What to Expect With Nursing School: A Full Breakdown of Nursing School For First Semester Students


Let me start off this article telling you a quick story about my journey. Nursing school has been a real struggle for me. I am currently in my last semester of nursing school and I couldn't be any happier to be almost done. My journey has been filled with ups and downs, but it's very rewarding to have gotten to this one last class. Thus far, I have completed Fundamentals, Medical-surgal I and II, Psychiatric, and Obstetric/Pediatrics.

It has been quite a journey for me. Nursing is definitely difficult, but it does have its rewards. Before starting nursing school, there were a lot of things I wish I would've known before the program and during the program. By all means, all nursing programs are different so I will try to base my answers not specific to my school.

Concepts to accept about the nursing program:

  1. Nursing is NO JOKE!   Nursing has a lot of content. Content will vary depending on which specialty you're learning. You will be going over all of the specialties in different semesters depending on your program. These will include: Fundamentals of Nursing, Medical-Surgical Nursing (may require 1 or 2 semesters), Psychiatric Nursing, and Obstetric/Pediatric Nursing. Some programs (I've heard through word-of-mouth) are set-up differently, in which some may require you to take Pharmacology and Pathophysiology. I'll list the quick details about each class below.
  2. Nursing will take up your time.  Since nursing requires you to learn a lot of content, it is possible that nursing may take up majority your time. This may be controversial since some students have that magical ability to juggle work during nursing school and still manage to have a social life. Some students even have families and still manage to complete nursing school. Don't get let down by this fact, but just know that you will need to set aside time for nursing.
  3. Nursing will take up your money.  Nursing classes, books, scrubs, and other necessities can be very costly. Get all the scholarship grants and awards you can get.
  4. Nursing will take up your energy.  Nursing will not only take up energy for your lecture and theory classes, but it will also require you to meet a certain amount of clinical hours per semester. You can look at clinicals just like volunteer work for the facility while learning the Registered Nurse (RN) roles. Depending on the program, you'll be required to pass medications under the supervision of your clinical instructor while also tending to the needs of the patient who is under your care. This is why nursing students drink LOTS of coffee! Starbucks will be your best friend for the rest of your life.
  5. Nursing will require you to have a lot of support.  I think this is one of the most important factors to understand. Every nursing student needs to go into the program with great support from family and friends. Your loved ones should be understanding in the fact that you're currently in this phase in your life that requires you to put all your focus into school. In other words, your family and friends should be more than understanding whenever you pass up a social events for study time. Sometimes this is not the case and your loved ones will find you to be dismissive. But it's important to address this matter ahead of time and explain that you will need a lot of support as you make your future career a priority at this moment.

Things to know before the program:

  1. Nursing exams are different from what you're used to.  Let me just say that I was one of those students who excelled in every class. But I wish I would've known that nursing exams were different. When I say 'different', I mean that nursing exam questions are not designed to be concrete. You're probably used to exam questions to have one answer. Nursing exam questions require you to know your content and know how to apply that information into patient scenarios. For example... a typical Human Anatomy Exam Question will be: "The pituitary gland secretes what kinds of hormones?".. then you pick A, B, C, or D and only one can be right. BUT a Nursing Exam Question may look like this: "The nurse walks into a patient's room to find the patient's trash can on fire and the patient is sitting on the chair across the room. What is the nurse's best action at this time? A. Pull the fire alarm B. Remove the patient from the room C. Pull the fire alarm and get the fire extinguisher. D. Confine the fire by closing all the doors and windows." All of these answers look correct, right? But if you've learned the content about RACE (Remove the patient from the area, Alarm the sound, Confine the fire by closing all the doors and windows, and Extinguish/Evacuate) you would be able to direct to the right answer, which is B. I'll let this whole paragraph sink in for a moment. LOL!
  2. Nursing may require you to buy extra books outside the program.  There are students who are naturally gifted and do very well throughout nursing school. But there are some who need a little bit more help. There are books out there available that are made to make learning the content easier. For example, Nursing Made Incredibly Easy books are available for any specialty. There are also Success books available for questions and answers to practice before exams. Some students find the pocket books for clinical very convenient during clinical hours. I've provided you with pictures below so that you know what they look like if you're interested in buying them.

Helpful Key Points:

  1. Develop a good study habit. This key point deserves a whole article itself. There's a lot of ways for you to develop a good study habit depending on your schedule or program. Make it a habit to study the content before going into lecture so that you're ahead of your theory lectures. Practice nursing questions related to exam content every day if possible. Study with a group if that helps you in any way.
  2. Cutting your work hours. I know this may be hard for some of you, especially for those who are financially paying for school, your family, etc. However, statistics have shown that working full-time during nursing school greatly affects your grade. Most employers are quite supportive of school so cutting your work hours may be a good option for you.
  3. Have two bags: one for school and one for clinical.  This is just a way to get organized.
  4. Take care of yourself. It's hard to stay healthy during the nursing program especially under all the stress with exams and clinical. Remember to stay hydrated and eat the right foods. It's easy to gain weight during this time.

Hope some of you found this article helpful. If you'd like for me to write about specific topics about nursing, please feel free to comment below and I would be happy to do that for you. And please.. if you have any tips and tricks to add for those coming into nursing as well, feel free to comment that below as well. Let us help each other! Have a good one! :)

By Dominique Louise