Thinking about going to nursing school? You’re headed for a great career, one that’s rewarding, challenging, and always exciting. But nursing school is notoriously difficult. Most nursing programs require high GPAs and impressive scores in math, chemistry, biology, psychology, and other demanding subjects. It’s also extremely fulfilling. These are things most people already know about nursing school, but what about the things no one ever tells you? Here are a few of those things.
1. You Will Pull All-Nighters
Nursing school isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, it can be extremely challenging. Just take a look at the curriculum for the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing—a school that, by the way, is consistently ranked in the top three nursing schools in America. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) candidates at Johns Hopkins must complete nearly 50 credits and 500 clinical hours to finish their master’s program.
Bachelor’s candidates take longer to graduate than ever before, with most nurses spending more than four years earning their undergraduate degree. Because nursing programs tend to be more demanding in terms of credits, many students are forced to fast-track their degrees by taking multiple hard classes at once. If you’re in nursing school, that means several of the most stressful mid-terms and finals at the same time.
Because of these factors, all-nighters are inevitable. But nursing students know better than everyone else that staying up all night to cram isn’t good for your health. Getting a good night’s sleep before a big exam will help you retain memory and stay focused. Make sure that when you go into nursing school, you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Try to alternate those tough classes so you don’t have competing exams.
2. You Will Experience Burnout
Nursing school burnout is real. But don’t take it from us. There have been numerous studies indicating that nurses-in-training feel burnout at a higher level than students seeking other career paths. One study found that nursing students in the U.K. felt increasing levels of stress and used negative coping methods as their programs progressed.
The same study found that as nursing programs got harder, students experienced physiological morbidity, meaning they developed health issues as a result of their stress. But don’t let the prospect of burnout deter you from pursuing a nursing degree. Researchers are working to develop new programs that deter fatigue and burnout.
With the risk of burnout and fatigue higher for nurses, how do they stay positive? It all comes down to focusing on the end goal. Nurses enjoy myriad benefits compared with other career paths, including greater job stability, stronger personal satisfaction, the ability for career mobility, and the potential for higher salaries.
3. You’ll Have to Spend Money Out of Pocket
With the average cost of a bachelor of nursing science (BSN) degree quickly creeping up well into six figures (the average cost of a BSN is somewhere between $40,000 and $200,000), it’s important to remember that nursing students also have to spend more out of pocket than many other students seeking a bachelor’s degree. In addition to the cost of tuition and housing, nursing students incur additional costs associated with licensure exams, text books, and medical supplies.
When you prepare for your clinicals, internship, or lab courses, you may also be required to invest in nursing scrubs or uniforms. This isn’t such a bad thing, though. Think of your scrubs, stethoscopes, and everyday equipment as an investment in your future. And when you look the part, you’re more likely to succeed. Make sure that you invest in high-quality medical uniforms and durable shoes (we recommend Dansko) so that your wardrobe will stay with you until you’ve graduated and passed your licensure exam.
4. You Will Become Cynical
Here’s the thing: nursing and nursing school are stressful, and part of that feels out of your control. When you’re doing your internship or certification hours, you’ll be faced with a wide range of scenarios that feel utterly impossible: a patient with an illness that has no clear treatment track, the notoriously difficult bureaucracy of hospital administration, the inequalities of health care. All these things can contribute to cynicism over time.
Another phenomenon among nursing students and professionals is the experience of becoming desensitized to people’s trauma and suffering. Ask any child of a nurse and they’ll tell you that their parent rarely panicked over a bloody injury or a particularly gross illness. That’s because the more you’re exposed to medical conditions, the more normalized they become. Over time, it may feel like nothing shocks you anymore.
Studies show that this phenomenon occurs because nursing students are forced to “compartmentalize” their emotions. In other words, they separate the natural human reaction to a person bleeding from their immediate need to provide life-saving care. Newer nursing pedagogies put a serious focus on empathy to help deter nursing students and professionals from becoming desensitized on the job.
5. You Will Make Friends for Life
Nursing school is a unique environment. There will be few times in your life when you’ll engage so closely with people of the same career path, especially in scenarios where you’re forced to work together and lean on each other so often. Making friends in nursing school isn’t inevitable for everyone, but it can certainly benefit those who prioritize friendships. Close friends will help you succeed when you study together, network together, and confide in each other.
But there’s a flip side to this, too. In any social situation, there’s likelihood for drama and disagreements. Small, insular nursing programs may require you to live, work, and study with your classmates, which can lead to an environment that encourages cliques and bullying. Going into nursing school with a friendly, positive, and focused attitude can help ensure that you stay on the outside of any distracting confrontations. It’ll also help you make friends that you’ll keep for a lifetime.
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