10 Expert Tips for Surviving Nursing School

Nursing school will be one of the most exciting and challenging endeavors you will ever undertake. You’ll need to study hard, learn new skills, and start to think like a nurse.

But what does it really take to succeed in nursing school? Here are 10 tips for surviving and thriving in this important endeavor.

1. Nursing Equipment

As with anything in life — be prepared! And this means, to begin with, having the right tools. As a nursing student, you are going to receive a list of necessary supplies and equipment — such as pens, notepads, a penlight, scissors — but top of the list will be a stethoscope.

There are lots of different models on the market, with varying features and price tags, but you get what you pay for — so be wise! A stethoscope will become one of the most important tools you use to care for patients throughout nursing school and your career.

Littmann stethoscopes are durable and popular among experienced nurses. MDF makes stethoscopes that are well-regarded by many nursing students for their affordability.

Remember — when you get your new stethoscope, put a nametag on it immediately.

2. Shoes

Another wise investment will be in your shoes. Follow your school’s uniform guidelines, but be smart. You are going to be on your feet for long periods of time, so your new shoes need to be comfortable and provide support for the entire day. Be sensible, not necessarily fashionable. Of course, if you can do both, bonus!

Dansko makes an extensive line of clogs that are popular with nurses. That said, people seem to either love or hate them — there's no middle ground. For another option, check out Crocs, which have kept my feet, legs, and back happy through long nursing shifts.

3. Test-Prep Tools

In addition to your clinical tools, you’ll probably also want to invest in some study tools. Nursing students have to absorb large amounts of information, and various technology supports can make this easier. There are some fantastic services to help with NCLEX preparation, such as Quizlet, an app that allows you to build flashcards and create practice tests.

I also strongly recommend getting a test-prep book and NCLEX question book early in your program. Nursing exams are likely quite different from other tests you’ve encountered throughout your education.

4. Study Groups

Study groups can be very effective, but only if everyone participates equally — so be sure to choose the members of yours carefully. Students can create study materials together and share them via Google docs, Dropbox, or a private Facebook group.

And when you’re working with your group, take turns acting as the instructor — if you can teach the material, you’ll know you’ve got it down!

5. Organization

Organization will be key to surviving nursing school. If you weren’t very organized before, you’ll need to cultivate organizational skills quickly. As a student and professional nurse, you’ll be multitasking throughout each day — or night — and you’ll need to keep track of multiple patients, drug regimens, and schedules.

Keeping a planner can help you with scheduling for tests, assignments, and projects, and this will enable you to see what lies ahead in the coming weeks and months. Don’t forget to schedule your reading and study time, too! If you put those in your planner, you’re much more likely to finish them. Some students suggest color-coding classes and topics to help keep tasks straight.

6. Feedback

Taking care of people is serious business, and the goal of nursing school is to prepare you to do this safely and effectively. Nursing instructors will be tough; they take their responsibilities seriously — and you should too. This is never more the case than during the clinical portion of your education, during which you care for patients. The instructors are responsible for students’ actions, and there is no room for errors.

Be prepared to receive feedback — both positive and constructive — from these educators. You’ll be learning new subjects, new ways of thinking, and new skills, and you’re likely to have a significant learning curve. Remember that the instructors are responsible for training you to deliver safe, competent, and compassionate care. Be open to their advice.

7. You

It may sound cliché, but taking care of others requires you first to take care of yourself. It’s critical that you do this so that you can effectively look after the health of your patients. You may believe that pulling an all-nighter will help you pass the next test, but the lack of sleep and focus you’re likely to experience over the next couple of days will be significant.

Still, remember that planner you have? Don’t forget to put some down time on the calendar, whether a dinner with friends or a movie once in a while. These activities will help you stay balanced.

8. Sleep

Don’t mislead yourself into believing that nursing school is an educational path for which cramming will be successful. Most of the information you learn will build on concepts you have been taught previously, and a lack of sleep will only make you less focused and able to take in what the next day brings. In fact, by getting the sleep you need, you’re actually less likely to need to cram as you will be more alert and able to understand new concepts.

9. Diet and Exercise

A balanced diet and exercise are essential to good mental health and clarity. They also keep your immune system functioning to fight off illness. No one wants to be sick when there is so much to learn — not to mention the fact that you can’t be around sick patients if you are ill. So take care of yourself!

10. Support System

Having a good support system will definitely help you remain focused during your nursing school journey. Most family and friends understand the commitment you’re making — or they will soon learn to appreciate it. Surround yourself with people who keep you accountable but don’t make you feel bad if you have to miss a few leisure events. If they are truly looking out for you, they will support your dedication — and be waiting to celebrate with you when you graduate!

Sure, nursing school is challenging. But when you graduate and your first patient thanks you for making an impact on her life, that will be confirmation that your effort was worth it!

Good luck!

To learn more about what to look for in a nursing school, read Joan Spitrey’s article 10 Considerations to Find the Best Nursing School for You.