Advanced Practice Nursing

5 Books Every Aspiring Nurse Should Read (Before Going to Nursing School)

5 Books Every Aspiring Nurse Should Read (Before Going to Nursing School)
Whether you're seeking out an LPN, BSN, or master's degree, these books will help solidify your confidence in your nursing program—and your nursing practice beyond it. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly November 8, 2019

Whether you’re looking for NCLEX exam hacks or seeking industry inspiration, this collection of books will ignite your commitment to the nursing field—and help drive your success in it.

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Whether you’re considering the field of nursing or getting serious about training, you likely know that nursing is so much more than a job. Nursing professionals fill a vast array of essential roles in the field, playing the role of educator, advocate, and mediator between patients and their doctors and loved ones. They act as confidants, technical specialists, secretaries. They’re the glue keeping the healthcare system together.

What’s more, you probably know that nurses are no stranger to physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing experiences. They work long hours—12-hour shifts are standard, especially in hospitals—and deal with human suffering and loss daily. They’re tasked to ensure patient safety in environments that are complex and frequently chaotic, especially in situations where time is limited. Role ambiguity and conflict can also add tension, as well as inadequate staffing or workload.

While some nursing professions have the reputation of being less stressful than others—like nurse educator and nurse researcher, to name a few—there’s no denying that the majority nursing occupations aren’t for the faint-of-heart. But as millions of working nurses can testify, they can be manageable, especially if you can prepare for them. These authors know the ins and outs of nursing exams, medical care, connecting with patients, and dealing with some of the most extreme scenarios in healthcare.

So, before you hit the gas pedal on career planning, scroll down for books that can help amplify your success not only in nursing school, but well into your career.

I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse by Lee Gutkind

Lee Gutkind has written about the world of medicine, technology, and science for more than 30 years. As an editor, he shapes this collection of authentic narratives to highlight how nurses are the often invisible backbone of the healthcare system. When a newborn with half a heart dies shortly after birth, the nurse treats both the baby and their parents with compassion and dignity. A home care nurse is the only attendee at the funeral of a client without family. Another contributor describes his experiences as a nursing student at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, particularly his nurse’s intuition—that is, knowing when a patient is going to die. Most essayists note that they’re not supposed to get too close to patients, but they do it anyway. What connects all of their stories is their struggle against burnout and bureaucracy to serve their patients with skill, empathy, and strength.

Tending Lives: Nurses on the Medical Front by Echo Heron

Contrasting Gutland’s observational take on the field, Echo Heron is an emergency medicine and critical care nurse who has seen and heard it all. Here she recounts narratives of real-life medical dramas experienced by nurses, sharing with readers their inspiring, tragic, and often outrageously funny stories. A prison nurse matter-of-factly describes the execution by a death-row inmate by lethal injection. A movie-set nurse copes with the tender egos of Hollywood actors and actresses. An operating-room nurse gives a quick rundown of the typical personalities of surgical specialists. Urologists have an obscene sense of humor. Neurologists tend to be the prima donna type. Like Gutkind’s work, it’s an enlightening read for anyone considering entering the field, but possibly unsettling for anyone entering a hospital.

Test Success: Test-taking Techniques for Beginning Nursing Students by Patricia M. Nugent and Barbara A. Vitale

What would a nursing school book list be without one to prepare for the exam to end all exams? The NCLEX, or National Council Licensure Examination, is a considerably challenging one—and like it or not, it has a big say in how quickly you move from nursing student to professional.

“Test Success” is widely popular among beginning nursing students, serving as an easy-to-use guide on how to familiarize yourself with your program and even boost your critical thinking and time management skills in advance. It’s broken out into various sections that offer concise, easy-to-understand text, diagrams, and pictures that help with general studying. The book also provides 800 practice questions covering different NCLEX formats so that by exam time, you’ll be ready to think like a nurse.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

In her book, University of Houston Research Professor Brené Brown outlines the power of vulnerability based on 12 years of research. With compassion and inspiration, she inspires readers to harness its power by writing, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.”

So, why is vulnerability critical in the life of a future nurse? Some of the most significant issues in the field often tie back to an unwillingness to take risks or put yourself out there, whether through conflict avoidance or resistance to change. Brown believes it is essential to expose oneself to a wide range of feelings to combat shame, break down the walls of perfectionism, and avoid feeling disengaged.

By accepting her guidance, you’ll gain a sense of courage and learn how to create future connections with your patients, fellow nurses, and healthcare teams. When you choose to dare greatly, you’ll feel more prepared to choose a path and commit to it with a clear sense of purpose.

Cooked: An Inner City Nursing Memoir by Carol Karels

Carol Karels began her nurse’s training at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital in 1971, despite newspaper articles warning that the hospital might close any day. “The County,” as it was known, had weathered massive layoffs, doctors and nurses strikes, budget cuts, and public relations nightmares. Abused children, gunshot victims, nursing home rejects, and drug overdoses all found refuge in the County’s large wards, where metal beds, separated only by green curtains, lined the walls.

Within weeks after starting her training, Karels began working on one of the hospital’s busiest emergency wards. Her memoir recounts stories of compassion, care, and all-out chaos that took place in the County’s wards and surrounding neighborhoods. More importantly, it shows how nurses fare in a public health environment where warmth, hope, and laughter exist in spite of poverty, racism, and neglect.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: Advanced Practice NursingNursing & Healthcare