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!

Learning your work/life balance starts now

Figuring out how you’re going to balance your nurse work and life isn’t something that starts after you graduate nursing school – It starts now. I know many students with the mentality of “I don’t have a life now, but once I get out of nursing school I’ll go back to having a life.” Newsflash: Life as a nurse is demanding, usually entailing at least three 12 (so, 13-14)  hour shifts per week, plus the potential to be on call, graduate or CE courses, staff meetings, in-service trainings, conferences… You name it, there are a million and one ways in which being a nurse can soon take up your entire life. Being willing to give your entire life to nursing school is setting you up to have no life during orientation, graduate school, and basically your entire career as a nurse. 

Currently I am in a comparatively easy gerontology/med-surg course. I have been encouraging my classmates to make the most of this opportunity and, while still studying frequently, to do some fun, lifey, mental-health-rejuvenating activities. Here is a breakdown of a typical week for me:

Monday: Study, potentially with a friend at a coffee shop. Catch up on household chores/personal to-dos.

Tuesday: Attend lecture and lab. Study at home. Work 4 hours. Relax at home or dinner out with friends.

Wednesday: Lunch with a friend. Study at home. Catch up on reading/Netflix/movies.

Thursday: Attend lecture. Often some sort of work/school meeting, if not study at coffee shop with friend. Work 4 hours. Clinical prep and early bedtime.

Friday: Clinical day. Spend time with family after. Relax at home.

Saturday: Work 4 hours, can usually study at work. Go see boyfriend.

Sunday: Church. Hang out with friends, possibly fit in some studying.

I am getting in multiple hours of studying each week, while maintaining a solid 7-8 hours of sleep per night, a light work schedule, and getting time with family and friends. Additional hours of studying can easily be added for more difficult courses without having to eliminate all of my fun/relaxation times. Granted, it does help that I still live with my parents and do not have children (I respect you mother/father nursing students so much!). However, I tell you my schedule not as a guide for your own life, but to demonstrate that with a little planning and prioritizing, nursing school does not have to consume your life! 

You have my permission and encouragement: Do not make nursing school your life. Define your priorities and your work(school)/life balance NOW.