What is Nursing School Like & How to Prepare for It
Congratulations, you’ve made it into nursing school! You've worked so hard to get to this point and now here come the nerves. You're thinking to yourself, “What have I gotten myself into?!” Well, thankfully there are nurses who’ve been here before you and have lived to tell the tale. Read on to get an idea of what to expect during nursing school, including:
- What do you learn in nursing school?
- What classes do you take?
- When do clinical rotations start?
- How hard is nursing school?
What is Nursing School Like?
Your study habits will change
You're going to be asked to learn A LOT of material. As a result, you will have to become aware of your study habits and adapt them to maximize your information intake. It will be challenging in your first semester, but you'll quickly get the hang of it.
You’ll learn to go beyond the textbook
A lot of information will be provided to you -- via textbooks, lectures, and other coursework content -- but you will also need to use your judgment to obtain the information in different ways when you don't fully understand the material. Read the text, watch videos, or get actual experience through volunteer work or hired work.
What Are Nursing School Exams Like?
You will be challenged with exams that are structured in ways that are very different than in the hard sciences. Nursing is not black and white and because of this, exams can be especially challenging.
Build the ability to understand what is being asked of you. These exams are not created to set you up to fail, but rather to get you to think in a certain way. This way of thinking will help you in your nursing practice.
How Are Nursing Classes Structured?
Although every nursing school will have its own curriculum, typically your first semester consists of three to four days of lecture, with one to two days of simulation lab. You will find yourself on campus a lot, both in scrubs and in regular clothes.
What Classes Do You Take During Nursing School?
The first semester of nursing school usually has three to four major courses, typically:
- Fundamentals of Nursing
- Health Assessments
The classroom structure will feel similar to other classes you may have taken in high school or college. You'll attend lectures, complete homework, and take tests. You may also get to select nursing research topics to write papers for these classes.
In addition to the didactic courses, you'll attend skills or simulation labs for a certain amount of hours once or twice a week. Here, you will learn how to perform the various skills required of the profession: inserting peripheral IV's, NG tubes, and other important tasks.
You will need to wear your scrubs and bring all your tools as if you're going into a day at work in the hospital.
When Do Clinical Rotations Start?
Some programs begin exposing first-semester nursing students to the actual hospital environment, while other programs do not offer clinicals until the second semester.
If your program does have clinicals in its first-semester curriculum, it will usually be in the latter half of the semester. Check out this article to find out what clinicals are like in nursing school.
What Do I Need To Buy For Nursing School?
In addition to your textbooks, scrubs, and stethoscope, you may be exposed to a whole slew of items marketed to nursing students. These products can include simulated charting programs to practice documenting, iPhone and Android apps that offer reference material, and other products that may seem like the keys to success in the nursing program.
Be wary! There’s a lot of free material available to you and no product is going to pass nursing school for you. It just takes time and dedication, something you are already capable of!
How Hard Is Nursing School?
Nursing school will definitely challenge you academically, but it will also be hard emotionally, physically and mentally. How hard is nursing school? That depends on the program. But, don’t worry, here’s what you need to know to get through it.
Being a beginner is really hard. There's so much to learn, which can make you feel insecure. When you're first starting out, the sheer amount of things that you need to learn seems like an impossible feat. This is when all the questions come rushing in: “Can I do this?”, “Am I good enough?”, “Is this right for me?” Just remember that this is totally normal.
To overcome these feelings, you NEED a support system. It can be your best friend, partner, mom, or all of the above. You just need someone to check in with you who can see with a more objective view of how hard you're working and how far you've come.
Secondly, seek out a mentor. Ideally, this would be someone in the field who can give you perspective on what you're learning. A professor, preceptor, or even another Nurse.org community member -- reach out!
The nursing school schedule is demanding. You’ll have long days, early days, days filled with sitting in a lecture followed by a few more hours of simulation in a lab.
Here are my not-so-secret tips to surviving a demanding schedule:
- Drink water.
- Take your vitamins.
- Keep a consistent workout schedule that is flexible for your coursework.
- Find ways to decompress your stress - being in nature, time with friends, etc.
It sounds simple, but it’s SO IMPORTANT. Doing these basic things to take care of yourself will help you enjoy the process so you don’t end up hating your life while you’re in school.
One of the biggest challenges is stepping into an environment unlike any you’ve had to deal with before. If you’ve never worked with the ill, it may be a shock to you when you witness your first death or are present while a patient is suffering from an intense manic episode.
It’s going to be a struggle at first, but over time you’ll learn to maintain your calm and stay professional even during intense moments. It won't come right away, but it will come. Be patient and simply take note of how those around you have found ways to keep their cool.
How to Prepare for Nursing School?
You've already seen the memes and videos about how demanding a nursing program can be. Yes, there is a lot of content to learn over the course of a short time, but one of the biggest challenges is putting the information into context.
When you enter nursing school without any former medical experience, it can be very difficult to relate the material to real-life situations. You need to think about,
- How do I apply this to my day-to-day duties on the job?
- What does this mean for my patients?
- How does this play into the bigger picture?
Learning the "bigger picture" of healthcare is not something that happens in one semester, or even after your first year as a nurse. This is part of being a novice -- you are figuring out care and how your work impacts patients on both a microscopic and a macroscopic level. Be patient with yourself and learn to be a confident beginner!