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So You Want To Be An RN - Getting Ready For Nursing School

Updated on March 15, 2010
Want to be an RN?  Get ready for some life-changing experiences!
Want to be an RN? Get ready for some life-changing experiences!

So you want to be an RN. Good for you!

Making the decision to go to school is always a very good choice at any age. Any time you enroll in an educational program at a school of higher learning, it is an excellent way to expand your life experience and increase your earning potential. An education is yours forever, and is something that no one can ever take away from you.

Let's assume you have applied to the college of your choice, and been accepted into a nursing program. And that you have applied for your financial aid and/or student loans, and have arranged the financial aspects of your college experience.

You probably want to be an RN because you want to help people, you are interested in the health care field, and you are attracted by the good wages RN's earn. These are all pretty good reasons. But what will it really be like when you are in the nursing program, and what can you expect after you graduate?

Here are a few insights on what you should do before you start on your educational journey, and what you can expect both during school, and afterwards, from someone who has been there:

1. Brush up on your Chemistry, Microbiology, Algebra, and Anatomy & Physiology. If you don't have a firm grasp of these things, you will not make it.

2. The best advice I would give is to go get your LPN first! It only takes a year. This way you won't have to struggle so hard financially while you finish up getting your RN degree, as you will be earning higher wages while you are in school. You will also be able to test out of a lot of RN skills due to your experience already having done them in a workplace environment. (I fervently wish I had done this - it would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress!)

3. Forget having a family or social life, or a marriage. Forget going out anywhere or having any life whatsoever, other than studying or being at school. From now on, you will be staying up every night reading about 600 pages of technical mumbo-jumbo each night, researching a bunch of stuff you are not very interested in, writing about 50-100 pages of reports on it, and memorizing hundreds of pages of actions, effects, and ingredients of medications and nursing and surgical procedures you have never heard of.

Don't expect anyone to tell you to study, nor even how nor what to study. You are in college now. What you make of your time in school is your own decision - it's up to you what you do with it. No one is going to tell you to study, nor what to do. You're on your own. You will have to be disciplined and form good attendance and study habits, or you will flunk out and waste all that financial aid and student loan money (which you will have to pay back!)

Some best advice: Go to school every day, do not miss any classes, and do what they tell you to do!

You will stay up every night till about 3:30am studying and writing papers, and then get up every morning at 4:30am, shower and get your clothes on in 10 minutes, and be there for clinicals at a hospital or other health care facility. Don't forget anything, be ready to answer questions on the stuff you researched and memorized last night, be ready to do things you have never done before, and do not make any mistakes. You must learn how to be brilliant, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed even when you have only had 5 hours of sleep all week. (Did I mention DO NOT MAKE ANY MISTAKES???)

Get used to looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing red circles under your eyes from being so stressed and not getting any sleep, especially during the first 2 weeks of nursing school. But don't feel bad about this, your fellow nursing students will all look just like this! Don't worry, it will get better. You will actually get used to only getting one or two hours of sleep every night, and soon it will become normal to you.

4. Learn how to paste a smile on your face and be pleasant, obedient, and respectful even when everyone around you is a total bitch or an idiot, especially your instructors, most of whom are Nazis, experts at various forms of physical and mental torture.

5. Learn to memorize pages and pages of instructions and procedures INSTANTLY and PERFECTLY! (lists of instructions and procedures which make no sense, and when you are so tired you can not concentrate) Be ready to perform these procedures on demand, under extreme pressure and duress, do not forget anything and do not make one single mistake or it's all over! Do not perform these procedures out of proper indicated sequence, or again: it's all over!

6. Learn how to make yourself invisible around autocratic and tyrannical nursing instructors - do not ever make a mistake or get on the wrong side of these people, or they will flunk you and all your hard work will be for nothing! Do not chew gum at clinicals. Do not disagree with your nursing instructors. Do not forget your stethoscope. Do not arrive at clinicals unprepared. Do not smoke before you go to clinicals (patients might not like the smell), do not wear perfume, do not have long fingernails, tie your hair back, do not wear the wrong clothes, do not wear jewelry, and do not wear noisy shoes!

Do NOT, for heaven's sake, take it into your head, like I did, to rescue a finch that flew into a window outside on my break and knocked itself silly, and bring it back into the hospital and stick it into an empty doughnut box and leave it on the table in the conference room, for it to miraculously come back to life and fly out of the box in the middle of a 12 doctor emergency conference later, causing all the doctors to run out of the room, alarmed! After which, it then flew all through the hospital hallways and patient rooms, until my Hitleresque nursing instructor caught me standing on a chair, trying to catch it with a HOSPITAL towel from off the hallway light fixture where it had perched! Woo-hoo! That one almost got me flunked for sure! All those nasty bird germs infecting those poor patients, OMG!!! The nerve!

That bird found a new home that evening in my bird cage at my house. All it would eat was watermelons, and its belly grew so huge and fat from all that watermelon, that soon all he could so was sit on the floor of the cage with his feet sticking out in front of him. We finally let him go. My foster daughter threw him up in the air off the second floor balcony where we lived, saying "Fly away little bird, you're free now!" Kerplunk! Down onto the ground he plopped. Oh well, I tried to save him...

Was that the one that almost got me flunked out for good? No, the one that got me in big trouble for real, was the time I started the petition against the teacher who physically and verbally abused the male student, Paul, who the same day after she did this, went home, laid out a big sheet of plastic on his living room floor, and proceeded to blow his brains out. My bad luck was that I was in her Pulmonary class so she could retaliate. (God, I hated that class almost worse than the other instructor who would back me into a corner every morning at 5am and blow her godawful rotten breath in my face, while she grilled me incessantly about the actions and side effects of various medications! Blecchh!)

Could be she also did not like the meeting I organized where the whole class met and discussed her abuse to other students.

Oh yes, I managed to get myself in real hot water that time! I had to write to my Congressman and the Board of Directors to get out of that one! I saved myself by the skin of my teeth! (How could I forget her! She had the face of a toad, the body of a football player, hair like a troll, and no neck. She liked to cuff nursing students around, pinch them, and pull their hair. She once twisted a girl's mouth around because she was chewing gum at clinicals.)

Listen to your fellow students when they are talking about pet peeves of these instructors and make very sure you don't do anything at all even close to what might offend them. Most clinicals are graded on a Pass/Fail basis. If your instructor thinks you might have a "bad attitude", or if she doesn't like you for some reason, you might get flunked. And there went your whole semester of work. These instructors will purposely attempt to make you give up, harass you, and otherwise burden you with stress and impossible tasks. Don't let them succeed. Smile sweetly, and agree with them at all times! Above all, do not let them make you give up.

Just go home and study. Study some more. Keep on studying. Know this: about half of your nursing class will flunk out, and they will not graduate. The reason they will flunk out is because they do not go to classes and they do not study. Don't let that happen to you. Don't think about how much you wish you could take that trip or go out and have fun with your friends. Don't think about what bitches those instructors are. Just keep your mind firmly fixed on what you are trying to accomplish, and keep on studying.

At the same time, be very aware that, because of the high level of stress, it is not uncommon for nursing students to have nervous breakdowns either during the period of time they are in school, or more often, after they have graduated. If you feel yourself becoming too stressed or depressed, please do seek help. (Remember my classmate Paul. He was an "A" student who already had an engineering degree, and who had decided he wanted to help people instead, so he enrolled in the nursing program - he committed suicide in the middle of the last semester of the nursing program.)

But don't let this scare you too badly. You will succeed if you just keep at it. Think about how nice it will be when you have graduated, get your first job as an RN, and get your first big check! It will all be worth it if you make it through this.

7. Learn how to work with others as a team. Find one or several other smart, hard-working students, and study with them. Practice procedures with them, discuss your notes, study for tests with them. This is one of the best things you can do if you want to make it through nursing school.

8. Do not ever make mistakes. Do not ever forget anything, no detail should be overlooked, no matter how small. Learn to write things down and be organized. You must remember EVERY SINGLE DETAIL or people could die.

9. Do not ever make the mistake of thinking nursing is glamorous. It's not. Do not ever believe that nursing is for pretty young dainty things. It's not. You have to be tough! Do not ever think it's easy work. It's not. You will be on your feet for hours, your back will kill you, your feet will be sore, you will miss your breaks and lunch times, you will stay past your working hours every day, and you will frequently be forced to stay and work double shifts when others do not show up, or if there is a snow or other weather emergency. Plan on working every weekend and on every holiday, probably double shifts. They will call you in to work on your days off. You will have to cancel your plans all the time.

Plan on never having enough staff, not being able to spend any time with your patients, spending all your time charting, and not having enough time to do all the treatments listed - you will have to pick and choose which treatments you have time to do. You may only have time to do those treatments which will be life-threatening if they are not done. The real world is not like it is in nursing school.

Learn how to run, not walk. Learn how to make decisions immediately, and do not make the wrong ones. Learn how to write the same useless crap over and over again in charts for Medicare, for hours on end. (Time that you should be spending with your patients...) Learn how to be responsible for the care and lives of approximately 120-180 people, if you will be working at a nursing home.

10. Learn how to go home and relax and enjoy yourself - learn how not to see the faces of all those people who are suffering and so sick when you close your eyes. Learn how to shut them out of your mind and not think about how much better they deserve and that you are not allowed, nor is it possible for you to give it to them, because where you work is so short-staffed that it is impossible for you to do so. Learn how to perform flawlessly under extreme stress. And get used to having to work with people who do not give a rat's ass about those sick people, who will abuse them, who will steal the rings off patients who have just passed away, and who will neglect the patients, and not do the work they are supposed to do.

11. More advice:

If you are not a martyr, and if you can not take abuse, do not become a nurse. Everyone abuses nurses. Including, but not limited to: administrative personnel, patient families, co-workers, doctors, and the patients themselves.

If you can not love people even when they are at their absolute worst, do not become a nurse. If whiny, demanding people get on your nerves, you should not be a nurse.

If you don't like bad smells and body fluids, don't become a nurse. (Snot is my personal nemesis, puke and poop don't bother me a bit - I can clean up poop with one hand and eat a sandwich with the other, no problem! You will learn to do this, too!)

If you are in it for the money, do not become a nurse. There is no money that's enough to compensate you for all you will be put through, nor for the level of responsibility that will be on your shoulders.

If you don't want to become a nurse because you truly want to help people and make things better for them, from your heart that is filled with unconditional love for even the most unworthy and unbecoming, do not become a nurse.

If you can not follow directions and guidelines (sometimes very stupid, minucious, and repetitive ones), if you do not like working in groups, and are rebellious, do not become a nurse.

If you are not perseverant, and do not perform well under stress, do not even think of being a nurse. You will not make it. You must have nerves of steel and a will that does not give up.

If you are able to understand that you are not going to save the world by yourself, that you will be bucking the system if you try, but that with love, you can help a few, then become a nurse.

If you still want to become an RN after reading this, congratulations and good luck!

Remember, don't give up, no matter what!


Submit a Comment

  • Mike steel profile image

    Mike steel 

    2 years ago

    Add Your Great read. Voted up and across. Very helpful and full of great information. Keep up the great work. You are very talented

  • Mike steel profile image

    Mike steel 

    3 years ago

    Like you hub great advices for students

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Informative hub with detailed information about a nursing program. The detailed review helped me to gain more information about the nursing program and the way of the nurse training program. Thanks for sharing more information on registered nurse training program.

  • thecnatraining profile image


    6 years ago from Vancouver

    great hub, get ready for school is right! time to put your nose to the grind stone and work it out for a few years. hopefully it will pay off!

  • thecnatraining profile image


    6 years ago from Vancouver

    wow! It takes real hard work to become a nurse! Put your head down and study. Put those blinders on and work! I guess it all pays off in the end! If anyone did what this hub says, they will be the top 1% of their class and rise to the top very quickly!

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    This is a very good example of what it is REALLY like. I find every aspect of this truthful. Im about to finish up my second semester.

  • Neil Ashworth profile image

    George Poe 

    8 years ago from United Kingdom

    Very good piece of writing. Love it..

  • Neil Ashworth profile image

    George Poe 

    8 years ago from United Kingdom

    Very good piece of writing. Love it..

  • MagicStarER profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Western Kentucky

    I once worked with an RN who received her training in the Air Force. She was the best nurse I have ever known.

    Thanks for reading, Chef Jeff, and thanks for the compliment on the hub.

    I have mixed feelings about the health care delivery system, after being involved in it for so long...

  • Chef Jeff profile image

    Chef Jeff 

    8 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

    Thank God for people who go into the medical field. I was an Air Force medic for 5 years and we had some great nurses and other staff. Many stayed in the profession, as did I for a time.

    Excellent hub!


    Chef Jeff

  • MagicStarER profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Western Kentucky

    Yes, nursing is definitely not a glamorous job. You will find yourself in all kinds of messy situations, and yes, dangerous, too, sometimes, especially if you work in a psychiatric hospital. I worked on a forensic unit of a psychiatric hospital once. (Hospital for the criminally insane)

    It makes it all worth it, though, when you are able to really help someone get well again.

    My personal favorite story of a happy ending, is a young woman who was on a locked dual-diagnosis unit (substance abuse/mental diagnosis) - everyone there was court-ordered to be there. She had already had 4 children at the age of 23 - and all 4 had been taken from her and placed in foster homes. She was 6 months pregnant while on my unit and became quite ill with a UTI (dangerous for pregnant women, can make them lose their baby!) All my co-workers said, don't bother, it's better if she loses it. I disagreed and against everyone else's opinion, I called an ambulance and sent her to the hospital. She recovered, delivered her baby, and because of the kindness I showed her, decided she could quit doing drugs, too. I saw her something over a year later with her sister, clean as a whistle, all dressed up, carrying her baby - she was coming out of a job interview. She had custody of her baby girl, things were going very well for her, and she was still clean! Made me feel pretty good!

    The worst thing about being a nurse, I think, besides being so short-staffed and not being able to give everyone the attention they deserve, is having to work with uncaring co-workers. The ones I worked with on that drug/alcohol unit were especially heartless and treated the patients as if they were not even human. It made me very upset. They didn't like it when I befriended them. Of course, not all stories had happy endings. Another young man, who we thought was so docile and mild-mannered, upon his release from the unit, went directly to the hospital where his girlfriend worked, and sliced her up, stabbed her over 30 times I think, saw it on the evening news... Crazy. That's when they started putting security guards all over in the hospitals up there...

    You do become close to your patients and form relationships with them, it's unavoidable. No matter how your text books tell you not to, human nature is otherwise...

  • ledefensetech profile image


    8 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

    Heh, that reminds me of what they say about really good military training programs. Their training was like bloodless battles and their battles like bloody training. It truly sucks about your classmate, but I think he may have had the wrong idea of what it means to be a nurse and may not have cut himself enough slack when he felt he couldn't hack it.

    I'm under no illusions as to what it is like. I worked for seven years at a residential facility for mentally ill kids. Most of those kids had impulse control problems and you had to be ready for anything at all times. From physical attacks, spitting, urinating, throwing poop, and cutting on themselves, we dealt with potentially life or death situations almost on a daily basis. For certain every day had the potential for injury of someone, staff or resident.

    For all the nonsense we put up with, now that I don't work with my kids anymore, I find that I miss the work. There were days you'd go home dog tired, but then there were those days when you could just see the kid "get it" and they were on fire to complete their treatment and go home. The best days were also the saddest. The days your kid went home to stay for good. You knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that they'd committed themselves to being straight and you'd not ever see them again.

    Thanks again for the hub. It was very informative and entertaining.

  • MagicStarER profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Western Kentucky

    LOL! It would have been good advice for me, don't know about for everyone else, hope it helps in some way! Thank you for reading & commenting. :)

  • alekhouse profile image

    Nancy Hinchliff 

    8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

    Really well put together hub and very good advice.


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