What Do You Wish You’d Learned in Nursing School?

Dietetics class for nurses, 1918/Cornell University Library/via Flickr

Dietetics class for nurses, 1918/Cornell University Library/via Flickr

By Christine Moffa, MSN, RN, clinical editor

While I was going through nursing school I imagined that our clinical rotations would prepare us for the reality of working in a hospital. I was very eager to graduate and get my first job. Had I known that I was in for the hardest year of my life, I probably would have changed majors. I was hired to work the night shift in the float pool of a children’s hospital. That is a bad idea right there and I wish someone was there to talk me out of it. But on top of that, I found it difficult to express by opinion when residents and nurses with more experience did not heed my concerns about patients who were decompensating. And calling the attending in the middle of the night did not seem like a good option. I wish I had been told in nursing school that the nurse supervisor is a great resource to go to in times like these.

We often hear stories of what a shock it is for a nurse to finally start a nursing job after finishing school. Is there anything nursing schools could do to change this? What do you wish you’d learned?

Bookmark and Share

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Mary June 11, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Nursing students should consider a year as a CNA prior to school. This would give them the hands on knowledge with patients, staff and administration that they need prior to working as an RN. It’s what I’m doing and it’s making all the difference.

  2. AJ June 10, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Writing skills!!! I was in an accelerated 2nd degree program for my BSN, so I had writing skills gleened from my BA. Several young RNs on my floor, however, have the worst writing skills. I’ve heard MDs claim the same about young Interns. Some of these general skills seem to be lacking in the specialized degrees.

    Personally I would have liked more emergency sims. Failure to rescue is a common problem among new grad nurses.

  3. Lincoln June 10, 2014 at 11:28 am

    The max patient load we had in clinicals was four patients. I would have liked to learn to deal with more patients. I would have liked to seen a class called Nursing Communication. in this class we would have learned to communicate with other nurses, families, physicians and the most important one …patients.

  4. […] Lastly, a bunch about The Top 5 Things You Wish They’d Taught in Nursing School: […]

  5. Andrea Johnsen October 17, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Wish we were taught to juggle 7-8 patients with IV’s beeping, demanding families, post ops and admissions while the unit secretary called out sick and there was no nursing assistant scheduled for that day, the computer system is down and your co-worker is really not feeling well and she needs to go home if you could watch over her patients while she tries to find a replacement! Just some real life scenarios that you don’t learn in nursing school!!

  6. Misha October 16, 2009 at 12:12 am

    I graduated from a hospital school and feel that the extra bedside experiences were very helpful. However, time and experience gave me the critical thinking skills. This is why it is so important to have a skill mix that includes new and experienced nurses working every shift. Equally important is that nurses are rewarded for staying at the bedside and recognized for the labor of love it truly is.

  7. Peggy October 13, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    I wish I had been required to take more physics and statistics. Nurses tend to focus on life sciences as they are needed for our degree. Currently, I deal with nurses that apparently do not understand the nature of gravity, fluid dynamics, etc. I think we all could benefit from a better understanding of physics, maybe even a “physics for nurses” type class.

  8. Luke October 13, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    There was not nearly enough hard science or quality clinical experience. Too much emphasis on “reflecting,” and other emotional topics. That stuff is important too, but when you teach it at the expense of quality experience that will help to protect your license once you graduate, that is not okay. I felt horrendously under-prepared by my nursing school experience and I feel like the burden was placed on me to learn all the things that would actually help me in reality.

  9. shawn October 9, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I wished I had known about nursing opportunities in the US Public Health Service. When I found out about the variety of roles and travel opportunities, I had already put down roots and established an acute care career. Schools need to do better in helping students be aware of career possibilities.

  10. Joanne October 8, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Wishes there were available clinical sites in places that challenge a student nurse instead of places that are just “available”.With the number of nurses retiring it is harder to get clinical placements with nurses that have a large amount if experience as well as knowledge. Which can limit the clinical placements.

  11. MaryJo Nonnemacher October 8, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    As a new nurse in an adult ICU, I wish someone in school had taught me that when I started in July, the residents also started in July, so when I needed a doctor to write an order for a fentanyl or versed drip, they were pretty much as clueless as I was.

    I wish they had a class in nursing school on “How to interact with families that are less than cooperative and polite…”

  12. […] today’s posting on the AJN’s blog “Off the Charts”, they are soliciting feedback from readers about how nursing schools could better prepare students […]

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.

%d bloggers like this: