When 200 new students started nursing school alongside me, an instructor gave us some tips for success in nursing school that has stuck with me ever since. After the first weeks, at least 10 students dropped out. “Nursing can be sink or swim career but you can all be dolphins,” she said. Let me explain. Nurses are often rumored to eat their young. While some nursing wards are highly collaborative, some wards have high levels of bullying and lack of proper communication. This teacher reminded us to be dolphins and to support each other to swim. She reminded us to smile through the difficult times and difficult conversations. She reminded us to reach out and support each other through the challenges and successes in our careers. Here are some tips for success in nursing school from one dolphin to another.

1. Do Research

Some students enroll in nursing only to drop out in the first weeks. Do some research before applying for nursing school. You likely will know a nurse in your social circles. Most nurses are willing to share stories about their career paths and work history. Research student loans, scholarships and grants well in advance of applying. You should also look into other costs such as medical screenings, updating immunizations and the cost of supplies such as your uniform or stethoscope. Before you begin applying for schools, it is a good idea to speak with your career counselor in high school or college. Compare nursing to other fields in healthcare and evaluate if you have the skills and aptitude to pursue a career in nursing. Also, it may be interesting to do a personality test to explore whether you would be a good match to working in the caring sector. The O*NET Interest Profiler (IP) is one online resource. For example, you might be an amazing nurse but you have a phobia of bodily fluids such as blood. Perhaps you would be better suited to a career in social work or physiotherapy. Doing some research will avoid pursuing a path that may not fit with your skills and personality. This is just the first of many tips for success in nursing school.

2. Start Building Healthy Habits

Nursing and shift work is challenging. Burnout is common. When you begin nursing school, you can easily spend all your time studying. Build healthy habits to manage stress well, eat healthy foods and include regular exercise in your schedule. Not only will this help you handle the physical demands of the job, it will also help you stay mentally healthy. It is important to learn how to balance your workload with other pursuits early on. Socialize with friends and engage in healthy activities together.

3. Make Friends

The people that sit beside you in class will end up being your study buddies, your classmates in clinical placements and your colleagues. Nursing school is tough and forming study groups early on can help share the load of studying. Nurses are collaborative by nature, so you might as well start the practice from the beginning of your career. Nursing friends will likely be the only ones who can understand the challenges and joys of this field completely. They will become great sounding boards to debrief with if you’ve had a challenging day on the ward. Also, they can help you maintain your work / life balance. Try to maintain friendships outside of the field as well, especially if you have other interests and hobbies.

4. Being a nurse is much more than clinical skills

Nurses take care of the whole patient: this is called holistic care. Being a nurse is much more than clinical efficiency and being able to memorize and apply knowledge. You are a patient advocate and often the staff member who has the most contact with the patient. A nurse develops relationships with the patient or client, and you care for people in their most vulnerable times. You also are many other things such as a cheerleader, a waitress, a translator, a family mediator, a waitress, a coach and a teacher. If you are not an adaptable person with a great deal of patience, nursing may not be for you.

5. The rewards of nursing outweigh the challenges

These tips for success in nursing school will never completely prepare you for things like witnessing your first death or dealing with difficult patients. With all the challenges that come with nursing, the rewards greatly outweigh them. If you have chosen nursing as a career, you likely possess a great deal of emotional intelligence and altruism. Being able to support a complete stranger to make empowered decisions, to overcome challenges is a great feeling. Also, being able to support a patient and their families through difficult times is also a great gift. Nursing is a career that is built on teamwork and shared knowledge, so be a dolphin and good luck with school.


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