Nursing School Prep

Ten Things That Happen In Nursing School

Nursing School PrepJuly 21, 2016

Here’s a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the revelations you may experience in nursing school. Whether it’s an online nursing program or a bricks-and-mortar campus, you’ll encounter certain challenges—and arrive at certain conclusions eventually—that seem to be universally shared among nursing students.

What Happens in Nursing School?

1) Enlightenment

Sooner or later it will happen. That moment when you discover you have a better grasp of what’s truly important—and what’s not—than some of your instructors. By the time the end of your schooling draws near, you will have gained invaluable experience. You’ll have a much clearer picture of what truly matters on a day-to-day basis and what’s essentially irrelevant. The color of your scrubs does not impact your ability to administer quality care, for example, despite what your med/surg instructor may insist to the contrary. 

2) A Deer-in-the-Headlights Moment

Don’t be shocked if you find yourself wondering if that NCLEX practice question sounded far too easy. You may sense a trap. Or you may simply have learned more than you realized. Which is it? And can you afford to lose any more precious sleep pondering the answer?

3) That Unexpected Sense of Freedom

Don’t be too surprised should you experience an inordinate sense of freedom upon emerging from the isolation unit. You may feel like doing a victory dance, or letting out a prolonged sigh. It’s not just you. There’s an almost suffocating sense of claustrophobia that some of us feel after spending too much time in one of these high-stakes units. The gowns, the masks, the gloves, the threat of contagion, the relative lack of sensory stimulation…it all adds up to big relief when it’s finally over. 

4) The Disappointment of Harsh Reality

Don’t be too disappointed when, inevitably, you discover that, despite making plans with your normal (read: non-nursing school) friends, you simply don’t have time for a beer, a movie, or even a bite to eat. You have miles to go, and tests to study for, and can’t even remember what you were thinking when you agreed to this brief diversion from the demands of your studies. 

5) The Surprise (and Mess) of Falling Asleep in Random Places

Don’t be too alarmed if you find yourself waking up in odd places or positions. Like with your face resting on the gentle cushion of that burger you were eating, for instance…or the floor of the foyer in your apartment, where you collapsed five hours ago after returning from a murderously long, tiring day of classes, tests, studying, and clinical rotations. That crick in your neck might have something to do with falling asleep on the bus…

6) That Feeling of Trapped Panic

Get ready to experience that guilty feeling that comes when you lie to your professor about being too sick to attend class, and then run into her in the line waiting for designer coffees to be served. “Sheepish” is a term often used to describe the furtive behavior you’re likely to exhibit in this instance. But you think it should be called “doggish,” because you know for certain you’ve seen this look before. It’s plastered on your face right now, and you’ve seen it on your dog’s face. You know, that time you caught him stealing that slice of cake you cut had for yourself. Guilty as charged!

7) That Day You Perfect Your “Withering Skeptic” Look

Sooner or later, you’ll encounter a patient who screams that their pain level is at 11 on a scale of 1-10. All the while they’re texting and chuckling over the latest Youtube video of cavorting kittens. You are not amused. You’ve witnessed real pain. And this ain’t it. That’s when it happens. Your personal, patentable look of withering skepticism is born. Celebrate this moment. It will serve you all-too-well in years to come.

8) You Realize You Can Always Recognize Fellow Nurses and Nursing Students

You’re at a rare gathering of friends and acquaintances. Everyone is enjoying food and drink in a relaxed atmosphere. Someone mentions suppurating anal fistulas and you don’t blink an eye. Most everyone else has stopped eating, forks or drinks paused mid-air. All except that other person across the room. While everyone else recoils in horror and disgust, you and this person continue doing what you were doing, completely unfazed. You’ve just discovered a fellow medical professional. 

9) That Moment When You Realize People Expect Free Medical Advice

You’re standing quietly in the check-out line at the Quicky Mart when a complete stranger notices your scrubs (you’ve just come from clinical rotations) and asks you for a free medical consult. “No, I really couldn’t tell you why your neighbor’s son’s infant step-daughter is crying incessantly,” you insist. “And, no, I’m sorry, but I’d really rather not examine your ingrown toenail right here, right now. Perhaps you could schedule a consult with your doctor,” you add, while resisting the urge to point out that the doctor will rightly expect to be paid for his services and expertise.

10) You Suddenly Realize That You Have More in Common with Returning Soldiers than with Fellow Non-Nursing Students

Nursing is a calling that asks much of us. Nursing school is like a crucible. In metallurgy, a crucible is used to apply intense heat and/or pressure to a collection of common ingredients. What emerges is purged of impurities. The result is a metal that’s harder, shinier, and more pure. Unless they’ve been on the front lines, your peers who are not in nursing may never quite understand how far you’ve come as a person. Perhaps only a battle-hardened soldier will really get what you’ve been through, and what you’re now capable of.