What’s a typical day in the life of a nursing student like? To be honest. There’s no such thing. That’s part of what makes a career in nursing so attractive. If you like a challenge— if you’re a “never-a-dull-moment” kind of person—nursing may be for you. Unpredictability on the job demands a certain amount of flexibility on your part and a willingness to switch gears quickly.

As a student you’ll spend virtually all of your time in nursing school learning, learning, and learning some more. Whether you’re on campus, or enrolled in an online nursing school, on most days you’ll have your hands full keeping up with coursework.

When it comes time for clinical rotations, the unpredictability factor ratchets up even more. Depending on the service involved, you could be in for a fun ride, or you might get a glimpse of some of the more mundane, routine aspects of care in a hospital or clinical setting. Even then, you’ll find no two days are the same.

What follows is a fictionalized glimpse of a “typical” day in the life of a nursing student.

5:15 a.m.

You wake to the alarm’s maddening buzz and hit the snooze. You dream you’re getting dressed, getting ready for school. So you don’t have to actually do it. The alarm rings again. This time you force yourself awake. It’s already 5:25 a.m. No time left to delay. You suppress a groan and get up. You need to venture out, wide awake, while other students are still sleeping. It’s still dark outside.

You showered the previous night, in order to squeeze out a few more minutes of shuteye in the morning. You also prepared the coffee maker last night. You are inordinately grateful for this as you cling to the warmth of your mug and inhale the magical steam rising to greet you. You grab a bite; hopefully something nutritious, with complex carbs, to keep you going for the long hours to come. No guarantees you’ll be able to eat again any time soon.

6:45 a.m.

You arrive at the local hospital and report to the nurses’ station. Today, you’re doing a post-op recovery rotation. Upon arrival you’re thrown into the fray. You get a relatively rapid-fire briefing on the days’ roster of patients, including their medication needs. You’ll be responsible for getting medications delivered to the right patients at the right times.

Patients’ lives literally depend on you. You have to be fully alert and attentive from the get-go. You allow yourself a glimmer of jealousy aimed at your roommate back at home, still sound asleep. Then you allow yourself a sliver of pride. You’re making a difference in people’s lives, and it’s barely dawn yet.

7:02 a.m.

You greet your first patient and check his vitals. He’s recovering from an emergency appendectomy, and his vitals may provide crucial clues regarding any infection he may be battling. You’ll need to monitor his blood pressure, temperature, and urinary output carefully, as he’s still at risk for infection and complications. You listen for heart, lung, and bowel sounds, to assess his cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal status. Most post-op patients are still on heavy opioids, which can depress respiratory and GI functions, so patients must be monitored carefully. Much depends on your vigilance and attentiveness.

7:15 a.m.

You move on to your next patient; a male diabetic recovering from hernia surgery. He’s in a lot of pain, and needs careful blood sugar monitoring and administration of insulin in the proper doses at the right times. You document vitals and make the groggy patient as comfortable as possible. You offer some comfort and reassurance that his pain is normal and will improve.

7:30 a.m.

Breakfast is served.

8:00 a.m.

Things are getting busier as doctors rounds begin, and the night nurse fills you in further on your patients for the day. She reviews medication needs. You’ll be responsible for obtaining all necessary meds from the pharmacy, and allowing them to come to room temperature before administration. 

8:30 a.m.

You begin documenting the assessments you’ve completed so far. Patients are finishing up with breakfast, and may need assistance getting comfortable again. You may be called upon to help move large/heavy patients, letting them recline, or helping them get up temporarily.

Fast forward to 3:00 p.m.

After a whirlwind day spent attending to patient’s needs, scrutinizing medications, administering medications, running errands for cranky patients, receiving thanks (and occasionally taking abuse from disoriented patients struggling with pain), conferring with senior nurses, grabbing lunch, documenting everything carefully, and performing dozens of minor, but consequential, tasks, you finally get to report to the primary nurse for dismissal. 

3:45 p.m. 

You arrive back home, shower, and fall into bed for a nap. 

5:00 p.m 

You grab a bite to eat and head out to the library to join study group. Your course work won’t wait for your tired brain to catch up. There are assignments and tests on the near horizon. 

11:00 p.m.

You reluctantly decline an invitation to grab a beer with some of your fellow students and head off to bed. Tomorrow is another day. And it’s coming fast.