Advanced Practice Nursing

7 Things All Nursing Students Understand

7 Things All Nursing Students Understand
The truth is, you're not going to be a perfect nursing student overnight. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly November 6, 2019

SATA is your least favorite acronym. Scrubs have replaced your favorite t-shirt and jeans. You know you've chosen the right path.

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The list of reasons why anyone would pursue nursing school is a long and well-grounded one. For some, it’s job outlook, one the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts will grow 12 percent through 2028. There’s more to make the Registered Nurse (RN) occupation recession-proof, too—like an aging baby boomer generation and a nursing shortage expected to last through 2030.

With the appeal of stability comes the nursing’s place as one of the most value-driven careers in existence, as long as you’re ready for the emotional toll the job can take on you. If you enjoy helping people and want to dedicate your professional life to advocating for and protecting the health, safety, and happiness of others, nursing is a great way to do it. From community outreach to public health, hospice care, and even those with more basic training in care, nurses who love their jobs tend to love their jobs—even on days when stress and bureaucracy are high.

Like the field itself, nursing school has a reputation for lending a distinct set of shared experiences to those who choose to pursue it. For instance, on some days, the challenge of getting everything done and understanding your course material is enough to make you question why you ever agreed to such an intense program. On others, a patient’s gratitude will make you feel like you couldn’t have made a better decision. Through it all, you’ll find it encouraging that so many have been in your shoes and succeeded—and when it comes to your day-to-day struggle, can always relate.

1. You either have a strong stomach, or you develop one.

The path to becoming a nurse is filled with sights and smells that are gross enough to make even Jabba the Hutt’s stomach churn, but that doesn’t mean that all nursing students are born with a cast-iron stomach and nonexistent sense of smell. There comes the point in nearly every program where students faint at first sight of an epidural or gag while suctioning bodily fluids. In reality, even the most squeamish learn to maintain a steely composure in the face of less than favorable circumstances. It’s a kind of training that starts with breathing through the mouth and ends when a severed limb doesn’t bother you.

2. Clinical rotations can take the place of a gym membership.

With so many patients to care for, nursing school clinicals can feel like a marathon of illnesses, medications, and treatments. If you’re gunning for a job, you’ll need to catch the staff’s attention by answering any call light on your unit and helping patients any way you can. Asking to do things within your scope of practice is required, as is your ability to embrace less than desirable tasks like stocking supplies, filling water pitchers, and cleaning up puke. Exhaustion is a constant companion during an eight, nine, or even 12-hour shift. As for bathroom breaks, they’re slightly more difficult to come by.

3. Select-all-that-apply (SATA) questions are the worst.

SATA questions have long been a dreaded feature of the NCLEX, and for a good reason. When a given question’s possible number of correct responses is unknown and getting partial credit isn’t an option, it can almost seem like you’ve been set up to fail. For students at every level, these questions can take much longer than other multiple-choice questions—and require much more time and consideration. So, why on would the National Council of State Boards of Nursing choose to put students through this torture? Oddly enough, the answer is simple: To ensure that you gain the critical thinking skills that later on may mean the difference between life and death.

4. Your friends and family will start to depend on your expertise.

There comes a time for every nursing student when family, friends, their friends, and their friends’ friends start to think of them as a walking medical dictionary. It may seem surprising at first, but, with time, you’ll grow accustomed to texts about earaches and over-the-counter cough medicines, not to mention the odd picture of a rash. Just as long as you’re okay with having a less-than-conventional camera roll—and at some point, knowing when to tell people that there are better places to talk about bodily functions than at the dinner table or grocery store.

5. Burnout can happen at any time.

All nursing students struggle to find enough time for studying, their courses, and clinicals, let alone their relationships and other personal commitments. The lack of time can lead to unnecessary stress and poor grades. It’s the kind of situation to turn even the briefest downtime into an opportunity for productivity. Got a few minutes between classes? Take a run through your flashcards. Commuting home? Listen to that nursing podcast you’ve been holding out on. Just don’t be surprised when you find yourself rattling off the names of digestive organs while waiting in line at the post office.

At the same time, you always remind yourself and your classmates about the need for self-care. You know that scheduling time for a study group can help you avoid feeling isolated and that a good night’s sleep can help you prevent making clinical mistakes. On bad days, you try to remember the reason you started your program in the first place—and picture yourself walking across the stage at graduation, nursing degree in hand.

6. Seeing your classmates in “normal clothes” feels strange.

Donning scrubs at all hours is logical for many reasons, like being too exhausted or strapped for time. Every nursing student finds that early on in their program, scrubs are as much
of a staple as their textbooks and stethoscope, which can make seeing classmates dressed in anything that isn’t a baggy polyester-blend seem like encountering a wild animal on safari. The lack of context is bizarre until you realize—wait a sec. That’s Julia from your Pharmacology class. You borrowed her notes two weeks ago and still haven’t given them back.

7. The pressure to be perfect is real.

It’s no secret that nursing school is stressful. Research reports that nursing students experience more anxiety, especially test anxiety, than students from any of the healthcare disciplines. At times, students face a range of scenarios that feel utterly impossible, like a patient with no clear treatment track, an insanely high requirement of credits and clinical hours, the looming NCLEX. All these things can contribute to self-doubt.

The truth is, you’re not going to be a perfect student overnight. You won’t even be a perfect student by the end of your first clinical rotation. Nursing is an occupation that requires a high level of knowledge and experience, and your program is the time to develop both. You’re in school to learn, and so it’s essential to forgive yourself for the small errors you make and the things you forget. By learning how to handle pressure now, you’ll be better off as you begin your nursing career.

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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