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GINS05: What to Expect in Nursing School

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I was not sure what to expect in nursing school before I began.  I thought that it was a very practical process. I pictured being taught how to do various procedures, understanding certain disease processes, and just caring for patients. The thought of not only understanding disease processes, but learning how to apply them to a very dynamic situation was not something I realized was part of learning how to be a nurse.  I had no idea how deep the field of nursing is, and therefore how comprehensive nursing school really is.  There were a few other surprising things I learned in nursing school.  I’d like to share them with you as you begin your journey to help you know what to expect in nursing school.

You can’t just memorize facts; you must understand and apply concepts

In nursing school you don’t just have to memorize information and regurgitate it for an exam the next day, you must not only recall the information, but be able to understand and apply it. The questions on nursing school exams are not about if you basically understand the information, it’s about if you can apply It to specific patient scenarios. The level of thinking is much higher than merely recalling information, which is what most of my college courses looked like up until that point.  

Learning how to learn this way is somewhat challenging. At NRSNG, we created an entire academy of courses that streamlines this.  We made it concise, in various formats (audio, video, text, mobile, desktop, tablet), and really focused in on learning the entire concept and not just dry information to read from a textbook. You can check that out here.

There is something called APA and it’s the worst

APA stands for American Psychological Association, and it’s something I didn’t even realize existed until I enter nursing school. It is a way to cite sources that is different than MLA format, which is what most people learn up until college.  I excelled more in writing papers than exams, so I was really bummed for the first paper or two when I didn’t get a good grade because I did not focus on the details of APA.

Spoiler alert: all of those little tiny seemingly unimportant formatting aspects of APA are important. You must follow it exactly.

Understanding how to use it and getting fast and efficient with it is key and should not be underestimated.  It’s a foreign thing and a stumbling block at first, but once you get used to it and put some time into understanding it, then it won’t take near as long and is totally conquerable.  If you don’t spend a little time at the beginning getting to know how to do this, finding resources to help you make sure your citations are correct, and flagging and highlighting your text book that tells you how to do this correctly, you’ll find yourself really frustrated every time you have to do a paper because you will get stuck whenever you have to cite something.

It is hard to know what to expect with clinicals

what to expect in nursing school

I was not prepared for just the feeling of being at clinicals. The pace is really fast and you’re not sure what the patients and the staff really expect you to know at various points in your education. I was very unaware of what people expected of me, which was pretty unnerving.  This can be pretty intimidating, especially if you were like me with no hospital experience before school.  I had spent all this time learning about theoretical patients, complex disease processes, and nursing interventions… so when I was face-to-face with it for the first time, it really taken back to see how nervous it really made me.  It seriously took effort to overcome this nervousness around going to clinicals. I had to muster up confidence that I didn’t know I had and use some positive self talk when I was around all of these really confident and experienced staff members and patients asking questions that I didn’t know the answers to.

Check out our  6 tips to help you succeed in nursing school from a recent blog post: So You Want to Be a Nurse? (How Hard is Nursing School . . . Really)

We had to learn about the profession of nursing as a whole, not just patient care

I used to think being a nurse was merely providing face-to-face care to patients. I assumed in class I was going to be basically learning practical techniques and procedures, I had no idea I would be learning about nurses in boardrooms, nursing theory, policy and procedure creation and review, as well as nursing research.  In school when you’re so worried and focused on learning how to safely take care of patients it can be difficult to see the value in understanding the big picture of the entire profession. I remember being frustrated in nursing school and feeling like I was wasting my time learning about this stuff. However in hindsight, I now see the benefit of learning and being introduced to all of that at the beginning.  It gave me perspective and allows me to see the big picture behind providing direct care to patients, and all the back end work that makes things run as smoothly as possible.

There’s no doubt that when you walk through your nursing school journey there are going to be things that will surprise you, and things that go completely differently than you have ever had planned, for both the good and the bad.  I hope the things that I learned will help you know more of what to expect in nursing school.  

And don’t forget to check out our NRSNG academy! It’s $1 for a 3 day trial and $49/month after that for 9 months, then lifetime access.  


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Date Published - May 6, 2017
Date Modified - May 8, 2017