Notes of a Student Nurse: A Dose of Reality

By Jennifer-Clare Williams, who is a student at Cox College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Springfield, Missouri. This is her first post for this blog.

Doyle Alphabet by fdecomite, via Flickr

It’s been said before that we are our own worst enemies, our own worst critics. I can’t imagine a time when these phrases are truer than during nursing school. Little more than a year ago, when I was starting my prerequisites for admission to the BSN nursing program, I was giddy with excitement. Images of what life would be like played in my head like episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, or, on a day I was feeling a bit more goofy, reruns of Scrubs.

I took any opportunity I had to share with friends, family—even new apartment neighbors—that I was well on my way to nursing school with the confident smile of a person destined to save the world, one patient at a time. I scoured discussion boards and nursing student forums late into the night, anticipating the day that I, too, would have something profound to contribute.

I laughed off those who warned me that the path was difficult and ridden with challenges. There was no bridge I couldn’t cross, no task I couldn’t do, and no test I couldn’t pass with flying colors. The world was mine. Now, I’m living those moments as a first semester nursing student—but a funny thing happened on the way to the present, a thing I will lovingly refer to as reality.

And reality has an uncanny way of making sure you’re well aware of his presence. The truth is, most days I feel more like the character Steve Urkel in Family Matters than like Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy—awkward, unsure, and out of my element. My excitement masquerades more as fear. And those scrubs? Hardly the superhero cape I’d imagined. Yes, the truth is, for the first time in my life, I don’t have the definitive answers to anything, my “natural aptitude” for test taking continually disappoints me, and that confident, poised, straight-A student has somehow disappeared, leaving a nervous, uncomfortable rookie in her place.

I replay my mistakes (“No wonder your patient was uncomfortable—you put the bedpan under her backwards!”), I cry more than I ever have in my life, and I continuously wonder how on earth I will ever learn everything I need to know.

But there is good news. I’m surviving. And I’m learning that perfection is unrealistic. That nursing really is a fluid profession: things are constantly changing, and that’s a good thing. That there are very few things that I’m going to master on the first try, or heck, even the 10th try . . . but that’s ok. I’m learning that the patients who are, let’s just say . . . unkind . . . are not launching a personal attack on me, but are facing a difficult set of circumstances and are unhappy with the situation.

But perhaps most importantly, I’m slowly learning not to be so hard on myself, that patience is a necessity in this learning process, and that only time and experience can make me the kind of nurse I want to be: kind, compassionate, and competent. And no, life is not like you see on TV, but the chance to make a difference is real, and that realization is far more satisfying than any scripted show ever could be.

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2016-11-21T13:13:19+00:00 May 4th, 2011|career, students|21 Comments
Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. INSCOL Academy June 25, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Hi Jennifer-Clare Williams
    Nice post, Thanks for sharing. There is a huge difference between what we learn in class and with real patients can feel enormous. What we have learned from books, not every patient can be taken care of in the same way. Many nurses who are still in the field have seen a lot of changes.

  2. Stacey Lohmeier June 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Thank you for your honesty! As a nursing instructor, I see many who have no concept of what it is to be a nurse. Please keep learning from your mistakes and you will be a great nurse!

  3. Brianna Edwards June 20, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Your words speak volumes for all the things we’ve all felt from time to time as nursing students and eventually, as nurses. Some days I look back and just thank God that I was able to make it through what seemed like the hardest 4 years of my life. Truth is, it gets better and the closer you get to being finished with what you started, the more thankful you will be. You’ll make it though, just by the way you wrote the things you wrote, it is very obvious that you chose the correct profession and you will be a wonderful nurse. It’s a hard job, one of the hardest out there, but so very rewarding, and the difficult days make the good days so much more enjoyable. I wish you luck, you will go far 🙂

  4. Anna Bouster August 3, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Can’t believe I missed this invaluable post when it was first published. Beautifully written and wonderful points. I will be sharing with my students.

  5. […] 2. Notes of a Student Nurse: A Dose of Reality This honest account of a first semester of nursing school is by Jennifer-Clare Williams, a student at Cox College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Springfield, Missouri. We hope to have more of her posts in the future. […]

  6. Kourtney Govro May 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Jennifer – this is such a well written blog. I noted you in my blog post this week. I am sure you are going to be a wonderful nurse, and I appreciate your willingness to be open wiht the experience.

  7. jeanny Ivones May 6, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    really good…awesome

  8. Dr. Jo May 6, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Beautifully written! So proud to see Cox College represented here! The journey is rewarding beyond measure and it is achieved one day at a time… keep the patient at the center of all you do and you will be a wonderful nurse!

    Dr. Jo

  9. Nathalie Pellerin May 5, 2011 at 7:39 am

    I teach nursing in second year,
    and even if my students are french speaking
    i will send them your blog. They live the same ocquired feeling
    Of being out of their comfort zone.
    But once nursing becomes comfortable: What a feeling!!!
    Good succes with the rest of your formation!

  10. Janie May 5, 2011 at 5:45 am

    Miss Jenifer,
    Nursing is indeed a fluid profession these days. I think the most important thing you revealed about yourself as a student of nursing is that your trying. Not every patient can be taken care of in the same way. Many nurses who are still in the field have seen a lot of changes with nothing more than a nod. Just like everything in life you will have your perfectly wonderful days and your pitiful pearl days. If you wake up each morning and you are excited about what you will learn and see then I think you will make a good nurse. Just remember it comes with time and patience which is hard for those who expect so much from themselves. My hope for you is that you are able to find a mentor. Someone who can help you navigate as you follow the path to becoming a nurse with compassion and thoughtfulness. You did a beautiful and realistic job of the pressures of becoming a nurse in a fast paced world. I would love to see you do some work abroad to further strengthen your resolve to be the nurse you want to be. Best of luck on you journey.

  11. Paul May 4, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Not familiar with the Greys Anatomy references but the sentiment of glam vs. reality came through loud and clear. Nicely stated.

  12. wendy Votroubek May 4, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Can’t wait for more entries!!

  13. wendy Votroubek May 4, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Wow- you are eloquent and really capture what everyone feels at first with students. It does get better. I am now teaching part time- plan on sharing your blog with them- thanks so much!!

  14. Donna S. May 4, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks for putting into words what I believe most first semester nursing students are thinking! (from a first semester “skills” instructor)
    Donna S.

  15. Hilary May 4, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    I found comfort just now in this blog! I too am in nursing school 1st quartet and it has been the biggest wake up call of my life!
    -your not alone! Thanks for sharing 😉

  16. jackie n. May 4, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    excellent post! could not have said it better!!!

  17. Roxanne Singletary May 4, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    What an insightful and wonderfully written piece. So much to give thought to.

  18. Mikytysh May 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Beautifully written. If you can hold on to all the good reasons that you want to be a nurse then you will excel. It is a difficult job to do, but if you remember why you’re doing that job, it will keep you going. I am a preceptor and work with nurses just out of school as I carry a full patient load. Nursing school is just the beginning. You will have so much more to learn after you start working – and you will continue to learn all through your career. I’ve seen all my orientees come in with nothing but nursing school behind them and after 6 months are ready to save lives in a busy emergency room. Hang in there, the best is yet to come.

  19. Chrissy May 4, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Don’t stress. No one died from a backwards bed pan, at least that I know about. And strangely enough, patients survive despite even the most inept physicians.

  20. Cindy Coffman May 4, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Awesome! Jennifer, you really hit the nail on the head, and so many nursing students will benefit from your article. Cannot wait to see what you write, next! I am a fan!!

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