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10 Things No One Tells You About Nursing School

Thinking about attending nursing school? If so, you’ll want to gather as much information as possible about nursing education and careers. Often, prospective students rely on hearsay in order to learn about what nursing school is really like. While it may seem like a good idea to get insight from individuals who have successfully navigated a nursing program, you may need to dig a bit deeper to get an accurate picture of life as a nursing student. In this article, we’ll discuss ten things no one tells you about nursing school.

It’s Hard to Get Into Nursing School

First off, there’s something you should know: not everyone who applies to nursing school will get in. The admissions criteria for nursing school will vary by program. In general, though, getting into nursing school is tough. Many colleges and universities will set minimum admissions requirements that prospective students must meet, including a specific GPA standard as well as preferred ACT/SAT scores, for example.

Keep in mind, though, that meeting these minimum requirements will not guarantee you a spot in the program. In addition to transcripts and test scores, you may also have to submit writing samples and/or letters of reference. Some schools will ask that you participate in a formal interview as part of the admissions process.

Of course, the higher your GPA and college entrance exam scores, the better your chances of getting into the nursing school of your choice. Schools will also weigh other factors, however, such as your personal qualities as well as your short and long-term goals.

Through the admissions process, you’ll be weighed against other applicants as you all vie for the same open slots in the nursing program.

You’ll Lose Sleep

Once you get into a nursing program, the real work begins. That’s right, everyone talks about how hard it is to become a doctor, but no one tells you about the challenges of nursing school. It’s not exactly a walk in the park either.

Curricula for nursing education programs are notoriously rigorous. Before you can even begin learning critical course concepts, you have to learn medical terminology, which is a bit like learning a whole new language. This requires a great deal of memorization, which in turn requires studying. Expect to pull some all-nighters, especially as you prepare for the dreaded examinations that nursing classes are infamous for.

You’ll Have to Make Hard Choices

The decision to attend nursing school is just the first of many important decisions you’ll have to make about your future as a health care professional. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), there are nearly a thousand different nursing education programs available at the bachelor’s level. And though it is the preferred credential for nurses, a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program isn’t the only path to a nursing license. There are also associate degree in nursing (ADN) programs that lead to licensure as a registered nurse.

Deciding between an associate or a bachelor’s degree is just the beginning. You’ll also need to decide what type of nursing you want to practice by choosing a nursing specialty. Some common specialties in the field include neonatal nursing, psychiatric nursing, nurse midwife, and occupational health nursing, for instance. It’s wise to take some time to seriously consider the type of nurse you want to become before enrolling in a nursing program. After all, you’ll need to ensure the program you choose is suitable for the type of nursing you want to practice. Don’t take this choice lightly. The nursing specialty you choose will affect nearly every aspect of your career in healthcare, including where you work, what daily tasks you will perform, and how much money you make.

You’ll Have Out of Pocket Expenses

When considering nursing school, you’ll hear a lot about the financial aid options you have available to you to help pay for your BSN. And it’s true—there are many different loans, scholarships, and even grants to help you pay for your nursing education. Tuition reimbursement and assistance programs are also an option if you’re already employed in the field.

What no one prepares you for, though, is the out-of-pocket expenses you may be responsible for as a nursing student. Even if you have success finding a financial aid option that will cover the entire cost of your tuition, you can count on other expenses. These additional costs could include the price of nursing textbooks, uniforms and scrubs, and medical supplies like stethoscopes and penlights, for instance. Then, there’s the expense of transportation to and from your school and clinicals. If you have children, childcare costs are also something to consider. It adds up.

While some nursing students will quit their day jobs to pursue a nursing credential, others may continue to work in order to offset expenses. If you plan to draw an income while attending nursing school, you may want to consider a distance learning option such as an online RN to BSN program. These programs offer more in terms of convenience than traditional in-person programs and may allow you to work on your studies at your own pace. With online classes, you may be able to reduce or even eliminate some costs like those associated with transportation and childcare, for example. For the maximum amount of flexibility, look for an asynchronous online program.

Nursing School Is Still a Good Investment

Even though there will likely be out-of-pocket expenses, you will probably see a good return on your investment once you finish nursing school. Not many people are comfortable openly discussing their salaries or financial situations, so this may be something about nursing school you don’t hear a lot about. That doesn’t make it any less true, though.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), even entry-level nurses make over $50,000 per year on average, and your salary will only increase as you gain more experience in the field. The median annual wage for RNs comes in at well over $70,000, and top earners in the field make over $111,000 per year.

You’ll Want to Quit

Graduates of nursing school are known for candy-coating the process of becoming a nurse. They may paint the picture of a nursing school as a fulfilling experience that they soared through with relative ease. The truth about most nursing programs isn’t quite as rosy, though. Nursing school is stressful, often more so than other types of professional programs. Many studies have been conducted regarding nursing school burnout, and some reveal that the preparation of a nurse is even more stressful than that of a doctor.

Many nursing programs in the U.S. and across the globe are associated with high drop-out rates. While there may be many factors that contribute to a student’s decision to quit, stress is undoubtedly one of them. When you combine the difficulty of the subject material with the pressure of mastering basic nursing skills, you get the makings of a very stressful learning environment.

The reality of nursing school stress doesn’t have to be a deterrent to pursuing your dream career, though. It just means that you’ll need a healthy plan for coping with the stress from the outset. Those nursing students with good time management skills, support systems, and ability to practice self-care tend to handle the anxieties of nursing school better than others.

Nursing School Can Prepare You for Work Outside of a Clinical Setting

When most people think of nursing school, they imagine only those teaching experiences that prepare prospective nurses for roles in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Think starting an IV or taking a patient’s vitals, for example.

The truth is, though, that there is a lot more to nursing school! If you’re interested in working in the healthcare field but don’t want to practice bedside nursing, then this is very good news for you. It means you can still go to nursing school and learn how to become a different type of nurse. You just need to make sure you select the right nursing program and specialty. Graduates of nursing school can work in many different environments as school nurses, occupational health nurses, and even cruise ship nurses.

Understanding the many different roles you can play as a registered nurse is crucial. It can make all the difference in whether you decide to pursue nursing school or go into a different field altogether. If you don’t learn anything else through your research into nursing education, know that there’s more than just one type of nurse.

Nursing School Won’t Provide You With Everything You Need to Know As A Nurse

Once you finish nursing school, the rest is smooth sailing, right? Not exactly. While most people will tell you that nursing school provides complete preparation for your responsibilities as a nurse, this simply isn’t true. The field of healthcare is always changing as new medical advancements and discoveries are made almost daily. That means as a nurse, you’ll need to devote yourself to a career-long learning process. As a practicing nurse, you will be constantly improving your skills and learning new things about your profession, even after decades on the job.

For many nurses, a bachelor of science degree in nursing is just the beginning of their academic careers. Graduate school opportunities in nursing are abundant and include a variety of Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees and even Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. With one of these advanced degrees in nursing, you’ll have even more opportunities, including those that lead to successful professional practice as a nurse anesthetist, nurse-midwife, or nurse practitioner, for example.

Nursing School Is Not for Everyone

If you have aspirations of enrolling in nursing school, there aren’t many people brave enough to tell you that it might not be a good idea. And that’s probably for the best. You may have to find this out on your own, but nursing school may not be the right fit for you. The hard truth is that it simply isn’t for everyone.

There are many personal qualities necessary for becoming a successful nurse, and not all of them can be learned in a nursing program. Characteristics like compassion, autonomy, and a capacity for listening are traits that are mostly innate. Though you can develop them over time with practice, you’re not likely to pick them up straight away, and they won’t be taught in a classroom setting. As you’re thinking about whether or not to follow the path to becoming a nurse, keep in mind that you’ll also need to be in reasonably good physical shape in order to accomplish many of the tasks required of nurses on a daily basis.

Being a good nurse also requires a high level of commitment to your profession, which may require you to sacrifice other parts of your life, including social interaction and extra time for relaxation or travel, for instance. Are these things you’re willing to sacrifice? That’s a question you need to seriously consider before enrolling in a nursing education program.

But It’s So Worth It!

Most people (thankfully) aren’t exactly comfortable gloating about their amazing careers, so you may not hear it often, but for many working nurses, nursing school is hands-down the best career decision they’ve ever made. A 2018 survey of registered nurses revealed that 94% of these healthcare professionals said they were glad they became an RN. These same nurses said that the ability to help others was the most satisfying part of their job. Other reported highlights included doing work they liked, being good at their jobs, and taking pride in their chosen profession, for example.  

There are a lot of valid reasons for going to nursing school, and graduates tend to be satisfied with their decision, so be encouraged! At the same time, be sure you have all of the information before making such an important decision. Whatever you decide—to go to nursing school or pursue another career path—it’s a choice that will affect the rest of your professional life, for better or worse.

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