Why you should look forward to the bad days in nursing school (REALLY!)

A Nurse’s Guide to Good Living
By: Sean Dent


Nursing school is a tough cookie. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, someone or something throws you that curve ball.

I always find it interesting to hear the “war stories” from current and previous students. The quality of the story stems from the description of how they were treated by the instructor and preceptor, or the staff nurses, or the physicians, or maybe even their fellow nursing students. The story is given a thumbs up or a thumbs down as a conglomeration of how the experience panned out for them.

If the preceptor was mean, then it was a bad day. If the physician was friendly and a good mentor, then it was a good day. So on and so forth.

Here’s the rub. A good day does not always equal a good learning experience. And a bad day does not always mean a failed learning experience. Remember, you are not there to have “fun;” you are there to learn.

Just because your preceptor was a jaded, burned out staff nurse doesn’t mean they didn’t pass on some important pearls of wisdom for you to take with you when you move through your career. And just because the physician was friendly and made attempts to educate or teach you doesn’t mean it will translate into important information at the bedside.

For me personally, the worst days I’d had as a student have taught me the most. I learned invaluable information from bad experiences, bad people and bad situations. I learned a great deal about myself, the type of nurse I want to be and the subset of skills I strive to possess.

Don’t hope for the “easy street” every day when you’re in class or at clinicals. You need to be challenged, you need to be stressed and you need to navigate through the badness. The badness is something that never goes away once you become a nurse. It will test your mettle when you least expect it.

If you get to experience the badness while you are a student, you will be that much more prepared to take it head-on when it shows up later in your career.

Some of the worst experiences will teach us the most. Any experience, whether good or bad, will teach you something. Be sure to pay attention.

“Don’t ask for a lighter load, ask for a stronger back” (adapted from Phillips Brooks).

Do you agree? Have your worst days at school or on the job taught you the most?


10 great tips for nursing school students

A Nurse’s Guide to Good Living
By: Linda Xiao Kang


As an aspiring nursing educator, I’ve spent plenty of time in nursing school and around nursing students. As a result, I’ve collected some useful advice for students on getting through nursing school. Some of these may seem obvious, but they can be easy to forget when you’re in the flurry of the program!

1. Self-care is crucial. Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, exercise and apply what you’re learning in nutrition class to yourself. You have to be able to take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else.

2. Work hard with a system that works for you. Different study systems work for different people, and even for different classes. For example, I make videos in which I pretend I’m teaching the materials that I’m learning. Other methods include making up songs using medical vocabulary and using flashcards and acronyms. Find study methods that work for you. Nursing programs are difficult, so ignore the scuffs from your pre-med friends and make sure you’re putting everything you have into your classes. Remember that what you learn will be used to protect and save lives later in your career, so don’t just study for the grades—study to learn.

3. Develop good study habits and be organized. I found it helpful to prepare for classes by reading assigned materials that we would be covering a day before lectures, and then reviewing them within a day after the materials were taught. There have been scientific studies that say this is helpful to retain information. Being organized is important for almost anything you do. Have a big calendar on your wall with all the exam dates and other important dates, and also a personal calendar (paper or digital) for the daily tasks you need to do. There are plenty of books out there that will help you with organization skills. Our school has a learning center that helps students get organized and develop great study strategies.

4. Form a study group. Nursing programs are unique in that the group of people you know will most likely be with you throughout the program and take the same classes as you. So make friends! Even if you prefer studying by yourself, remember that nursing is a cooperative career where you have to work with others to give the best care to your patients. Your study group of nursing students can also become your support system, since they’ll know what you’re going through when you get frustrated or discouraged.

5. Ask your professors for help when you have questions. In clinical courses, ask your clinical instructor for help when you’re not familiar with the procedures. Also make sure to practice until you’re confident that you can do it right by yourself. Be sure to ask plenty of questions in your classes. In fact, be like the child who continually asks why something works the way it does. One question that I always asked my professors in my nonclinical courses was “How does this apply when we’re treating patients?”

6. Talk to senior nursing students for advice and tips. Most of the time, they can offer you lots of insight into a particular professor’s teaching style or tell you what to expect for certain classes you have to take. Some schools will even assign you nursing student mentors in addition to nursing professor mentors. Mentor program at schools can be helpful even for such things as book hand-me-downs, class notes and tips, study guides that nurses won’t need anymore, and tips on clinical locations. It’s valuable information that only a person in the program ahead of you would know.

7. Get some learning experience during the summer. If you’re not taking classes during the summer, consider an externship at a local hospital or community clinic, and review your textbooks for classes you’ve taken or will take. Whatever you do, definitely continue learning during the summer, even if you have a summer job. If you’re passionate about nursing, this won’t be hard to do, and you’ll be a lot more confident when the semester starts. Working in the clinical setting is invaluable experience that can make you more comfortable when the school year resumes.

8. Get a NCLEX review book. I didn’t put this on the list of things you could do for summer because you should be doing this even when it’s not summertime.

9. Believe in yourself and don’t give up. I said this at my high school commencement, and it applies to this day. When times get tough, remember the reason why you wanted to become a nurse in the first place, and call on your support system for help if you feel you’ve forgotten or you feel too overwhelmed. You’re not the only one going through this, so talk to your fellow nurses.

10. Remember to relax. Have a good sense of humor, don’t forget to laugh and breathe even when things get hectic.

BONUS ADVICE: Be the kind of nurse you would want if you were a patient yourself. This is the nursing version of the “GOLDEN RULE.”