Posted by: Ingrid | December 29, 2016

Keys to surviving your first semester of nursing school


When people tell you nursing school is hard you should believe them. I had two roommates after I graduated from college who were in the fifth year of their nursing program. I knew they worked hard and yet, going into this semester, I still thought that I would have time to work on pinterest projects and do fun things, at least for the first few weeks. My rationale? I had 216 graduate and undergraduate credits to my name with a 4.0 in all and a degree. I’ve carried 21 credits a semester. I can do school. I took 8.5 credits last semester and I will be the first to tell you that it was hard. And that is an understatement. Here are a few things that you can do to make your transition to a different sort of educational process just a little easier.

  1. Be prepared to lower your standards. Do you value a clean house? Time with friends and family? Travel time? Hobby time? Home cooked meals? Seeing your significant other on a regular basis? Clean laundry that gets put away more than once a week? Nursing school will get in the way of everything you value and you will constantly wonder if you can balance things better or if you should just quit. You can’t do it all. You can’t have it all. Tell yourself it’s only four semesters (unless you’re in a BSN program) and just hang tight and try to cut yourself some slack.
  2. Your teachers don’t hate you or want you to fail. This may seem strange, but since so much is thrown at you at once in nursing school it seems easy to blame the teacher for the hard test, or material not learned, or things you don’t understand. Student nurses are stressed enough and doing poorly on an exam or assignment can suddenly make it seem like a teacher is out to get you. It is interesting being a student married to an instructor because I feel like it gives me a slightly different perspective. I am amazed at how much time nursing instructors pour into students. Classes are small and only yield results after two years and even then your students become nurses only if they pass the NCLEX. Retention is a big deal (we have gone from 22 to 15 students in one semester). These instructors could be making way more money working 3 12’s at a hospital but instead they are dealing with exhausted and stressed students who don’t know how to stage a pressure ulcer yet. Here’s the thing, at the end of two years of taking so many hard exams you aren’t really a nurse until you pass the NCLEX. And the NCLEX, in my mind, is a dispassionate force that doesn’t care. It doesn’t care if you got bad sleep or have test anxiety or if your dog died. It demands you pay hundreds of dollars to see if you are ready to become a nurse. So if tests in school feel difficult and you’re tempted to blame the instructor, remember that they’re trying to prepare you, in the end, to take the NCLEX and pass the first time.
  3. Push yourself. But not too hard. I spent the first 7 weeks doing nothing but nursing homework. Then I got to the beginning of week 8 and didn’t even want to open a book. I was so tired of pouring myself so completely into one thing. To ease the feeling of being owned by the nursing program, I started judiciously reading novels again while nursing Wesley. For perspective’s sake, I read 30 300-500 page novels between June 1 and August 25. Between October 18 and December 16 I read 4. So I really didn’t do that much extra reading but it was still a nice mental break. You have to push yourself enough to get things done but not so much that you want to quit in two months.
  4. Always be working on something. This was so hard for me because I like to work on one thing, get it done, and then move to the next thing. I found that nursing school means you always have multiple things going all the time. Reading for each class, a few study guides to fill out, paperwork to complete, forms to fill out – it just doesn’t end! I would work on some reading, look over power points, and do a certain number of pages a day on study guides, constantly in fear that I would forget to turn something in. Just don’t ever think that you get to stop or take a break.
  5. Follow the rules. This is sort of funny to even say, but it needs to be said. You jumped through all the hoops to get into nursing school but you will find a million more once you get in. Rules and rubric and all sorts of things that have to be remembered and followed. Here’s the thing. You may think it’s silly to have to show up at a certain time, or trade in your unicorn print scrubs for navy blue, or remember a watch with a second hand when you show up for clinicals, or cover up your tattoo. Just do it. If it was worth it to you to get into school it’s worth it to follow the rules to stay there. You won’t lose your individuality in four semesters and it’s just not worth losing the points. You can talk about how much it bothered you to follow your nursing school rules with your therapist once you are an RN and have a job.
  6. Find the things you do that keep you grounded and sane. You will need this. Nursing school is so all-encompassing that you need to keep a few things that make you feel like a human being. For me, it meant continuing to run, cooking (when I had time), and a little fun reading. Just be warned that you can’t do all the things you’d like to do. There just won’t be time.
  7. Be nice. Here’s another one that seems pretty obvious but needs to be said. First, if you want to be very pragmatic, your fellow students will be practicing their first attempts at injections and IV starts on you, so it behooves you to be nice to them. Beyond that, you are in a constant state of stress as a student and you are constantly around other classmates, instructors, stressed and ill patients, and stressed nurses with whom you interact at clinical sites. This is a lot of stress and has great potential for backbiting, gossip, name calling, and all sorts of things that can be very divisive. Yes, people are going to bother you. If you have trouble with another person, go to the individual and deal with it directly. Try to find a person or two who you can say anything to so that you don’t end up with too much pent up frustration. Above all, remember that you have no idea what the people you brush shoulders with are dealing with or thinking at any given time. We watched this little video put out by Cleveland Hospital several times during the semester. Because I am the sort of person who feels like no one ever actually knows what is going on in my head, it makes perfect sense to me and is how I generally look at the world. So you don’t have to be everyone’s best friend, but be nice and be polite. It goes a long way.

These are my survival suggestions for semester one, and the list is not comprehensive! If all else fails, turn, cough, deep breathe, and ambulate while eating small frequent meals of green leafy vegetables.

Good luck!



  1. Great survival suggestions. You can do it. I love the one that says what do you value. Not everything has to be perfect. Do your best and God will help with the rest.

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