5 Things You Should Do Before Starting Nursing School

Nursing school, like any form of college these days, is far from cheap! First you have to pay for all those prerequisite courses, and then there’s the program itself, not to mention having to support yourself while attending all those years of schooling. Make sure it’s the right career move for you before you break the bank taking out thousands of dollars in student loans.

#1.  The Best Way to Know if Nursing is Right for You is to Get Experience in the Medical Field

It’s always unfortunate to come across a nurse, who’s bitter and hates their job.  Their negativity permeates throughout the unit. Not only are they miserable to work with, their attitudes don’t do the patients any good either. Plus, who wants to wake up every morning and cringe at the thought of going to work.  If you don’t love the work you do your whole life is going to be negatively impacted. On the other hand, when you’re passionate about what you do that positivity follows you around, and can play a hue role in how you grow and develop throughout your career.

That being said, nursing is a highly rewarding career!  I know for myself I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be stressful and demanding. This works for my personality type. I thrive on rising to the occasion. For me, you can’t feel rewarded without feeling the struggle.  Again, not everyone is up for the challenge.  The most important thing is to know yourself and what conditions you enjoy.

5 Things Nursing school

There can also be a bit of a culture shock. A lot of people don’t realize how intimate of a job nursing truly is.  It’s not all that trauma and drama you see on TV. There’s a lot more bed pans and bed changes involved than blood (at least on a good day). You see people when they are at their lowest points. You see them in pain, suffering, embarrassed, angry; and yes, they will take it out on you. It’s a good idea to test the water to see if you can handle it. Not just all the Foley’s, ostomies, surgical drains, but also the emotional aspect. Not to say there aren’t other career paths to take with nursing if your not a people person, but med-surge is kind of the bread and butter of what we do, and  patient CARE, requires actually CARING for the patient.

For me, patient care is the most amazing part of nursing. As their nurse you’re given the opportunity to be the person to help lift them up when they’re physically and spiritually down; to educate them on their condition, to heal them, to help them heal themselves.

Getting experience in the medical field will not only tell you if you’re making the right career choice, it’s also a great way to make money while going through nursing school. An added bonus is that it will make learning the material much easier.  You’ll hear the terminology, see the patients, and meet experienced nurses who will take you under their wing.

Just to clarify, when I say experience, I mean patient care experience.  Volunteering and clerking are a good in their own ways, but these positions won’t give you the hands on patient care you need to make an informed decision. There’s a pretty funny saying for describing what kind of experiences qualify that goes: “if you can’t smell the patient you aren’t close enough.” So remember this saying when start looking for opportunities to explore this career path.

#2. Practice Reading Textbooks the Right Way!

Don’t be fooled, there are tricks to everything, even to things as seemingly simple as reading– which trust me, you will have plenty of even in your prerequisite courses. This is something that if you practice doing effectively before nursing school, you’ll be a much more efficient learner, and therefore, save yourself a lot of valuable time.

As a side note, I’d just like to mention this is a brief overview. For more information on this topic check out my other blog post here. There’s also a great podcast on the topic you can find here

So, how can we read textbooks in a more effective manner, you ask?

First off, start with the big picture. Then work into the fine details. If I show you a picture of a boat and ask you to describe what you see, you probably won’t tell me the make and model.  Our brains naturally like to group things based on their relation to other things. Don’t fight this tendency by being tempted to memorize. By grouping and understanding relationships you will naturally remember things easier. To begin, start by flipping through the chapter just reading the headings. Clarify with yourself what it is you want to learn and why it is important.

Secondly, once you have the big picture in your head understand that all the little headings within the text are chunks of information that pertain to the whole. While reading you need to build a visual web of how these chunks are related, and why you care about them.  As it turns out, text books are crammed with a lot of information that is nice to know, but necessary. Rid yourself of responsibility for any information that is not required of you. I’m not saying don’t go above and beyond. All I’m saying is you need to prioritize. A concept that will be drilled into your head by the time you graduate from a nursing program. Fully understand the core, then move on to the details.

Thirdly, read the chapter, but as you do practice summarizing and relating chunks of knowledge back to the whole —  always while keeping in mind the questions “why do I care?”  When you understand the why, you gain a deeper knowledge of the information and eliminate a lot of memorization. For every paragraph you read, mentally pick out one to two key points and how that relates to the section. In the following paragraph, do the same, but summarize how it relates to the preceding paragraph and section as a whole.  After reading an entire section using this method, summarize how that section relates to the chapter as a whole.

Lastly, read this information with the intention of explaining it to a child. If you can simplify it enough to explain it to a child, you understand it. If you understand it, you’ll likely retain it. When practicing this, keep in mind, kids ask questions.

Guess, who else asks questions, that hopefully you’re able to answer correctly…? Your instructors, who write your tests; the doctors you work with; the NCLEX people, whose test you have to pass to get licensed… Oh, and your patients!!!

A huge part of nursing is educating our patients. Not everyone goes to college or even graduates high school. Wherever you may be practicing most likely at some point you’ll be taking care of patients whose first language isn’t English.  Being able to take complicated concepts and reduce them down to digestible bits of information phrased in simple terms, is a skill that will help you throughout your career.

Finally, once you’ve read a chapter, verbally explain it to someone, anyone; preferably a class mate or someone with knowledge of the material, but an animal will do.  Before you do this think of the mental web of knowledge you’ve created, all the chunks of information, how all the chunks interact and relate to the whole, and why some chunks are more important.  Then explain, and be ready for those anticipated questions.

#3. Learn to Speed Read

Oh, how I wish I would have worked on honing this skill before starting nursing school. Instead I took the route of excessive note taking. Excessive note taking and reviewing worked for me, but I’m still palming myself to the forehead for not having worked on this skill, along with the techniques of verbalizing and summarizing as I read, sooner. When time is of the essence efficiency is key!  Excessive note taking may be effective, but is it as effective and as efficient as these other techniques?

If you’re not already on the speed reading wagon, the big premise behind the skill is that we are generally pretty ineffective in how we read.  Our eyes constantly jump around the pages, darting back and forth between sections we’ve already read, slowing down both how many words we read per minute and our retention.

One of your main objectives as a pre-nursing school student should be to master this skill! The faster you are able to read and the more you retain, the less stressful nursing school will be for you.

#4 Get Organized and Become a Highly Effective Nursing Student


My favorite book on this topic is one I continue to reference, re-read, and recommend. The 7 Habits of Highly effective people is a must read! This book by Stephen R. Covey cannot be boasted about enough. It’s sold over 25 million copies and has been one of the best selling nonfiction business books in history.

In his book, Covey discusses what habits highly effective people possess and how to work toward developing them. In order to be successful in implementing and integrating these habits into your daily life, Covey stresses the importance of character development.  Before summarizing what the habits are let me first briefly elaborate on what Character Ethic is, and how it is different from Personality ethic

The idea of character ethic presented in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is that there are set truths that govern positive social interactions across all cultures. He proposes that these truths are unchanging throughout time and refers to them as principles. Values, he proposes on the other hand, change, and are not based on the fundamental truths but your preference. In other words, you can value characteristics that are not in alignment with principles or the “natural laws” that govern positive social interactions. He gives the example of a gang of thieves who share a set of values, but whose values are in violation of principles.

Character ethic concludes that individual’s naturally become more effective by shifting their perspective to be in greater alignment with fundamental principles. By shifting perspective, success is achieved through an inward out approach. Ensure that the center of your character is based on correct principals and that your social paradigm is in alignment with “natural laws” and success will follow.

In contrast Personality ethic, deems that success can be achieved from an outward in approach. In other words, that there are a set of techniques and social strategies that can be utilized and applied; and that once done so correctly, can bring about success. Covey argues against using these techniques. He believes this approach is shallow and only brings about superficial success.

To summarize: before attempting to integrate these habits into your life take some time to focus on your character.

Now for the Habits:

  • Be proactive
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Put first things first
  • Think win-win
  • Seek first to understand the be understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the saw

Covey does a great job going into each habit in his book. If you’re interested to learn how you can utilize these seven habits to become a more effective Student, check out my other blog post here.

I also recommend you purchase the book. It’s not that expensive and worth way more than it costs. Normally after I read a book I’ll give it away to someone I think can use it, but this is one of those books that’s good to hold onto. If you’re interested in getting a copy you can use this link to get to Amazon.

Disclosure: I do get a percentage of the sale as a commission. Part 2 of disclosure: its not much and will probably be spent on kombucha making supplies.

#5. Work on Those People skills

People are social creatures! We crave understanding and acknowledgement. Some people I know are intuitively good at working with people, but I believe there’s always room for improvement. Ironically, the book that I’ve found to be most helpful somewhat contradicts some of the ideas presented in my beloved The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; However, it’s still really helpful!

The book I recommend for people who aren’t naturally people inclined is How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. This book, like the one previously mentioned, has withstood the test of time and has managed to stay in print for over 75 years.

Side note: this is just a brief overview of some of the topics in the book. For a more in depth review check out my other blog post (here).

Some of the suggestions made in the book to facilitate social interactions include:

  • Become genuinely interested in other people
  • Smile
  • Remember that a person’s name to that person is the sweetest sound in any language
  • Encourage others to talk about themselves
  • Talk in terms of other person’s interests
  • Make the other person feel important

These are all great tools, but like Covey noted, if they’re not coming from the right place these techniques will make you come across as fake and patronizing. This is why the ideas presented by Covey on character ethic are so important.  That being said, while you’re working on building true character, the methods presented in Carnegie’s book are still very useful.

The technique that has been the hardest me personally to implement, but has had the greatest impact on my professional life, has been using people’s names.  The importance of referring to people by their name may seem obvious to most people. I know some of you reading this are probably thinking, if you didn’t refer to people by their names, how did you address people? The truth is, mostly with the word “hey”.  It’s pretty embarrassing to think about it now, but it never occurred to me how rude it was to not use a person’s name while talking to them was, until reading this book. When it came greeting people, I would usually just use the generic “hey, how’s it going?” You’d be surprised how things can change for you socially by simply following up “hey” with their name.

Well, that’s all for this post. I hope you’ll find the knowledge that I’ve shared with you helpful. Thank you for taking the time to drop by my blog. If you like what you’ve read feel free to subscribe, and don’t forget to spread the love by sharing this post on social media.

Also, congratulations on contemplating Nursing as a career path. It’s a wonderful move! I wish you the best in all your endeavors. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to put them in the comment box below. Since I’m new to the whole blogging thing too, feel free to message me tips, pointers, constructive criticisms welcome.

Thanks again! Hope to see you again.