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

Things I Wish They Taught Me in Nursing School

As I am busy completing my third of four semesters of nursing school, finally participating on the clinical floor more as a true “baby nurse” than just glorified CNA, I am realizing some things that would have been so useful to have learned in those first semesters.

Inspired by If Nurse Eye Roll Ran Nursing School and my own experiences.

  • Popping Pills 101
    • How to open a variety of pill containers using basic tools such as fingernails, bandage scissors, teeth, and sheer determination.
  • Popping Pills 102
    • How to open a variety of pill containers without looking like a blubbering, clumsy idiot in front of clinical instructors.
  • Report Sheets that Actually Work
    • What you really should know from report and initial assessment.
  • Your Personal Nursing Brain
    • How to schedule your time from 0700 to 1500.
  • How to Play Nice With Others
    • How to make friends with your classmates at least long enough to survive the semester.
  • How to Ask Smart Questions
    • So that every time your nurse asks “Do you have any questions about anything?” you sound like you actually think.
  • How to Talk to a Care Team Who Thinks You’re a Nuisance
    • And when you were told to “report off to your nurse,” you actually had words to exchange besides “good riddance.”
  • How to Raid Kitchens and Stave Off Hunger
    • It may say “Patients Only,” but if you are thinking about eating your patient, it may be time to resort to sneaking a cracker. . .
  • The Big Hospital of Search and Find
    • How to do a quickie room scan and actually find the 20 things amiss in 2 minutes or less.
  • Talking to Patients 101
    • I’m not talking therapeutic communication. I’m talking the casual conversation that helps to build rapport with patients and helps them to think about something other than their illness.
  • How to Be Okay with Not Reading the Book
    • Okay, so most students probably find this intuitive. Some of us (*cough* me *cough*) could really use a course in when reading the book is truly a futile endeavor.
  • Dealing with Clinical Instructors, Their Mannerisms, and Their Paperwork
    • Ideally taught by a recent grad(s), this covers the pet peeves and how-to-please of all your professors. One likes their med sheets one way, one likes them a completely different but equally insane way, one is your best friend if you bake brownies for post-conference but otherwise is entirely unbearable, and the other insists that jackets never be worn on the clinical unit and to appear with one is your death sentence.

Good luck, fellow nursing students! It’s a big, scary world out there for us to figure out.

Is there anything you would add to the list? Leave me a comment and let me know!

How to Get Ready and Out the Door for Clinical Mornings in 30 Minutes or Less

Only one thing sucks more than having to get up at 5:30am for clinicals: Having to get up at 4am for clinicals. Here’s how I’ve trimmed down my morning routine to get me from just-waking-up to out-the-door in just under 30 minutes.

1. Shower the Night Before

In my experience, I end up showering as soon after clinical as possible anyways, so showering the night before makes sense. Don’t have time for a shower? Rub in some dry shampoo the night before or morning-of for a quick fix. Fellows, if you can get away with shaving the night before, it will save you the extra minutes in the morning.

2. Pre-Set EVERYTHING

  • Clinical Materials: I pack my clinical go-bag the night before with all the essentials: Paperwork, stethoscope, pen lights, pens, pencils, ID badge, lotion, lip balm, books to study during downtime, money for lunch (alternatively Pre-pack your lunch and leave your lunchbox in the fridge overnight for easy grab-and-go). . . the list goes on and on to include basically everything I think I’ll need. Nothing gets forgotten, and no last-minute hassles searching for that one important item.
  • Breakfast: My pack of instant oatmeal is sitting in the bowl, with the spoon, next to my travel mug, with a K-cup pre-set and ready to go. The percentage of mornings I eat breakfast before clinical has significantly improved since I implemented this strategy! No need to try for anything fancy–cereal, instant oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit are fast, easy options that will keep you going. Also, taking your drink on the run saves more time and will help keep you awake for the early morning drive.
  • Outfit: I make sure my scrubs are washed and pressed the night before (yes, I do indeed iron my scrubs if needed. Professional appearance is important). Then I lay out my scrubs, any undergarments/undershirts, socks, and nursing shoes, plus a jacket/hoodie/lab coat if I think I’ll need that. No more fumbling around my closet in the dark!
  • Hair/Beauty: Make sure any supplies you will need in the morning in the way of hair supplies, makeup, deodorant, etc are within easy reach on your vanity.

All this pre-setting takes me about 30 minutes the night before (less if I can get away with not ironing my scrubs), and the time and stress it saves the next morning is so worth it! As you get into the routine of packing and pre-setting, it will take you less and less time.

3. Set 2-3 alarms

I set my first alarm for 5 minutes before I want to wake up, my second at the exact time I want to be up, and the last 5 minutes after I should have woken up. I also set the third alarm on a separate (more annoying) alarm clock across the room from my bed. When the first alarm goes off, I have the option of five more minutes of rest, or to get up and have the extra time in my morning. Then I have the third alarm to catch myself if I have slept through the first two or if the first alarm clock malfunctioned, and I’ll only have lost 5 minutes.

4. Routine, routine, routine

Develop an order of doing things, and then always do them in that order. Pretty soon you’ll be doing things automatically, so you can operate on auto-pilot while you’re still waking up.

5. A note on hair and makeup

Although I’m a huge fan of doing the least amount of things in the least amount of time in the morning, I still like to look nice, tidy, and professional. So ladies, this tip is for you. Quickest and best way I have found to look like I put in a little effort in the morning:

  • Quick freshen up: Just a quick once-over with a wet washcloth will help you feel more awake and alive.
  • Hair: Simple ponytail or nice, tidy(ish) bun works well. Spray fly-aways out of your face by spraying onto your hand, then smoothing over the top of your hair–this avoids the “I totally doused myself in hairspray this morning” look.
  • Mascara: Even if I’m running short on time, I try to do a quick once-over with mascara. The extra pop to the eyelashes can really help you look more awake and alert.
  • Eyeliner: I like to keep it simple and conservative, with just the waterlines of the eye (top and bottom) and a moderate line just above the eyelashes. Simple, easy, and just a little definition that says you put in an effort to look your best today.
  • I typically skip foundation and eyeshadow as I’ve found they don’t produce results worth the time involved, and they usually leave my face feeling grimy after an 8 hour clinical day anyhow.

Even implementing just a few of these tips could have you well on your way to shaving time off your morning routine and able to wake up later while getting to clinicals on-time and stress-free.

The Day There Was No Coffee (My Stomach and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day)

You could also call it, Armageddon, or, alternatively, The Day Clinical Stood Still. 

Pair “The Floor Is Actually Quiet Today” with “I Haven’t Eaten Since 2200 And Its  1000 And There’s No Coffee,” and you get a stomach you can’t ignore. I ate my 6″ sub at 1300 in 3 minutes, flat. 

Add “Everything Is Taken Care Of” to “Patient Who Takes Care Of Herself,” and mix well with “Students Talking On and On About Alcohol and Getting Ratchet” as the alternative to critical thinking exercises.

Ok, so not exactly a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (try telling that to my aching tummy), but enough to earn a sigh, eye roll, and another stomach growl as I stare at the milkshake my patient’s family brought for them. . .

Clinical Student Pledge

I hereby pledge not to “just stand around” at clinicals when there is “nothing to do.” I hereby swear to practice my rapid assessments, assist with baths, shadow PT/Respiratory, and take any opportunities to practice my technical skills, even when not involving MY patient. I hereby pledge to communicate frequently with my nurse and promise to ask questions that help to facilitate deeper understanding when I am NOT confused, and I will not be afraid to ask for clarification or help when I am. I will be assertive in seeking out and pursuing clinical opportunities. I will not step out of the way to always let more experienced/adept/practiced students take the lead. I will not avoid going into my patient’s room for fear of “disturbing them.” I will learn how to become a competent, confident nurse. And this starts by acting like one. I will own these clinicals. I will own being a nurse.

Sincerely,

-RN-to-be