What Advice Would You Give a New Nursing Student? Our Readers Respond…

KarenRoushBy Karen Roush, MSN, RN, FNP-C, AJN clinical managing editor

My daughter Kim is starting nursing school next month, so last week I asked AJN’s Facebook followers for the best piece of advice I could give her. The response was overwhelming: over 600 people offered wisdom, encouragement, and tips for success. I went through and read them all and the following is an attempt to synthesize the advice.

Of course, with so many responses, there were many valuable pieces of advice I had to leave out, from the practical to the profound, such as:

sit in the front of class, stick to your principles, invest in good shoes, choose clinicals that push you out of your comfort zone, be early for everything, celebrate the small victories, get a really good stethoscope up front, believe in yourself, pick the hardest patient you can at clinical, audiorecord the lectures, be truthful and committed to your work, eat healthy, get to know your instructors, coffee and chocolate!

And finally: look into the eyes of your patients and be sure they know you care. Every patient, every time.

(Oh, and not to leave out the lighthearted—Don’t hold your nose in clinicals. The teachers frown on that.)

Below are five areas of advice that stood out:

1) “Take a good picture of your friends and family and put it on your desk, because that’s all you’ll be seeing of them for the next two years.” There were many variations on the idea that nursing school “takes 100% dedication.” You need to warn your family and friends that they won’t be seeing you for a while, get rid of your TV, sleep when you can, learn good time management, and be prepared to spend Saturday nights with your books . . .

2) “Study, study, study, and study some more.” Respect the quantity and degree of difficulty of the material you will have to learn. There were a lot of ideas about how to optimize your studying—chief among them was to get in a study group and to study NCLEX questions from the beginning. Others were to read ahead, not procrastinate, use flashcards, attend practice and review sessions, and have a study partner or buddy system. Having a study buddy, though, is only a small part of the importance of friendships with your fellow students . . .

3) Make nursing student friends quickly. You will rely on each other a lot and hold each other up to make it through!” Other nursing students understand what it’s like—the fears, the workload, the emotional roller coaster of clinicals. Fellow students become like family while you’re in school and that bond will continue with many through the years that follow. They are your study partners, your support, your shoulder to cry on. And there will be tears . . .

4) “Tell her there will be days, probably lots, when she wants to just quit. Tell her to embrace the meltdown, cry & lean on a friend. Then, brush it off and keep pushing ahead.” There will be times when you wonder if it’s worth it—you miss your life, the workload is too much, the difficulty level too high, the clinical experiences too wrenching. Have a good cry, preferably with one of your fellow nursing students, then pick yourself up and go on because . . .

5) “Remember, it will all be worth it!” So many responses celebrated nursing even while acknowledging how difficult it is. While detailing the challenges of nursing school, over and over again they ended with the reasons it was worth it. They expressed love and pride for their profession and described the rewards of caring for patients and making a difference in people’s lives. As a student, you haven’t had those positive experiences yet, so when days get tough, listen to those who have—and persevere.

“It’s going to change who you are and be one of the most challenging yet exhilarating times of your life. And at the end of it all, what we all wait for…’I am a registered nurse.’”

I’ve decided to e-mail my daughter one piece of advice from the original list every week. The first one went out to her today. She texted me afterward to say, “This is great! I love it! It will definitely help me through the whole program.” I really think it will, too—just to know that her fears, struggles, questioning, are what so many others felt. And to have so many ideas and tips to draw on.

Thank you again to all of you who contributed to this collection of wisdom. If I had to put your best advice to her in one sentence, it would be this: nursing school is probably one of the most difficult things you will ever do, but with good study habits and the support of your fellow nursing student friends, you will get through, and it will be oh so worth it!

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  1. toni lagunes March 23, 2016 at 6:51 am

    Volunteer for any clinical procedure while at the hospital as a student!
    Better to learn from mistakes with an instructor than to fall on your face by yourself & possibly harm a patient.

  2. nancy z August 26, 2015 at 11:11 am

    I recently graduated from an RN-BSN program (diploma nurse). Study, get your papers done early and take time to relax when you can. I also am a firm believer in book rental…so much cheaper to rent…

  3. Ed Hunter RN May 14, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Nursing School is designed to change the way you think. Clinical judgement starts with your knowledge of pathophyisiology.

  4. Julie Mackinaw, RN April 23, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Books can only teach you so much with nursing and most of nursing is on the job training. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and say that you don’t understand how to do something as someone’s life could depend on it!

  5. Djuna April 14, 2014 at 2:16 am

    Your daughter is so lucky to have you.

  6. Elise Leung April 9, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    I wish I had this advice 24 years ago! Great advice. The best career choice by far.

  7. Peggy McDaniel April 9, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Thanks for this! I celebrate 30 years of nursing this year. Time has flown and it’s not always been an easy ride, starting in school –although I wouldn’t trade the journey. All my experiences have shaped me into who I am today.

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