The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: What You Should Know Before Committing to Nursing School

What you should know before starting nursing schoolToday, guest blogger and nurse Mary Anderson gives you a fair warning of what to expect in accelerated nursing school. Don’t worry. It’s mostly good.

Your accelerated nursing program should come with a disclaimer that might read something like this: The road ahead is rocky, turn back now if you aren’t ready to shed sweat, blood and tears. In all sincerity, there a few warnings one should be aware of before deciding to become a nursing student. While not all are bad or require the shedding of any blood, you should be prepared to make some sacrifices in order to attain such a rewarding degree. After all, good things don’t come to those who wait; they come to those who work hard.

Your Social Life Will Be Different

First, if you planned on going to school to party or be a socialite, nursing school is probably not for you. You will likely study more than a lot of your friends. Ultimately people will be placing their lives in your hands. It’s a no brainer: you still study, study and study some more. I’m not saying nursing school is all work and no play. You will have time to make friends, join a nursing club or other extracurricular activities, but you will likely study more than your friends in other disciplines. Trust me, I know. I have my bachelor’s in public relations and my BSN. I studied way more during nursing school than I did for public relations.

Next, you will meet amazing people. For the most part, nurses are uber caring and considerate people. The guys and gals you go to school with actually want to listen and care for their patients. And guess what? These super caring, considerate, good listeners are going to be studying topics for the same ungodly amount of hours as you are, thus, they will be your new best friends. You will eat together, study together, gossip about your nursing professors together and complain about how much you miss your friends and families together. Your fellow nursing classmates will understand what you’re going through and really know how to lift you up on days you want to give up.

Unfortunately, you will miss out on things, like a friend‘s birthday party or a Thirsty Thursday frat party because, guess what, you will be studying. It may stink right now, but try and remember what you are going to school for. Will one party really matter, or will it matter more that you spent your college years learning everything you could, so you could save someone’s life some day? I had a professor in college who always reminded us that she studied as much as she could during nursing school because she felt she owed it to her patients to be as educated as possible. Ultimately, you will have to prioritize what is important and what is not. You won’t have to miss much if you are good at time management and stay on top of things, but you will miss out on some things.

You Will Want to Give Up

Speaking of giving up. At some point in nursing school you will want to give up. For me, it was somewhere near the beginning. Nursing was my second career. I already had a bachelor’s degree and a career prior to going back to school. I had to learn how to be a student again, and that was just plain difficult. It’s okay to feel this way. It’s okay to have a bad day. Many nursing students do. I witnessed several of my classmates have sob sessions in the middle of a lecture. Nursing school is stressful. Take a day off, indulge in your favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor, have a good cry, go for a walk and hug your mom. You will feel better tomorrow and will remember you can do anything you set your mind to.

Your Budget Will Shrink

Even more, you will likely be broke. College is expensive and nursing school is intense. You may be able to work some, but going to school full time and working full time isn’t going to work out so well, especially as you advance further into your program and start clinical.

While on the subject of finances let’s talk books. Books for nursing school are expensive. It seems like almost every class has a book, a manual and a clinical reference book you have to buy. In addition to the required books you will see recommended books listed on your course syllabi. Before starting your courses be sure to have the required material, but you will likely be able to hold off on the recommended books until after you have gotten a feel for what is expected and what other students are finding works for them. Furthermore, I’ve heard some nursing friends say they bought books and never used them. Unless your professor sends you a syllabus before the course starts and suggests you start reading during summer vacation (yes, they do this sometimes), it’s best to keep the plastic wrap on the book until the professor actually confirms he/she is going to use the book. Once the wrap is gone, the book is used and worth about half of what you paid for it. Furthermore, don’t feel like you have to buy all new books from your school’s bookstore. There are dozens of websites selling new and used books much cheaper than most university bookstores.

You Will Have to Develop a Strong Stomach

What about the guts and gore? Everyone thinks nurses are naturally born with iron stomachs and no sense of smell. This is totally not true. Some of us cringed at the sight of blood or smell of feces during nursing school. I feel I must mention this because I was always told I was “too squeamish” to go to nursing school. I almost fainted the first time I watched an anesthesiologist give an epidural. I literally had to walk out of the surgical suite and eat crackers and drink orange juice. I had other classmates who literally fainted and hit the ground during surgery or labor and delivery. You just have to pick yourself up and keep exposing yourself to those uncomfortable situations until you are okay with it. Being squeamish doesn’t mean you cannot be a nurse. It means you need to be aware of the sights and smells that set you off and find a way to work through them. In time you will be an ER nurse taking care of trauma patients with blood and guts galore.

You Will Need More Experience Than Clinicals and Class

I know I’ve spoken about how time consuming nursing school is, but the job market is competitive and you will need to do as much as you can to get experience beyond just your clinicals. With more and more nursing programs popping up every day, the competition is growing. This means you will need to try and get some experience before you graduate to give yourself the upper hand. Some hospitals offer fellowships or nursing assistant positions. I worked as a RN fellow every other weekend while in school. I essentially was a nursing assistant and was offered a full-time position as a RN before even taking boards. Volunteer, join the nursing club, attend medical conferences and get more hands-on clinical experience.

You Won’t Regret It

When you walk across that stage to graduate you will be amazed at how much you have learned. Regardless of the length of your program, you will be exposed to more information than you ever thought was possible in such a relatively short amount of time. You will be able to recite normal lab values like sodium, potassium and hemoglobin in your sleep. You will know what every organ in the body does and how every disease process affects it. You will know how to prevent bedsores, insert a Foley catheter, perform chest compressions, insert a nasogastric tube, interpret ECG rhymes, suction a trach and the list goes on and on.

Nursing school is a world of its own. Some days, you will cry tears of joy and other day, you will question why anyone would ever agree to sign up for such an intense program. You will meet professors who have had the most amazing jobs and traveled to far away lands to provide evidence-based practice and compiled research for hospitals and universities both local and prestigious. Soak up their stories and listen attentively. You will be amazed at how their stories will help you when it comes to taking boards or caring for a patient of your own one day. You will make awesome new friends who will last a lifetime. Nursing school will educate you about parts of your body you might have never known existed. Ultimately, nursing school was the best decision I ever made and prepared me to be the nurse I am today. Anyone who is willing to make a few sacrifices, get a little dirty and feels most rewarded serving others will find nursing school to be ultimately satisfying when all is said and done.

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