(This post about how to prepare for nursing school may have affiliate links. You can find our disclosure page here).
Written by Deborah Swanson at allheart.com
What is the best way to prepare for nursing school?
Higher education of any kind is a serious commitment, and nursing school is no exception. Classes are difficult, clinical shifts are long and the environment can be competitive and even cutthroat at times.
So what can you do before nursing school starts to ensure that you get off to a great start?
The truth is that there is so much of nursing school that you will have no control of. But there is one thing that you can control – and that is to prepare yourself in advance the best you can.
Because not only is preparation the key to succeeding in nursing school, but it also determines how you will succeed in your career as a nurse.
“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
It feels like ages since I graduated from nursing school. Yet it is as fresh in my mind as if it was yesterday. And it is no exaggeration to say that graduating from nursing school is the most challenging thing I have ever achieved in my life.
In hindsight I realize that was actually a good thing. Because working on the front line of patient care in today’s healthcare environment is more challenging than ever, and the healthcare industry needs amazing nurses.
It is likely that you already know that not everyone who goes to nursing school will make it through. But with the right attitude, grit and relentless preparation you can do it!
Here are 9 helpful and actionable tips to help you prepare for nursing school:
#1. Organize your life
Organization is crucial for success in nursing school- to be successful you need to manage your time relentlessly.
Before nursing school starts, take stock of your life and get things in order.
Inventory your existing school supplies, clear out your closet and deep clean your house—all those chores you always meant to get around to, but never had the time.
You definitely won’t have the time to do these time-consuming tasks during the academic year, and since they don’t need to be done that often, getting them out of the way before you start school is an excellent idea.
As a result you’ll feel much more centered so you can focus your energy where you need it most – on your school work.
#2. Create your schedule for the semester
Once you’ve enrolled in classes and finalized your schedule, input everything into a master calendar: class times, exams, assignment due dates, clinicals, whatever is relevant. Then add in everything from your non-nursing school life, such as doctor’s appointments and family commitments.
Many nursing school students swear by paper planners, but a digital calendar on your phone or computer makes it really easy to update events if the dates change around (no messy crossing out necessary!).
Get into the habit of adding things to your calendar as soon as they come up so you never forget a deadline.
Click to read more about some of the most important nurse supplies you need.
Your school should provide a list of everything you need for your classes.
Of course, you’ll need school supplies such as textbooks, notebooks, pens, pencils, highlighters, sticky notes and more.
However, you’ll also need a whole host of nursing-specific supplies, including scrubs, nursing shoes, a stethoscope, a watch, a lanyard or badge clip and various clinical supplies.
Take yourself shopping before the first day of school, and if you’re buying online, give yourself plenty of lead time for shipping so the items will arrive before classes start.
#4. Follow nursing forums and blogs
While your mileage may vary depending on the quality of the writers, nursing forums and blogs are a great way to get your questions answered by more experienced nurses. It may also give you a peek behind the scenes of real nursing work. (For example, you are reading information from a nursing blog right now at www.mothernurselove.com!)
As podcasts have taken off, audio content has also become another great resource for nursing students. Here are a few quality podcast resources out there for the aspiring nurse:
The Fresh RN podcast is hosted by experienced nurses from FreshRN.com who discuss the basics of that first year of nursing school. They discuss everything from (but not limited to) orientation, tricks of the trade, personal nursing experiences, time management, delegation, and even dealing with patient deaths.
- Your Next Shift, with Elizabeth Scala, a podcast for nursing career stories and career techniques
The Your Next Shift podcast is great for helping you think outside of the nursing box! There are so many ways that nurses can practice nursing. Elizabeth has interviewed hundreds of nurses creating new career paths for themselves. Her weekly episodes present listeners with “mindset shifts to be themselves and career techniques to do their best.” It is also great inspiration for nursing students!
#5. Connect with fellow classmates
Nurses should connect with other nurses to find additional support through the challenges of nursing school.
Your nursing school classmates will be in the trenches with you and understand exactly what you’re going through, which is why forging relationships with them is so important.
Most schools will host various social events during orientation, so make an effort to attend as many of them as possible. If you feel a connection with someone, don’t be afraid to make the first friendship move and ask them to get coffee or study together.
As the semester goes on, study groups will become invaluable to both your social life and your homework success, so join one or start it yourself.
#6. Find a mentor
“Nurses eat their young” is a saying for a reason, and this mentality is what makes having a supportive mentor so much more important.
Ideally, you’ll have at least one mentor who is a much more experienced nurse and works in the specialty you want to pursue.
It can also be hugely beneficial to find a second mentor, this one a nursing school student who’s a year or two ahead of you. They can advise you on classes, faculty and all things school-related and give you inside tips on how to succeed.
#7. Aim for the best…
Prepare for the best as a nurse by setting goals!
Of course, you want to do well in school, but setting specific goals and documenting them will go a long way towards helping you succeed.
Figure out what doing your best looks like for you. This could be getting an A- or above in all your classes, doing some extra shadowing or taking advantage of every extra credit opportunity.
Then, break down each of your goals into specific concrete steps that you can complete one at a time to attain your goal.
#8. …but prepare for the worst
That being said, life happens, and nursing school is hard.
While you can and should set big goals for yourself, be realistic about what you can achieve and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall short. Getting a poor grade in a class—or even failing it—isn’t the end of the world or your journey to becoming a nurse.
If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help and surround yourself with the support and resources that you need.
#9. Make time for yourself
You’ll get overwhelmed really quickly if your life is all nursing school and no play.
Remember that master calendar you created? Now go back and schedule in some you time throughout the year. Read a book, take a hot bath, get a massage, do something for yourself that’s not work-related.
While many people recharge through being alone, don’t forget to schedule some social time as well, and keep nurturing your relationships outside of nursing school. Your non-nursing school friends might not understand exactly what you’re going through, but they will provide a much-needed reality check when you’re in the trenches.
Nursing school is an exciting but stressful time in any aspiring nurse’s life. Thankfully, being prepared can make everything go more smoothly. We hope that these tips help prepare you for nursing school and move you towards a rewarding career as an RN.
Prices accurate as of:
About The Author
Deborah Swanson is a Coordinator for the Real Caregivers Program at allheart.com – a site dedicated to celebrating medical professionals and their journeys. She keeps busy by interviewing caregivers and writing about them and loves gardening.
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I recently wrote an article about my #1 biggest nursing career fear.
It was a hard post to write, to say the least. It brought up a lot of emotions for me, but also helped clarify new career goals that I needed to set for myself.
At first glance it may seem to some that I did that to torture myself. But there was a method to my madness.
I recently began a comprehensive writing and website development course that will take me at least 12 months to complete. And one of my first assignments was to write about a major fear that I have that pertains to my current writing niche.
As a nurse mom blogger who writes about finding ways to help nurses take better care of themselves, I really put a lot of thought into this. And I have come to the conclusion that one of the ways I want to take better care of myself is to NOT work as a floor nurse for my entire career.
Unfortunately, the wear-and-tear is starting to break me down. I am afraid that what was once a cerebral challenge is starting to turn into full-fledged irreparable nurse burnout.
Never let your fear decide your future: my 2021 nursing career fear mantra
As a nurse blogger who frequently blogs specifically about the topic of nurse burnout, I have worked very hard to find solutions for my own exhaustion.
In fact, my #1 reason for starting a website was to create an outlet for my own overwhelm and fatigue as a nurse and new mom.
Over the last two years I have spent nearly every minute of my free time researching and exploring possible solutions for these struggles. Then I write it all out clearly as I can with the hope that I am able to help myself and (hopefully) other nurse moms in my position.
And voila, it works! For a while anyway.
But, sadly, I eventually find myself feeling burned out again.
So, in the spirit of continuing the blogging assignment I mentioned earlier, I am going to dive in and open up about all of my fears about my nursing career.
It saddens me to think that I may not be a direct patient care nurse for much longer. The healthcare system needs great nurses. But I will always be a nurse, and as I like to say, a nursing practice can take many forms.
My biggest fears as a bedside nurse:
#1. I fear physical injuries from years of nursing.
Nursing career fear #1: physical injuries on the job
There is alarming evidence now that even proper lifting techniques expose nurses’s spines to dangerous forces.
In addition, chronic back pain in the nursing population is a common ailment. An evidenced based review at the Texas Women’s University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%.
Many non-nursing professionals may be alarmed to hear that after only 7 years as a bedside nurse I am already feeling the wear-and-tear of being on my feet all day. I already have chronic back pain. My legs and feet ache for days after a 12 hour shift.
I do a lot of yoga as a preventative measure and it helps tremendously. But as soon as I have another busy shift with a heavy patient load, the pain returns. Especially, when I work with total-care patients.
#2. I fear a life of burnout and constant exhaustion.
Nursing career fear #2: years of chronic exhaustion
I have written many times about my own exhaustion as a nurse and have even come up with several solutions to beat my own nurse burnout (at least temporarily). But if I’m being honest, the only way I really even recover from burnout is to just not work at all. It is amazing how much better l feel after stepping away from bedside nursing for a week.
Admittedly, I have created a few of my own unhealthy habits to cope with my nursing career. Which is why one of my goals this year is to start taking simple steps to help keep my stress in check so that I don’t end up becoming a patient myself.
I realize now more than ever that, in order to care for others, I must to take care of myself first. And the only proven way I have been able to do that thus far is to step away from the bedside and practice nursing in a different realm.
#3. I fear verbal abuse and violence.
Nursing career fear #3: violence against nurses in the workplace
Abuse against nurses is very common. In fact, nurses are expected to put up with levels of abuse that would NEVER be acceptable in any other professional setting. I have been cussed at more times than I can count, in just about every colorful way you could imagine, for just doing my job. And guess what? Not one single abusive patient or family member as EVER been asked to leave the hospital. Sadly, it appears that nurse abuse is acceptable and that nurses must deal with it as a part of the job.
Here is a recent example: I had a patient verbally assault me in the most vile way possible when I brought them their scheduled life-saving anti-rejection medicines. I explained that I was there to help them and calmly asked the patient several times to stop using vulgar language at me. Finally, I told them I would find them a different nurse and left the room.
Tearfully, I told my charge nurse, who supported me and assigned the patient a different RN. I found out later that the patient was so offended that I refused to be their nurse that they filed a complaint against me. I also found out later that their were several other nurses in the days prior who had been putting up with the same exact verbal abuse.
Even worse, violence against nurses is prevalent (especially emergency room nurses) and it usually isn’t even routinely tracked. I have been lucky not to find myself the victim of direct physical violence as a nurse as of yet. Many nurses have not been so not lucky.
#4. I fear not having more earning potential.
Nursing career fear #4: not reaching a higher earning potential
Working for an hourly wage kind of sucks. I am very driven and I have a great work ethic. But no matter how hard I work as a nurse, I’m just not going to make any higher (or lower) than my hourly wage. I could work more hours, but I am already experiencing a lot of nurse burnout and I have a family to take care of as well.
I often think how nice it would be to get paid more for working harder. And I really want the opportunity to earn a better living. Especially because we live in one of the most expensive cities in the US, and it’s only getting more expensive.
#5. I fear having a terminal position with no growth opportunity.
Nursing career fear #5: not growing professionally in my career
There are opportunities for nurses who want to move into administrative roles or become nurse practitioners if you are willing to go back to graduate school for a masters degree or PhD in nursing. (When you work in the UC system in California, you MUST have have Masters Degree In Nursing to move into administration. No exceptions).
However, my bachelors degree in nursing was already my second college degree as I am a second career nurse (I have a prior BA in journalism). Not only was going to nursing school in my early 30’s the single hardest thing I have ever done in my life, it was also extraordinarily expensive. In fact I know nurses graduating with over $100,000 in nursing school loan debt (I don’t have it in me to tell them they will likely never pay it off on a nurse’s salary- at least not in California).
In addition, I have a family now with two toddlers who need me – and I’m already a working mom. So, I could spend a ton of money going back to school, spend almost no time with my family, have a whole bunch of brand new student loan debt, and have a terrible quality of life for the next 3+ years.
And quite honestly, the idea of being a hospital administrator doesn’t even sound very appealing to me. Not to mention, many nurse practitioners are making less then bedside nurses. Thus, I have a hard time seeing the benefit in more school at the moment.
#6. I fear not putting my own needs first.
Nursing career fear #6: putting my own needs last
In my first career I was a medical device sales person because I wanted the opportunity to make a significant amount of money. A decade later, I became a nurse because I genuinely wanted to help people and save lives. I wanted to do something that was so much bigger than myself.
I was proud to become a nurse, and I still am. However, this profession revolves around constantly putting other peoples’s need first. And it must, because our patients’s lives often depend on it.
But I have a family to care for too. And as a mom of young children I often feel that I am in constant “survival mode.” This leaves very little time for self care.
Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself
Thinking about the things I fear most is probably my least favorite thing to do. In reality, I am a non-confrontational person and it feels unnatural for me to do a deep-dive into the things I am most afraid of. Especially listing them one-by-one and publishing them on my website!
But, if I can’t be honest with myself about what I feel in my gut when it comes to my nursing career, then how am I supposed to grow and create a better future for myself and my family?
As a busy working mom, I hardly have time to think about myself as it is. It would be a lot easier to pretend my fears didn’t exist and stay super busy until my kids turn 18 and go off to college. But making big life changes is hard, even when they are the best thing for you.
Plus, I would be well into my 50’s by then!
And I don’t have time to waste on being afraid!
Do you have any fears as a bedside nurse? Please leave a comment below!
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Additional articles by Mother Nurse Love:
I have a confession. My biggest nursing career fear is working for an hourly wage as a floor nurse forever.
Of course there are other things I fear in my nursing career as well. Such as staying burned out working 12’s hour shifts, physically being unable to work after decades of wear-and-tear, and not reaching my full career potential.
But the one thing that really keeps me up at night is the idea of not creating a future for myself that has flexibility, freedom, opportunity, and more money. I have ambition, dammit. And its about time for a big change.
In order for me to make career decisions that will help me reach my fullest nursing career potential moving forward, I thought it was wise to revisit my career history. What inspired and motivated me in the past? Where are my strengths and weaknesses? What are my biggest priorities from here moving forward and how to I reach them?
So, (deep breath) here we go…
I was once an aspiring writer in college.
Way, way back in the day, before I ever even considered becoming a registered nurse, I was a journalism major with a minor in women’s studies. I wrote for our student newspaper, The Orion, and I loved it. I enjoyed the teamwork and even though I felt way in over my head a lot of the time I absolutely loved the challenge.
But then I graduated with a little debt and decided I was tired of being a poor college student. I wanted money! After looking at a few options and going on about 50 intense interviews I finally got my first job as a medical device salesperson.
Reflective takeaway: I have experience working for an award-winning college newspaper. I enjoyed the challenge and teamwork aspect.
They say hindsight is 20/20. Can a deep dive into my career history inspire my future career as a nurse?
In my first career I sold medical devices to hospital operating rooms.
I spent the next decade working in the competitive field of surgical equipment sales for a fortune 100 company and a few medical device startups. It was intense and I did very well, but there was always a feeling that I could be doing something even more important. My soul was craving more clinical education and critical thinking. I remember thinking to myself “I don’t want to work my whole career just being a salesperson!” I needed a bigger purpose.
So after years of soul searching, I made the difficult decision to leave the field in pursuit of greater clinical medical knowledge. I went back to school and achieved a BS in Nursing.
Reflective takeaway: I have many valuable professional skills that I can apply to other careers. And I’m hyper competitive.
I became a second-career nurse.
I began my career specializing on a Neuroscience and Stroke unit and earned certifications as a Stroke Certified Registered Nurse and Public Health Nurse. In 2017, I began a new phase in my nursing career as an Emergency Room RN.
I love that I help others for a living and I enjoy the mental stimulation I get at work during my 12 hour shifts. Becoming a nurse has even helped me deal with the craziness of motherhood in some ways because it helps me distinguish things that I should be concerned with from things that are not a big deal. (I have my time on a neuro science floor and as an ER nurse to thank for that!)
However, the physical wear-and-tear and caregiver fatigue has got me feeling completely spent at times. And upper-management within the hospital is not something I am interested in at all.
Reflective takeaway: I enjoy using my clinical expertise to help others. But I also need to make my own health needs a priority.
I want to be a working mom who makes my own rules. Having children changes everything.
Starting a family intensified my biggest nursing career fear: a lifetime of working 12 hour shifts at the hospital
Having children really does change everything. I am grateful for all of the amazing experiences I have had in nursing. However, I see the future through a different lens now. My husband and I are currently raising two toddlers and my priorities are forever changed. My purpose for success so completely different. Now my reason for success is my family.
And so, here I am seven years into my nursing career and I have this gnawing sensation that I need to “blow up” my career again. It is time to make room for more professional growth and development.
As a part of this process I made a list of my future career priorities:
- Cerebral stimulation
- Being a positive role model for my children
Reflective takeaway: Becoming a parent changed my career priorities and needs. Work-life balance is key.
Next (baby) steps…
In 2016 I created a nurse mom blog called MotherNurseLove.com. In the sparse amount of free time I have I am creating a website, writing blog posts and taking courses to hone in on my new craft. My venture is being crafted out of my love for writing, my business management experience, my clinical knowledge as a nurse and life experience as a mother. I am creating my own opportunity that is more in line with my current career priorities (as mentioned above).
For clarity, my niche (or at least the niche I am striving to create) is: “nurse mom lifestyle blogger with an emphasis on nurse self care” My goal is to write about nurse mom lifestyle topics that interest me and finding helpful ways for nurses to take better care of themselves.
Turning my nursing career fear into a catalyst for growth is a process. As I grow older (and hopefully wiser!) I am discovering that their are so many paths that nurses can take. The sky is the limit as long as I work hard and continually open myself to learning new skills.
My ultimate goal: To create a career for myself were I can combine my journalism degree with my nursing knowledge and motherly experience. This is the first “career” I have ever had where I didn’t have to fill out an extensive application and interview for the position. For the very first time, I am warming to the idea of being my OWN boss. And I’m really looking forward to what the future will hold.
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you are a nurse who is looking for alternative career options or want to find ways to take better care of yourself as a working mom and RN please join my email list below!
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Why do nurses quit the profession?
Nursing is the most trusted profession in America and has been considered so for decades. Yet, nurses are burning out at a rate unparalleled to any other profession.
Turns out that nurses may not be getting the same respect and care that they give to their patients and employers. As a result, many nurses are looking for alternative ways to practice nursing or are even leaving the nursing professional altogether.
I became a nurse as a second career. Nursing called to me because I genuinely wanted to help people and I thought that a nurse’s schedule would work better for me as a mom. Now, 7 years into my nursing career, my passion for nursing is still high.
Yet I, like many other nurses, struggle with burnout. I have even started looking outside of patient care for alternative ways that I can practicing nursing to deal with my struggle.
(This post may contain affiliate links. You can find my disclosure page here.)
Reasons Why Nurses Quit
#1. Not having control over work schedules
Hospital nurses are expected to work all hours of the day and night, holidays, and weekends. And on top of that many nurses don’t even have control of their schedules (unless they work per diem – which has been a game changer for me). I can’t tell you how many times I have missed Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years parties, Easter Sunday, Fourth of July weekend and so many other special events with my family.
Now that I have my own children, missing these events is so much harder for me, especially if I have to work on one of their birthdays. This past Christmas I was lucky enough to NOT work on Christmas Day, but I worked the entire 2 weekends before, the 2 days before Christmas and the day after Christmas, so I missed several Christmas parties and I was so tired on Christmas day that I could barely keep my eyes open.
Thankfully I am not working graveyard shifts anymore, but if I did I would have quit being a nurse a long time ago. Working night shifts literally made me feel like I was going to explode. I felt sick all the time, I was in a constant fog and I even started to get a little depressed.
Here is an idea that can help: Work per diem or switch to another nursing position that requires a more regular 9 to 5 work schedule such as occupational health or the Cath lab.
#2. Bullying in the workplace
You have probably heard the phrase “nurses eat their young.” That is just a clever way of saying that there are many experienced and burned out older nurses bullying less experienced nurses. It’s also a main culprit as to why nurses quit working in patient care.
I remember one of my own experiences with bullying very clearly. When I was a new nurse grad a nurse I gave report to at shift change would question everything I had done for my patients that day, and drill me about why I didn’t do things differently. Her attitude was awful and I could tell she hated her job and being on the unit. She had been there for many years and she treated several other new nurses the same way.
There were days where my shift had gone great up until I had to deal with her at the very end. Then I left the hospital feeling defeated and inadequate just because of some unhappy, grumpy nurse. I did my best to hold my ground and keep my reports as simple as possible.
Eventually, (and thankfully) she quit and we never had to deal with her again. Things got better for me, but unfortunately there are still nurses “eating their young” who are lurking within the hospital.
Here is an idea that may help: I took a course called “Crucial Conversations” during my second year as a nurse and it was so helpful for me. It taught me how to deal with difficult situations with other co-workers. Sometimes addressing a bully head on or finding a way to avoid them entirely is the best way to handle the situation.
#3. Abusive patients and/or family members
By and large, most patients and family members in the hospital treat the medical staff respectfully. However, that is not always the case.
In my 7 years career as a nurse I have been kicked, swung at (thankfully never hit head on!), had a full urinal thrown at me, been cussed out, and told I should “kill myself.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are patients who, despite having full capability to execute all activities of daily living by themselves, take advantage of nurses and other medical staff by asking that everything be done for them. It’s as if we have nothing to do all day except be a personal butler. At least it can feel that way sometimes. I’d rather not be a character from Downton Abbey though!
Often when people are in the hospital it is because they are sick and need to be there. Nurses are happy to bend over backwards to give the best patient care we can for those patients. Unfortunately, there are people who take advantage of the caregivers and, over time, it leads to decreased morale and ultimately, burnout. This is another big reason why nurses quit the profession.
Here is an idea that can help: Nurse abuse is never okay and can be traumatizing for nurses. Communicate with management any time a patient or family member is being abusive. Ask for help. Call security if you feel threatened. Ask for another assignment or take turns with other nurses giving care to extremely difficult patients. Talk to staff, family and friends to help talk out your experience. All of these things can help make dealing with difficult patients and their family a little easier.
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If you are considering leaving the nursing profession altogether here are a few ideas to help rekindle your nursing career:
Are you a nurse struggling with burnout and considering leaving the nursing profession? What experiences lead you there. Please leave a comment!
Additional Recommending Reading:
I am a second-career RN who took an unconventional path into the nursing profession.
I began my first post-college career as a medical device sales representative selling medical equipment to hospital operating rooms. Then after nearly 10 years in the business I decided to go back to college and earn a Bachelors of Science in nursing.
I hear about nurses becoming second-career medical device or pharma reps all the time. But I have never known anyone who worked in medical device sales and then went back to college for a nursing degree. Not once.
Here is my journey from budding journalist, to corporate sales manager, to nurse… and the lessons that I have learned along the way.
As a young college grad, my priority was making money.
After graduating with a BA in Journalism in 1999, I was ready to start making money. After all, I was broke and tired of being poor. I was also passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, so a sales job in the healthcare field seemed like a natural fit.
Over the course of my decade career in sales I worked for a fortune 500 company and a few startups. I covered huge territories and at one point even spent almost an entire year living out of a hotel. It was a lot of hard work, but the money was there.
But I got better every year, despite a gnawing feeling that my calling was somewhere else. My twenties flew by before my eyes.
One day after a lot of soul searching I finally decided to go back to school and earn a BSN. My sales counterparts couldn’t believe I would leave the medical device industry after what most would consider a very financially successful career. I tried to explain the best I could – that I wanted to be a part of something bigger then myself. And medical sales just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.
At 22, my first priority was making money. I knew if I worked hard in medical device sales I could earn more then most college grads my age.
I wanted to jump into procedures as a part of the medical team.
Even though I wasn’t an actual healthcare professional at the time, I got to work in hospital operating rooms and observe almost every kind of surgery. It was through those experiences that I learned I wanted to be more truly clinical – instead of just repeat a sales pitch with each new physician who gave me the time of day.
More specifically, I wanted to jump in to the procedures that I was selling products and actually be a part of the medical team. Not sit and wait on the side lines for hours until they used the product I was selling (if they used it at all).
More importantly though, I was continually drawn to help people and learn clinical life-saving skills. I was tired of going home every day feeling as if I wasn’t doing enough with my life to make the world better.
Sounds a little cliche, I know. But this little voice in my head kept telling me that one day all I was going to say about my life was that I was a “sales person.” And I wanted more than that.
So one day, l quit my career and went back to school to earn my RN.
Nursing school is the hardest thing I have ever done in my professional life.
I paid my own way through my nursing prerequisites and another college degree. And let me tell you – college is so much more expensive now then it was in 2000. I was lucky that I had such a large savings from my prior career to help get me through.
In addition, I also worked as a bartender at night – sometimes until midnight – and then had to be at a clinical rotation by 0700 the next morning. I studied nonstop for 3 years. Nursing school was so much harder then medical sales, or my first college degree for that matter. In fact, I didn’t even know school could be that hard.
Still, I pressed on, feeling like I was going to get kicked out at any moment for failing a test (and 1/4 of my cohort actually did get kicked out, its a miracle I wasn’t in that group). To this day, nursing school is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my professional life.
From medical device sales person to nursing school student (this is the only photo I have of myself in my nursing school scrubs).
I worked as a Certified Nurses Assistant in nursing school.
I worked as a CNA during my last year of nursing school and I both loved and hated it. It was such as honor to give care to my patients in some of the worst times of their lives. It was primary, basic care – and it was important! I tried to give my patients humility. I helped people feel human when they felt invisible.
But being a CNA was also so challenging- both physically and physiologically. This is because for the first time in my life I was not at the top of the food chain. I sometimes felt like just a staff person boss around. No longer did I have my salary plus commissions, my company car and expense account, my catered lunches, my bonuses and my stock awards at the end of the year. And I really missed that.
I finally attained my RN, BSN title.
After three years of nursing school and a lot of sweat and tears, I finally graduated with my BSN. I began my career specializing on a neuroscience and stroke unit and earned certifications as a Stroke Certified Registered Nurse and Public Health Nurse. In 2017, I began a new phase in my nursing career as an emergency room RN.
As I nurse there is always an opportunity to learn.
While being a nurse is exhausting and I have moments of extreme burnout, I do feel that nursing is my calling. I am a closet science geek and the love cerebral stimulation that I get as a nurse. I have had the opportunity to see more disease states, complex injuries and unusual diagnoses then I ever could have imagined even existed. It would not be an exaggeration to say I learn ten new things everyday at work.
To top it off, I am surrounded by some of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Many of my co-workers have the same drive for helping people I do. They motivate me to keep learning.
I am thankful for the professional experience I received in the corporate world as a medical device salesperson.
In fact, I am so grateful for my time in medical sales. My experiences have given me a much different perspective than many of my nurse peers. And I see my experiences as a huge advantage for my professional development.
Working in the medical sales industry gave me valuable business and communication skills. I met a lot of great friends with whom I still have close relationships with. My organizational and time management skills are much more fine-tuned and I learned how to be a professional in the workplace.
I just like to think of myself as being a little more well-rounded now. After all, the business women in me still exists. But now I have the clinical prowess and expertise to match.
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I would love to hear stories from other second-career nurses. What did you do in your first career and how did you know you wanted to be a nurse? Leave a comment below!
I have a few favorite nurse essentials that I keep with me each day I go to work.
I am a registered nurse who has worked in several departments in the hospital setting taking care of ER, Med Surg and ICU patients. As a result, I have seen it all and then some. And I still see new things that shock me everyday! That is why it is so important to be prepared with the right nurse supplies to succeed no matter what happens.
I created this list of my favorite essentials I use as a nurse to help other nurses keep their professional nurse game on point!
(This post contains affiliate links. You can find my disclosure page here.)
12 Nurse Essentials I Can’t Live Without
I bought a 3M Litmann Classic in nursing school and I have been using it ever since. They are available in many different colors and have a “non chill” rim so you don’t shock your patients with a cold stethoscope. Whether you are trying to obtain a manual blood pressure or listening to lung sounds, every nurse needs to have a stethoscope.
Keeping your stethoscope around your neck can get in the way sometimes. I love the Koala-Qlip stethoscope holder because it attaches firmly to my scrubs and it takes the weight of the stethoscope off my neck.
Nikes are my favorite shoes to wear for 12 hour shifts when I know I’m going to be on my feet all day long. Wearing sturdy, no-slip shoes that help cushion your feet during 12 hour shifts is an absolute must!
Compression stockings are often overlooked as a way to prevent some of the chronic issues that come from working in a profession where you are on your feet for such long hours. Wearing compression socks helps to prevent varicose veins, improve venous blood flow, decrease the risk of blood clots and decrease swelling of the ankles and feet. I have found that compression socks with 20-30mmHg is the right compression strength for me as a nurse.
At work, I use the Apple Watch as a stopwatch, a timer, and as an alarm to remind myself of tasks I might forget when my shift gets crazy busy. I can also receive and send text messages on it without having to carry my cell phone with me. But my favorite thing about the Apple Watch is that it records how much I stand, exercise and move throughout my shift (it breaks them down into colorful rings) and tells me how many total steps I get in a shift. My record so far is 22,000 steps during a single shift!
Comfortable under scrub t-shirts are great because it can get cold in the hospital. This brand is especially great because they have thumb holes in the sleeves. I have them in multiple colors and I have several so that I always have a clean one to put on under my scrubs.
As a nurse and mom, I start my days very early, usually by 0530. And then I’m usually on the road to get to work no later than 0600. Which doesn’t leave a lot of time to sit for coffee. I have used the same Contigo coffee mug for over a year and it is still in great condition. It is 20 oz, is stainless and and has a lockable lid that is leak proof. Best of all it keeps my coffee hot for up to 7 hours!
My Hydro Cell Water bottle is another item I have with me at all times. It is 32 oz and has a leak proof wide mouth lid. Nurses often forget to drink enough water during busy 12 hour shifts, but having this water bottle helps me stay hydrated.
I have this crossbody bag which is technically not a bag that is just for nurses. But I love the design. I use it to hold my nursing badge, stethoscope, water bottle, coffee mug, breast pump, pens, and all work-related paperwork that I need.
Making my own lunch everyday has several benefits. I eat healthier, I don’t reach for junk that is in the break room because I pack my own healthy snacks, and I save a lot of money. I’m also a foodie and hospital food just isn’t my cup of tea. So I pack my lunch in my favorite lunch bag every evening before my shifts and I’m good to go.
The Raptor Shears look like a fancy pair of scissors. But these functional and handy shears are actually 6 tools wrapped into one:
- medical shears
- strap cutter
- ring cutter
- oxygen tank wrench
- carbide glass breaker
Many nurses I work with in the emergency room have the Raptor Shears and we use them frequently in emergency situations. You can hook it to a belt or secure it using the pocket clip. It also has a 25 year limited warranty and will last you throughout your nursing career or longer. They also make a great nursing gift for a new graduate!
These retractable 4 color pens are great in case you need something to stand out in your work notes. Or use different colors for different patients when taking report. These pens are also great for color coding notes and flashcards for when you are studying for certifications! I always have a few in my work bag and one on me while I am at work.
HEY NURSES! Remember to sign up for your FREE COPY of “The Nurse’s Guide To Health & Self Care” E-book in the sign up box below! (scroll down)
Additional Recommended Reading
What nurse essentials do you use at work that you can’t live without? Leave a comment!