Diverse Perspectives & Advocacy

15 Things They Didn’t Tell You in Nursing School, Part II

Susan Sinclair, RN
December 9, 2020
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In Part I of 25 Things They Didn't Tell You in Nursing School (But We Will), we shared 25 things that you’d likely learn after graduating nursing school. We told you that simply because nursing school might be over, it doesn’t mean that there’s not more to learn.

Below, here are 15 more things that they didn’t tell you in nursing school, that we’re sharing with you here.

man in classroom raising his hand things they didn't tell you in nursing school

15 Things You Will Learn After Nursing School

1. You May Get Bullied

Unfortunately, at some hospitals nurses still “eat their young,” meaning the veteran nurses precepting are particularly hard on and even bully newer nurses. This can certainly happen as a new grad nurse. Please know that you do not have to tolerate bullying, and you must notify your manager if it occurs.

If that does not address the problem, your director of nursing or the facility's HR are other options as well. Ideally, your employer will have a “zero tolerance policy,” where employees are comfortable going to managers with conflicts. 

2. You May Get Yelled at by Doctors

Real-life nursing can be high-stress and high-stakes. Nursing school was difficult because it  prepares students to care for the lives of other humans! Doctors can get stressed out as well, and sometimes this stress is taken out on the unsuspecting nurse. Don’t take it personally, and be resilient.  

3. You May Need to Go up the Chain of Command if You’re Not Getting Answers or Orders From Doctors

This can be tricky at first, and you may lack confidence in the beginning. This is where your preceptor or colleagues can help. Ask for their opinions, ask what they would do in a given situation, and always keep your manager in the loop as well. 

4. You Will Have Some LONG Days Without Breaks

Eat a good breakfast and make sure to bring your water and snacks!

5. Keep an Open Mind Because You Will Work With, and Meet, People From All Walks of Life

Nurses come in all shapes and sizes, ages and backgrounds. Don’t be afraid of this diversity, embrace it

6. You Will Need to Have an Outlet to Vent

Whether it be a coworker or a significant other, you’ll need someone to talk with to clear your head from the stress and fast pace of the job.

7. Take Good Care of Yourself So You Can Take Good Care of Others

As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

8. You Need to Have a Strong Stomach

Sights, sounds, and smells are all part of the job. Peppermint or eucalyptus oil under your nose can help lessen the smells.

9. You Will Need to Stand up for Yourself and for Your Patients 

As touched upon in Part I of this series.

10. You Won’t Be a New Grad Forever

Eventually YOU will be the preceptor! As crazy as it sounds now, a time will come when colleagues or students will come to you with questions. Yes, the first year is the hardest by far.

This also pertains to changing specialities: the first year in a new specialty is the most challenging. Have faith that your knowledge base and experiences will expand over time… because they will!

11. Go Back to Your “Why…” Especially After a Tough Day, Reflect Upon Why You Chose Nursing

This will keep you going. If it doesn’t keep you coming back for more; that’s ok, but try to give it a whole year to see if shifts get easier. Most grads want to help others and want to make a difference in peoples’ lives when they are most vulnerable… and that is a very valid and important “why.”

12. Remember Learning Is Never Over in This Profession

Nurses have to stay up to date on new protocols and treatments in the ever-evolving field of healthcare. Take it in stride and remember that staying current within your specialty is expected for the safety of your patients and everyone around you.

13. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

The first year is the hardest for a reason — it’s very different from the textbooks and skills labs that comprise nursing school. It’s also very different from clinicals, as you are the one solely responsible. Patience with yourself will benefit you in the long run. Yes, you will be unsure a lot in the first few years but remember you have nursing resources.  

The worst way of coping is beating yourself up for not knowing something. Some new nurses write down topics they’re unsure about over the course of the shift. When they get home they look up in nursing books everything they wrote down.  

This helps with connecting “real-life” nursing with the “textbook” nursing. It might not work for everyone, but it is one way to increase your knowledge base and learn from actual scenarios. 

14. Some Patients Will Be Difficult

There are many ways to deal with difficult patients; remember most times it doesn’t reflect who you are as a person or your nursing skills. Some patients may lack the coping skills to process their own illness or situation. Be patient.

15. Go With Your Gut… If Something Doesn’t Feel Right or Seems off About a Situation or Patient, Respect Those Feelings and Act on Them

When I was a new nurse, I went on a lunch break (I know, unheard of, it was a really good day!). As soon as I returned to the nursing floor, I had a gut feeling to check on one of her patients right away… this was before hourly rounding protocols.  

It turned out the patient had had a stroke. The Stroke Alert was called, and luckily it was caught in time. If a longer delay had occurred in checking on the patient, the stroke could have progressed. This is an example of listening to your gut, it doesn’t matter that you’re new, your intuition isn’t. 

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