What is Nursing School Like? What You Should Know Before Enrollment

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

Nursing school is a huge commitment of time, resources, and money. Before making the decision to apply, a prospective student should consider what nurse school is really like so they are not caught off guard.

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What is Nursing School Really Like?

Tighten Up Your Budget

Nursing school will take up a lot of your time so it is not recommended to attend school full time while also working full time. At most, you will only be able to work limited hours during the semester, especially when clinicals start. It doesn’t help that school is also expensive – especially when you factor in the books and manuals that you’ll have to buy for your classes.

If budget is a factor in your decision, it’s best to start finding ways to cut your spending. We understand that sometimes there is only so much you can take out of your budget, which is why we curated this list of the 17 best jobs for nursing students in 2024.

Get Used to Gross

When you start nursing school, you’ll probably be easily disgusted and you’re going to have to work through that. Over the course of your program you’ll be exposed to blood, guts, burns, scars, vile odors, and disgusting bodily secretions.

This is inevitable.

After a bit of time, you’ll adjust to the gross, yet natural, things you encounter during your clinicals and internships. It’s better to expect these things, so you’re mentally prepared to see things that would normally make someone squeamish.

You’re Going to Be Overwhelmed

Nursing school is a lot to handle. That’s not hyperbole, nursing students are likely to suffer from high amounts of stress and anxiety throughout their schooling. Nursing programs are rigorous and demand a lot of work from nursing students and there will be times that you want to quit.

You’ll have to find ways to cope with the stress that work for you – this can be done by taking a walk, going to the gym, or grabbing a slice of pizza. You’ll learn to take a step back, take a deep breath, and center yourself. Some days you’ll feel terrible, but you’ll persevere through those feelings and tackle the exams ahead of you.

Get ahead of the stress with staying organized with these nursing school planners.

What Will You Learn in Nursing School?

Anatomy and Physiology

During nursing school, students will likely take multiple classes on anatomy and physiology. These classes are crucial because they educate students about our bodies and the way that they function. Furthermore, physiology teaches students the anatomic vernacular that is used when working in medicine. This helps students develop the necessary foundation that a nurse needs to work effectively.

In Anatomy and Physiology, it isn’t uncommon to have a range of in-class activities that may include dissections. Earlier, I mentioned that you’ll need to get used to gross and in these courses you might participate in dissecting a fetal pig or looking at a human cadaver! It may be gross, but it’s an important experience in your coursework.

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Psychology is an important aspect of working as a nurse. In your work, you’ll communicate and care for people with a wide variety of ailments and they’ll likely be in different places both physically and mentally. For that reason, it is important for a nurse to be able to communicate with people regardless of their mental state and mindset. It’s necessary to know where a patient is coming from so you can treat them effectively.

You’ll likely take general psychology and patient psychology courses in your program. These classes educate students on the foundations of psychology and help them apply those principles to the nursing profession.

Nursing Care

A lot of nursing school is spent learning the skills unique to working as a nurse and providing care for patients. Most of the skills needed to be an effective nurse aren’t academic, they are practical traits that you have to apply to your actions.

Nurses learn about a variety of conditions, and they then apply their knowledge to learn the best practices for patient care. As a result, a lot of nursing school courses discusses these applications and many of these applied courses are paired with clinical work that allows students to directly practice what they learn. You will be able to utilize the new nursing acronyms and abbreviations that you learn in nursing care throughout the rest of your career.

Should You Go To Nursing School?

Although nursing school is time consuming and challenging, there are several reasons to pursue a career in nursing. The student blog at Kangan University explained their reasons and said that nurses can have a good work-life balance, make a positive impact on the world, find their preferred niche in medicine, grow in skills throughout their career, and address real challenges in their work. Overall, a job in nursing, “can offer a meaningful career, filled with many opportunities, challenges and rewards.”

Nursing school requires hard work and determination, but it pays off with a valuable and rewarding career. It’s tough to decide if you should attend nursing school, and this decision should be made in a serious, calculated manner.

Here are two scenarios that a person may be in, and the reasoning behind if they should or shouldn’t go to nursing school.

Scenario #1

You have a general interest in science and you want a career that pays well. You also aren’t the biggest people person. You think you’re a great problem solver, but you can get frustrated easily at times.

This set of personality traits raises some concerns for a prospective nurse. Although nursing can pay well, you’ve definitely got to pay your dues and it usually takes a lot of work and loyalty to an employer to become a well paid nurse. So if money is one of your primary drivers, nursing may not be an ideal field.

Being a people person makes nursing a lot more enjoyable as your goal is to help the patients that need it. If you enjoy improving people’s lives and making a difference, then work as a nurse should be fulfilling. On the other hand, it also helps to be a people person if you have patients that aren’t particularly pleasant. If this isn’t a driving motivation for you, then nursing may be a challenging field to work in.

Problem solving is a great skill to have as a nurse. You’ll deal with lots of unique challenges throughout the day, so you’ll need to be able to adapt to the demands of your patients. You may have to balance treatment among several patients in an effective manner or figure out how to handle an irritated patient. Problem solving goes a long way in making that part of the job easy.

It’s acceptable to be frustrated at times, but a nurse will deal with a lot of upsetting situations. There will be patients that pass, people who disrespect you, and unexpected things will go wrong. For that reason, a nurse should be able to manage their composure. If you’re easily put off by these challenges posed by the medical profession, you may want to reconsider nursing.

Overall, a person with these attributes should probably consider what they want out of a career. Being a nurse is not a great idea if you are not internally motivated by helping others and you’re primarily seeking a high paying job.

Scenario #2

You want to help people, but you’re not exactly sure what kind of people you want to focus your work on helping. You think you can handle the stress, but you aren’t sure you can cope with patients passing away. You want a long-term career, but you also want flexibility.

In this scenario, a nursing career seems like a good fit. The desire to help people and service those in need is important for a nurse. When you’re dealing with potential burnout, it’s good to know that you truly value the work you’re doing, and your job is improving people’s lives. It’s fine if you don’t know who you want to help and you’ll have plenty of time in school and your career to decide if there is a subset of people that you’d prefer to specifically focus on. You don’t have to know that now!

Stress is a significant part of nursing school and your career afterwards. In school, you’ll have exams that require a ridiculous amount of preparation and they will be stressful. Once you start working in a hospital, you will literally be placed in life or death situations. If you’re predisposed to handling pressure in an effective way, being a nurse will be easier for you than others.

During your time in the medical field, you’ll learn to deal with patients facing tragic ends. It’s going to happen, and you will become accustomed to it in some capacity.  It’s not expected for you to have a tolerance for this before nursing school because you likely haven’t been exposed to these types of scenarios. That’s acceptable and is not disqualifying.

Nursing is an exciting field to explore with a long-term career. There are a lot of choices you’ll get to make along the way as you progress in experience. There are several specialties that you can delve into that will lead you down different paths in the long run. Also, nursing can be a flexible career depending on what specialty you pick and what kind of setting you want to work in. Nursing can even be an entrepreneurial profession and if you’re looking for a flexible career path, nursing can provide that.

In this scenario, this person seems like a good fit for nursing school. They should research their options thoroughly before making a commitment, but they seem to have aligned goals and a fitting attitude for the industry.