From Nurse to Nurse: 10 Crucial Things Nursing School Didn’t Teach Me

From Nurse to Nurse: 10 Crucial Things Nursing School Didn’t Teach Me

Jackie Jones, RN

Jackie Jones

RN/Ocean Swimmer

posted on Jun 7, 2016, at 10:30 pm


CONGRATS ON GETTING INTO NURSING SCHOOL and pursuing such a rewarding career path! I was a nursing student just like you, trying to imagine what life will actually look like as a working nurse. I figured nursing professors and residency would prepare me for the real world, but there are certainly gaps in a new nurse’s education. As a nurse in my twenties, nursing school often feels like yesterday. Working both night and day shift in one of Los Angeles’s largest and best nonprofit medical centers, I’ve seen a lot. Here are some practical, applicable pointers I wish I would have known before taking the plunge into my adult nursing career.

1. Intrapersonal skills

In nursing, even the most technical and scientific tasks, are greatly affected by how we approach people and their perceptions of us. Nursing school didn’t prepare me for the amount of people skills I would need to utilize throughout my shift. A high prioritization to the development of intrapersonal skills is crucial to success as a working nurse.

2. Handling difficult patients and family members

This is a sort of extension on the previous point, but a reoccurring struggle in every nurse’s life. It’s safe to say, even the most skilled nurse fears saying or doing the wrong things to a patient that affects them on a personal level. Seriously an entire course in nursing school on these patients could have been extremely helpful in my practice. Here are a couple of examples that nursing professors didn’t prepare me for:

  • Knowing what politically correct statements to say if people are getting rude or if I am feeling overwhelmed
  • Understanding personal limits and standards you are legally allowed to hold for yourself as a nurse

Injury, illness and disease does not discriminate against personal values… remember that always.

Fun Fact: If an oriented patient hits or assaults a nurse, it is viewed with the same severity as assaulting a police officer. Who would have thought a world where nurses get that kind of respect!

3. Dedicated time to de-stress

empty classroom medical nursing schoolNursing school is stressful, and I hate to say it, but the stress doesn’t go away. Stress is an inevitable part of the job. Actually taking time to handle that stress is critical in your career. Nursing school doesn’t tell you to establish a decompressing routine, but stress builds up in your body faster than you think, so having me time is an absolute. Reading, watching movies, taking a bath, getting a massage, or taking that long-awaited vacation will make you a better nurse – trust me. 

4. Make notes if you get specific hands-on experience

Note take and be very present if you get the opportunity to insert a foley catheter, IV, or nasogastric tube during nursing school. This doesn’t happen often in school, but will happen frequently as a working nurse.

5. Learn inpatient vs. outpatient insurance

Say what? Nursing school didn’t prepare me to understand insurance criteria, but knowing the difference between inpatient and outpatient insurance criteria is crucial in the world of nursing. It’s important to familiarize yourself with difference services you can refer patients to. Need to refer your patient to a social worker? Case manager? Home health service? Knowing your full team, even outside of the facility you work in, is extremely helpful.

6. Code blue and rapid response scenarios

In nursing school, I didn’t learn how to respond or what to expect during code blue or rapid response scenarios. The correct reaction and protocols are not second nature in the moment. Additional experience in school would have been quite valuable prior to a real code as a practicing nurse


Bring your own snacks, that is. Bringing extra, healthy snacks to work to keep in your locker is essential on those really busy days, and you will be a lifesaver for a co-worker who needs some extra calories. Nurses helping nurses it’s a beautiful thing! In addition to snacks, have instant coffee. Self explanatory.

8. Splurge on supportive shoes

Research and splurge on some good and supportive shoes. Buy the sole inserts, even if you feel funny. Do it. Sitting in a classroom in nursing school doesn’t prepare you feet for the real world.

9. Pros and cons of day vs. night shift

med-students-in-classroom-with-laptops-BI wish nursing school would have better explained the differences between day and night shift. There are several pros and cons, and after working both, I now know they are not for everyone. I worked night shift for years prior to working day shift. You make more money on nights if staying up late is doable on your body. If you can find a sleeping pattern you can commit to, do it. Night shift better prepared me for day shift, hands down!

10. Don’t drink the apple juice

The number of grams of sugar in a small hospital apple juice is SO MANY. I didn’t notice for quite some time and drank far too many. The freshmen 15 is something you don’t have to keep with you after graduation, so drink good old water instead!

There is just so much to learn in such little time. It’s no wonder new nurses feel overwhelmed. Although these tips would have been helpful, all new nurses will feel pressures that are inevitable and go away with practice. All nurses are new nurses at some point, so continue to have the mindset of a student even well into your career as a nurse. Be attentive, patient, and always learn from experience.


jackie jones

  1. Dimarie Perez RN says:

    I can somehow understand the point of keeping well trained and experienced nurses; however, this may be interpreted as if new nurses are less than them. Many places and hospitals look to hire experienced nurses (if not all of them) and even state it as a requierement. If so, when is a new RN ever find a decent job? The nursing career has eveything to do with vocation and devotion towards others but at the end “only the best qualified” will get hired. How does that help the new ones? How is that going to help in the nursing shortage? I have been a nurse for 10+ years with an initial 4 yr experience in ER and pediatric home care, now strugling to find a job because of “lack of recent experience”. Really? Tragedies happen, and we still care as much (or even more) than a highly experienced one. That is why our situation is never going to change. Rules and policies need to change, evaluation and hiring processes need to be revised

  2. Adam M. says:

    This is great. As an almost new grad I’ve really appreciated the time I’ve had with those who have a substantial amount of experience. I’ve seen the changes myself. What should also be noted are the changes in education. The industry is pushing for more BSN/MSN/DNP prepared nurses… but wages aren’t keeping up.

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