Things I Have Actually Learned in Nursing School

In just under two years, I have mastered skills such as taking a manual blood pressure, performing a head-to-toe assessment, administering IM injections, and much more. But the things I will really take away from nursing school weren’t even learned in class. Here are just a few, in no particular order:

  1. How to sleep literally anytime, anyplace – broad daylight, the passenger seat, the bench in the hall at school. . .
  2. How to eat a 6″ sub in under 10 minutes
  3. How to sneak into the patient kitchen for saltines and water without being noticed
  4. That most people in nursing school aren’t worth your time
  5. That a select few people in nursing school will sometimes be all that keeps you sane and are more valuable than even the best Littmann stethoscope
  6. How to prioritize a variety of tasks such as clinical paperwork, studying for exams, completing research papers, showing affection to significant others, and sleeping
  7. Group projects were created to handicap the grades of good students
  8. SIM patients can and will vomit on you
  9. If you’re not early, you’re late
  10. People who are not nurses usually have no idea what nurses do, despite the fact they have probably had a nurse take care of them at least once in their lives
  11. There are opportunities for academic experiences that your program and/or school will not tell you about that you can find and take advantage of
  12. Patients appreciate that, as a student, you have time to attend to their less critical needs, like a warm blanket, having a pleasant conversation, or being able to take your time with total-feeds
  13. Attending four-hour lectures will give you the beginnings of disuse syndrome
  14. Coffee is a necessary ingredient for life as we know it
  15. Some patients have the most interesting tattoos in the most interesting of places

Types of Nursing Students

So, we all know there’s different kinds of nurses–the bossy nurse, the kind nurse, the chatty nurse, the hates-nursing-students-with-a-seething-passion nurse. . . And, likewise, there are a variety of nursing students. I’m sure you’ll recognize a few.

Chatty Kathy

Chatty Kathy strikes a conversation with anyone and everyone. Within 10 minutes you know her life story, the names of all the dogs she’s ever owned, the intimate details of her last five break-ups, and what she ate for lunch yesterday. Don’t expect to get more than a word in edgewise, though, because she’s got stories to last for days. Or weeks. Or months of clinicals.

Strengths: Chatty Kathys are natural at talking to patients, and serve to break any awkward silences when your clinical group is still getting to know each other

Disadvantages: Talkers can slow you down with their incessant chatter, and you may feel left behind in the conversation


You know the type. Arrives at lecture at exactly 0800 as the professor first opens her mouth. Is late to clinical because he got lost, was stuck in traffic, couldn’t find his penlight this morning, and a myriad of other reasons. These colleagues certainly earn an eye roll or two during the semester.

Strengths: Students that are used to being late are often good at thinking on their feet and catching up quick (or fail out).

Disadvantages: These students tend to be a bit unreliable and fly by the seat of their pants, as well as slow all of us down while we wait for them to start lab. Every week. For the whole semester.

The Caffeine Addict

Okay, so almost all nursing students rely on coffee to some degree, but some of us take it to a worrying level. If you’re ready to start a caffeine IV, this might be you. “Don’t even talk to me till I’ve had my coffee.”

Strengths: The constant caffeine means these students can go for long shifts without seeming tired at all.

Disadvantages: Altered mental state and irritability r/t unexpected closure of cafeteria coffee machines. Hyperactive reflexes and frequent urination r/t increased caffeine intake.

The Silent Type

Does anyone know anything about her? What’s her name again, anyways? The identity of yours truly, the silent student isn’t much for socialization. Quiet types tend to prefer to study alone and rarely tag along on group outings.

Strengths: Silent types don’t get caught up in group gossip. They’re often dedicated studiers (without the distraction of four other students) and know their stuff. If befriended, they’re extremely loyal, as they tend to form just a few close friendships.

Disadvantages: The quiet students tend to get left behind in group settings and be passive in clinical, stemming from their inner shyness or introverted tendencies. Try befriending a silent type though, and they will generally appreciate having a more extroverted buddy reach out to them.

The Type-A 

Vera Bradley rolling backpack perfectly organized? Check. Color-coded tabs corresponding to each unit of the course? Check. Tupperware lunch perfectly compartmentalized with the correct proportions of fruits, vegetables, meats, and carbs? Check.  These students are always three steps ahead of the game and organized to a T. You’ll recognize them by an aura of neatness, order, and perfectionism.

Strengths: You can always count an a type-A to know when something is due. Yes, even those things that haven’t been mentioned since the start of class and are featured only on paragraph 10 of page 4 of the secondary syllabus. And if you ever need a copy of any paper handed out in class, ever, dating back to the dawn of time, they can find it for you in under 12 seconds, flat.

Disadvantages: Besides the fact that they’re perfectionists and freaked out by any amount of disorder, the organizers also tend to haul the most luggage with them. Sometimes literal luggage. Expect to trip over at least three binder-haulers on your way to your seat if there’s a type-A in your row.

The Group Mom

They always know exactly where to go, make an effort to include everyone, schedule all the group study sessions, set up the phone tree, bake brownies for birthdays, and make sure to bring enough extra #2 pencils to cover your entire clinical group on test day.

Strengths: You can always rely on the unofficial group mom. They’re there for all the 3am calls in tears panicking about next week’s assignment that you can’t find on Blackboard.

Disadvantages: Sometimes group moms wear themselves thin trying to take care of everyone else first. Be sure to take care of group mommies!

The Worry-Wart

Oh my gosh, there’s a test coming up! Oh my gosh, I’ll never get this assignment done in time and read those chapters we were assigned! Oh my gosh, what will I do when I graduate! What if I don’t make it? What if I don’t pass this class? What if I don’t have what it takes if I do graduate?

Strengths: Worriers have an uncanny ability to see around corners and perceive potential risks. They are masters of risk management.

Disadvantages: Worry-Warts have a tendency to blow things way out of proportion. Guaranteed, they’ll make you stress about something that wasn’t worth your time. Remember to take their concerns with a grain of salt.

The Nimcompoop

Can’t remember the code to the break room after being reminded five times. Asks questions that were answered if they had only listened for the last five minutes. Often trips over their own feet.

Strengths: These students are often overlooked and un-befriended. If you help them out with something they don’t understand, their gratitude will serve you well later. If nothing else, you have one person in your group more likely to be nice to you. At best, they’ll surprise you down the road by helping you with a skill you’re a nimcompoop at (and somehow or another, they aren’t).

Disadvantages: Nimcompoops can drag you down, asking questions about “the easy stuff” so the professor doesn’t focus on deeper understanding of concepts, messing up your sterile field by dumping the sterile saline onto it instead of into the basin, and sometimes just by making you feel like you’re surrounded by idiots.

Do you recognize these students? Which one are you?