner to carry around - make sure to keep both updated regularly!
- The Passion Planner - this is the top-recommended planner by nursing students. Not only does it help you stay super organized but, it also helps you to plan (and stay on track) with short and long-term goals!
- The Happy Planner - stylish and customizable, nursing students also highly recommended this planner.
Another pro tip? Pick up some fun stickers and colorful pens to make your planner even more organized.
2. Note Taking Supplies
One of the key takeaways from our popular question on Instagram was that taking good, organized notes is key to nursing school success. Seriously, nurses and nursing students have turned note-taking into a true art form. How do they do this? Well, color-coded notes play a huge role in keeping organized, easy to follow, easy to retain notes.
Need help learning how to take organized, color-coded notes in nursing school? We’ve created this awesome guide to help you get started color-coding noted - the best way! Download your FREE 5-Step Color Coding Note-Taking Strategy For Nursing School.
- Gel ink pens--in lots of different colors. There are so many subjects to cover in nursing school, your notes may get confusing if you don’t have them well organized. Color coding your notes is one of the best ways to stay organized. These Papermate pens have a 5-star review on Amazon and are comfortable to use, no matter how long your study sesh may be.
- Highlighter and Sharpies. We can’t stress enough how important it is to have your notes organized--highlighters and colorful sharpies will help with that. And as we mentioned above, color coding notes is super important.
- Sticky Notes and Arrows. Pick up a few packs of sticky notes in all different shapes and sizes-- squares and arrows are the most popular sticky notes recommended by nurses. The arrows act as great bookmarks that you can write on to be able to quickly flip to an important (color-coded) section, or as a quick reference to look back on.
- Large spiral notebooks - the large notebooks are great to have for general note-taking both in class and during clinicals.
- Mini notebooks - mini notebooks are helpful for jotting down information during clinical. Think every medical episode ever where the important med student slips that notebook back into their scrub pocket. That’s now you! $9.16
- Voice recorder. Depending on your learning style, we highly recommend using a voice recorder during lectures. Many nursing students said they would listen to their lectures over and over again on their commutes and even first thing in the morning. This version is a keychain, so you’ll never be without it.
3. Technology and Gadgets
- Laptop. Most nursing schools require students to use laptops and with many classes online these days, purchasing a quality laptop ahead of time is a smart move. Whether you’re a Mac or a PC person, make sure to do your research. Laptops are pricey, but the investment is worth it. If you’re not sure where to start, a Macbook Air is a popular choice with students because it’s lightweight enough to take anywhere.
- iPad. While it’s not required, some people prefer to use a compact and easy-to-access iPad or tablet in addition to their laptop.
- iPad accessories. You could even use a tablet in lieu of a laptop by purchasing a keyboard and/or a stylus to take notes with.
- Wireless mouse. Trust me, the long cords of traditional-style mouses are cumbersome and will get in the way.
- Headphones. When it’s time to focus, you won’t want any distractions. Getting a good pair of AirPods even noise-canceling headphones--will limit the possibility of distractions. They will also help you hear everything clearly if you’re taking online classes or in a Zoom meeting.
- Computer monitor. Again, this is not required but it could make your life a lot easier. Laptop screens tend to be on the smaller side and having a large monitor will help alleviate eye strain and help you when you’re researching for that nursing paper.
- HDMI cord: You can use an HDMI cord to connect your laptop to the monitor and duplicate your screen. Note: If you are using a separate computer monitor, it’s a good idea to get a separate keyboard as well, to make your whole set-up more comfortable.
4. Good-to-Have Extras
Nurses who have been through the trenches of nursing school also recommended these “extras” to help you get through both classes and clinical.
- Backpack + lunch box. You can pick up a separate backpack and lunch box, but we happen to think this combo version is pretty good at multitasking, just like any good nurse. You can carry your books and notebooks in the main compartment, pack a full day of food and snacks in the insulated compartment, and even charge your phone in the USB port. Snacks + phone charging = survival tools for any RN.
- Roller backpack. If you have a long way to schlep across campus or through clinical or have mobility needs, you may want to consider investing in a rolling backpack to save your back (you’ll need it to be in good shape for moving patients in the future too, with proper body mechanics of course.)
- Water bottle. Practice what you preach as an example of health by staying hydrated during all those study sessions and long clinical hours. A good old-fashioned Yeti will keep your ice water cool and if it just so happens to be filled with piping hot coffee for that early morning class, well, we understand.
- Nursing clinical cheat sheets. If only there were a way you could have key nursing facts at your fingertips when you’re rounding on patients. Oh wait--there is. Keep NRSNG Scrub Cheats right in your pocket to consult when you’re drawing a blank.
- Foldable clipboard. A foldable clipboard lets you keep your notes, vitals, and that scrap piece of paper where you wrote down the second set of vitals when you lost the first (oops) safe. It also comes with a handy nursing cheat sheet as you learn the ropes.
- Calculator. Sure, your phone might have more technology than it took to put a man on the moon, but on the hospital floor, it’s not always easy or appropriate to whip out your phone to handle drug conversions or drip rates. A nursing-specific calculator like this can help with quick calculations and it has a convenient cover so you can keep it clean.
- Compression socks. Trust me - your feet, calves and legs will thank you later. These compression socks have a 4.5 star rating and thousands of positive reviews on Amazon.
- Earplugs. If you’re someone who needs quiet for test-taking or studying or just lives in a house with a lot of other people, a simple pair of noise-canceling earplugs can go a long way. The same principle applies if you tend to have trouble sleeping--you need a good night’s sleep to stay fresh. And while we’re on the topic, these may just come in handy if you happen to start your RN career on the night shift and need to learn how to sleep during the day.
5. Furniture for Your Study Space
You’ll spend a lot of time in your study space, so, unfortunately, the dining room table or your bed probably won’t cut it. The more comfortable and well-equipped your space, the better you’ll be able to focus. And chances are, you’ll probably have at least several online classes, so setting up a dedicated study area will be time well-spent.
- Comfortable desk chair. We recommend an ergonomic desk chair to save your spine and neck from years of stress and strain. You’ll spend hours and hours sitting in this chair, make sure it’s comfortable. This ergonomic chair has over 12,000 positive reviews and a 4.5-star rating on Amazon.
- Nice sized desk. If you’re off-campus and don’t have a desk provided for you, you’ll want something that is a good height for you and has plenty of space for notetaking and technology, like this one.
- Standing desk. Or, if you prefer, you can choose something other than sitting for hours on end with a standing desk, a convertible desk, and even table-top standing desk attachments are great options to choose from.
- Desk lamp. Save your eyes and get a good lamp for those late-night study sessions. This one has over 2,900 positive reviews on Amazon and 4.5 stars! Plus it comes with a built-in USB charging port.
- Good shoes. Adjusting to 13+ hours on your feet can be a bit of a transition, so supportive footwear is kind of a must. Plus, if you don’t have a pair of “hospital shoes” already, you’ll want to get a pair—no one wants to bring home whatever is on those hospital floors. Hoka One shoes are the most highly recommended shoes by nurses.
- Penlight and scissors. If your school doesn’t require it yet, definitely get yourself a penlight and scissors. As a nursing student, you will be called upon to help change a dressing, open one of those ridiculously hard IV bags of fluid, or find something in a patient’s room without waking them up, so these two tools will quickly become essentials.
- Stethoscope name badge. It’s a small thing, but if you misplace your stethoscope in a sea of nursing students, you’ll be glad you have one.
6. Strategies to Pass Any Nursing Class
I guess you could say actually passing your classes is a pretty important part of nursing school, so here’s how to manage the academic portion.
- Know your own study style. Many people make it through high school without really getting to know their study style, which makes nursing school come as a bit of a shock. When studying is an essential part of getting through, it’s also essential to know how you best study. Some people learn best in a study group, while others need absolute solitude to memorize those drug facts. Learn your study style—and make no apology about sticking to what works for you.
- Prep for the NCLEX from the get-go. Kate Thome, 38, a recent BSN/RN graduate, says she “highly recommends” nursing students prepare for the NCLEX right from the start of nursing school. For instance, she used the UWorld app to get familiar with NCLEX-type questioning, which, in turn, also prepared her for in-school exams.
“It’s NCLEX prep, but it helped me so much to prepare for exams,” she explains. “When it came time to the NCLEX, I felt like it really prepared me. I passed with the least amount of questions and was so glad I had done Uworld.”
- Keep drug cheat sheets and apps in your pocket. Thome recommends Epocrates, a drug reference app that she says really helped her get more comfortable with the medications she came across during her education. “I used it in classes and clinicals and still use it all the time to check for interactions and side effects when I’m helping grandparents with their meds,” she notes. The Nurse’s Pocket Guide is also a helpful (and free) app to help you nail down the perfect nursing diagnosis and the Saunders NCLEX RN Exam app is also highly related to general nursing knowledge and obviously, NCLEX prep questions.
- When in doubt, YouTube it. You can learn anything on YouTube, right? Thome said the channels RegisteredNurseRN and Level Up RN were two of her “go-tos” for different topics during nursing school. “Both have videos pertaining to subjects that some profs just didn’t explain as well—they are short and to the point, that’s what I really liked about them,” she adds.
- Don’t be afraid to go old-school. While YouTube and apps are great, Alicia Kelly, now an ICU RN, relied on the old classic of handwritten flashcards to get her through her study sessions.
- Remember one test does not a nurse make. Chances are because you’re human and such is life, there will come a time when you don’t do so hot on a test. Don’t sweat it, learn from it, and move on. “Failing a test isn’t the end,” says Thome. “I had one of those and I was devastated and almost gave up. I’m so glad I didn’t!”
7. Tools to Manage Stress
- Ask for help. One of the most important lessons any aspiring RN can learn is that it’s crucial to know when to ask for help, and that also applies to nursing school. If you’re struggling in any way, talk to your professors, schedule an appointment with a counselor, visit the dean of nursing’s office (I totally did this when I came this close to dropping out altogether). Just don’t be afraid to find someone—anyone—to talk to. Every school has some kind of dedicated resource center for the mental health of students, so utilize it!
- Take it one day at a time. Especially now, with the school looking different and added stressors of outside life, you can keep yourself from getting too overwhelmed by school by simply taking it one day, one clinical shift, one lecture, and one exam at a time. And honestly? That strategy will come in handy once you graduate too because sometimes, all you can do is take it one step at a time.
- Don’t feel guilty for saying “no” right now. With five kids at home, Thome says she had to adjust to realizing that she would just not have any life outside of school. And while you may not be heading to nursing school with five kids, there are many things you may have to say “no” to while you’re in school—maybe friends will take a back seat for now, or training for that race won’t happen, or you have to hit “pause” on your favorite shows. Just focus on prioritizing what you need to right now, and don’t feel guilty for anything you have to let go of in the interim.
- Do something small for yourself. While you may have to let a lot of the “extras” go, be sure to do something for yourself at least once in a while. The truth is, pushing through and burning the candle at both ends, will ultimately make you less productive, so a break now and then is necessary and smart.
For example, Meaghan Saelens, 25, a senior nursing student, makes sure to take time to do a quick at-home workout whenever she’s feeling particularly overwhelmed. “Between work and school, it always helps me when I do something for myself, plus working out always makes me feel better,” she notes.
- Surround yourself with people who get it. Over and over, the nurses and nursing students I polled about how to succeed through nursing school said the single most important thing that got them through was leaning on the friends they made along the way. Nursing school is a bond like no other, and no one can support you like the people who know exactly what you are going through.
“Strength in numbers,” comments Danielle Smith, RN. And that, my friends, maybe exactly the only advice you need to survive nursing school—and beyond. Because we’re all better together.
8. Gifts for the struggling nursing student
- How to Survive Nursing School E-Book
- Nursing school survival kit - we found a creative way to cheer up your nursing school besties - seriously, how cute is this nurse survival kit? You could totally even make your own!
- DIY Nursing School survival kit - a handmade gift is a sure way to make your loved one smile. Pack the nursing school survival kit full of your special someone’s yummy treats, a handwritten note, and their favorite things. Check out this example we found on Pinterest,
Here is a list of some items to include in your nursing school survival kit:
- Anything we listed above would be a perfect fit for a gift for a nursing student!
- A cute bag or tote to hold everything - we like these little bags from Amazon.
- Healthy snacks and some sweet treats - this healthy snack box from Amazon is perfect!
- Hand lotion - L'Ocittane's hand cream is highly recommended by nurses.
- Hand sanitizer
- Nurse approved facemask and first aid kit
- Don’t forget a special handwritten note
Need more gift ideas for nursing students? Check out Nurse.org's popular Gift Guide for Nurses and Nursing Students.
Nursing school is bound to be the journey of a lifetime. Just remember to stay focused, motivated, and true to yourself. You’ve got this!
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