Congratulations on your decision to become a registered nurse! While this is an essential first step to landing your dream healthcare job, there are many things you should know before you begin your studies and start your nursing journey. Now is a great time to manage your expectations about your pre-licensure and nursing school demands and clear up any misconceptions.
Becoming a nurse can be a bumpy ride at times, and it’s understandable if you feel nervous or overwhelmed about starting your first semester. But preparing yourself in advance can help you succeed in your nursing program. Here are ten things nursing students should expect when studying to become an RN—both the good and the challenging—and how to prepare for nursing school.
1. There are many common misconceptions about nursing school to be aware of
Before you start nursing school, you probably want to know: how hard is nursing school? You’ll find misinformation about the challenges of nursing programs floating around the internet. While there may be truth to some of it, what you see hardly tells the whole story. Here are a few misperceptions you may have heard about nursing school:
“You can’t work at all during your studies.”
This one is partially true for many students. Your coursework and clinical assignments will take up a lot of your time. So the less you work, the more time you will have for coursework. However, plenty of other students still work during nursing school. If you are working, maximizing time management is essential to stay on top of coursework.
And if you need to consider cutting back on expenses during your nursing program, one of the best ways to accomplish this is to create a nursing school budget. This can help you organize what your fixed and variable expenses will be. It also offers better visualization of what you’ll need for tuition, books, supplies, tutoring assistance, and licensing fees. Then you can compare your nursing school expenses with your living expenses to see where you can make adjustments.
“If you have kids, nursing school is nearly impossible.”
As we’ve seen during the ongoing pandemic, online and hybrid education is a great option to have for learning. There are now more flexible options for aspiring nursing students than ever before, which helps busy parents get a degree they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
Online and hybrid education saves hours every day by not requiring a constant or daily commute to a brick-and-mortar university. Also, you can study at times that are convenient for your schedule, like when the kids are in school or even at night after they go to bed.
“I’m too old for nursing school.”
This phrase is a self-limiting belief that holds no truth. Many nurses went back to school as a second career, often after years or decades since being in a classroom setting. You will need to learn new technologies, but the learning curve isn’t as intense as you think.
I became a nursing student after ten years of working in the corporate world. I was happy to see aspiring nurses of all ages in my classes, even some with grandkids. No matter how old you are, you have valuable experience to bring to your nursing studies and the profession.
2. You may feel overwhelmed on the first day but focus one week at a time
Your first few months will acclimate you to the seemingly impossible demands of nursing education. Many students wonder how they are going to keep up with the rigor of it all. Be prepared that you may see classmates drop out, but that’s ok. School or the nursing profession isn’t for everyone, and you have your own unique academic and career journey.
Focus one week at a time, and by the halfway point, you will start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Having a support system is also essential for your well-being. Consider reaching out to friends, family members, or fellow nursing students who can be there if you feel overwhelmed.
3. There are benefits and challenges to hybrid and online nursing classes
Every type of nursing program has its benefits and disadvantages. If you’re wondering if hybrid or online nursing programs are right for you, here are things to consider.
Pros to online and hybrid classes:
- Flexible class hours
- Being able to learn from home or anywhere (the coffee shop or even the beach!)
- Minimal or no commuting to a classroom which makes for easier attendance
- Enhanced ability to work if you need to
- Ability to study any time of the day or night (this is so helpful for parents)
- Learn new tech skills
- Increased independence
Cons to online and hybrid classes:
- Less opportunity for social interaction
- You will need more self-discipline to stay on top of your studies
- You will need to communicate effectively via technology with your professors
Are you interested in online nursing classes? Aspen University’s hybrid and accelerated BSN program enables students to complete their pre reqs for nursing online before on-the-ground clinicals and nursing core labs.
4. You must find a work-life balance to manage nursing school stress
It’s important to take care of your mental and physical health during your studies, especially to avoid nurse burnout. Here are a few helpful time management ideas for a healthy work-life balance during nursing school:
- Meal prep on Sundays. If you have healthy meals ready to eat, you are less likely to skip meals or reach for quick comfort food because you’re on a time crunch.
- Learn that it’s ok to say no to plans or commitments. Manage your family and friend’s expectations for you during your studies.
- Prioritize schoolwork first. Carve out study time with the understanding that college is a temporary experience.
- Learn how to meditate. Studies show meditation reduces nursing student stress and burnout.
- Have a workspace for school that is not in your bedroom, if possible.
- Take breaks when you need them.
- Plan exercise into your schedule, even if it’s just a walk. Physical activity can help reduce stress.
5. Finding your most effective study methods is key
Chances are it has been a minute since you’ve hit the books or needed to retain large amounts of information. Everyone has their own learning style and habits that work for them. But if you need some study tips, here are a few scientifically proven ways to study better in nursing school:
- Time-blocking – plan your coursework hours in a calendar
- Chunking – break up your course materials into smaller sections or study guides
- Carrying – keep a pad of notes or a copy of study materials with you (especially at clinical placements)
- Study group sessions – meet with other students weekly via Zoom or in-person if possible
- Communicating – discuss with your teachers about test specifics and ask questions
- Health prioritization – Get regular sleep, physical activity, and eat nutritious food
6. Know that missing class might set you back
Nursing schools require a lot of commitment, and they’re unlike other educational programs because there’s so much health and science content covered in such a short period. Even missing one class could put you behind. Most nursing courses are designed to challenge students at a rigorous pace, especially accelerated nursing programs.
Also, you never know when your professor may give a few helpful hints that will benefit you on the next exam or assignment. Always check your program’s policy on absences, and communicate with your professor if you need to miss a class for any reason.
7. Things will start to make more sense once you start clinical rotations
When do you start clinicals in nursing school? Well, in many pre-licensure nursing programs, you don’t begin clinical rotations right away. The first several months of school will revolve around course material with reading, writing papers, and exams. It can seem overwhelming because you won’t have hands-on patient care experience yet to help you make sense of the information. But once you begin clinical placements, you will build muscle memory for all the bookwork.
Keep in mind that not every facility will be excited to have nursing students, and some clinical preceptors may even be rude. Instead, focus on the hospitals and nurses who are excited to teach. They are the ones you want to have as a role model, and you will learn more from them.
Additionally, use your clinical placement time to find your favorite nursing specialty and where you want to work after graduation.
8. If you’re looking for nursing experience, consider working as a CNA one day a week while in nursing school
A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is an ancillary healthcare professional who works under the guidance of an RN or physician. It is a direct patient care role that can help you learn first-hand the skills and knowledge needed to provide excellent nursing care.
Some of the tasks that CNAs perform include:
- Ambulating patients
- Assisting with toileting, dressing, and eating
- Helping turn and reposition patients
- Bathing and assisting with grooming
- Turning patient beds and cleaning rooms
- Answering patient call lights
- Assisting nurses with various procedures
Some university hospitals hire nursing students to become CNAs after completing a certain point in their education. Many of the positions are per diem and allow you to work a minimum of four days a month, fitting into your busy coursework schedule.
Working as a CNA also helps you obtain some first-hand experience to apply to your education. But most importantly, becoming a CNA in nursing school gives you direct access to hiring managers in the hospital and presents opportunities to network.
9. You have to pass the NCLEX exam but don’t live in fear of it
The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is a test you will take upon graduation to earn licensure to practice as an RN. It can have anywhere from 75 to 265 questions and can last up to five hours, depending on how well you are doing when you take it. However, you may finish the exam in much less time.
Do not live through nursing school in fear of the NCLEX! Keep in mind that you will be preparing for the exam throughout your program with your coursework and taking NCLEX preparation exams along the way.
For example, Aspen University’s BSN Pre-Licensure program uses Health Education Systems Incorporated (HESI) proctored exams for the nursing core program. HESI testing during nursing school will help prepare students to successfully pass the NCLEX on the first try.
10. You will receive your NCLEX results fast
There was a time, not so long ago, when students had to wait weeks before receiving their NCLEX results. But now students know within 24 to 48 hours or sooner whether they passed.
If you don’t pass, it is not the end of the world. While your goal should be to pass on the first try, many nurses have to take the exam a second time and still become excellent nurses.
Remember, nursing school life is temporary.
It may seem like a lot right now, but the experiences you will face in school are worth the effort in the long run for your nursing career. Nursing school has its challenges, but you can conquer the program through determination, balance, and hard work.
Guest author Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, SCRN, is a second-career nurse, freelance writer, mother of two, and founder of Mother Nurse Love, a resource for busy mom RN’s. Her nursing specialties include emergency room, neuro/trauma, and critical care. In a rare moment of spare time, you might find Sarah practicing yoga, writing, or attending a local concert venue with her husband.