What to Expect in Nursing School

In nursing school you will be learn about the art and science of nursing.  Most people recognize the art of nursing.  It’s the nurturing relationship the nurse forms with the patient and their family.  It’s the knowing just how to talk to the patient, when to come closer and when to give space.  You will figure out how to teach patients in a manner of when, where and how they will best understand.  Teaching and patient interaction will be tailored differently for each patient you encounter.


As in any art your style will be different from other nurses.  What a big difference you will see from your first patient encounter to your last semester.  Talking to patients becomes much easier over time as you find your own approach. It really helps to have a good sense of humor.


The science of nursing is immense. You will start by learning every body system and how each functions normally.  The human body is amazing and extremely complex.  You will also learn how those systems and organs interact with one another.  In Pathophysiology, you learn how many different ways things can go wrong with each system, how issues spread and affect neighboring organs and how to spot those changes in your patient.  Did you know an ankle fracture could turn into a life threatening blood clot in the lung?


Next, you’ll study medications.  More medications than you could ever believe existed. Learning the different types of medications and what each type is used for takes a lot of studying.  You’ll need to know how they all affect different body systems and their common side effects.   You need to recognize what you are giving patients and watch that those medications are affecting your patients the way they should be.  If not, you will need to take nursing actions to make changes on your patient’s behalf.


Now that you know how the body works and how organs are affected by disease and medications you are ready to begin learning the Nursing Process.  It’s a step by step technique that walks you through what nurses do.  Each school teaches it a bit differently but it generally looks like this:


Assess – your patient (from head to toe physically, emotionally, cognitively and psychologically) and review past and current history.

Diagnosis – Find issues you can help through nursing actions and potential issues typical to arise given your assessment and patient history.

Plan – Formulate actions to bring your patient toward a better state of health and plan for any potential issues that may arise.

Implement – Provide the care written out in your plan.

Evaluate – Did all your actions produce desired results? What changes need to be made?

Repeat – Steps 1-5

In school you will spend countless hours writing down the above process into what are called “care plans.”  It is not uncommon for nursing student to report seeing or working on Care Plans in their dreams.  One student reported her roommate muttering “As evidenced by. . .” while sleeping.  That is a term you write next to every Nursing Diagnosis, in every Care Plan.


Nurses: Intelligence vs. Trust

Are nurses known for boasting and bragging about their knowledge? No.  Nurses are known as virtuous, compassionate, caring and worthy of your trust.  In the US, Nurses top the Gallup polls as the most honest and ethical professionals each year. This is a very important image and one that is imperative for us to carry out as we work.  We must uphold that trustworthiness in all of our daily actions and during each patient and family encounter.


Consider this example:

Imagine you knock on the door and ask permission to enter the room. Next, you introduce yourself to a patient for the first time and inform them you are about to expose their private area.  You continue to explain the procedure you are about to do, why you need to do it, and that it involves placing a tube somewhere the patient would never agree to have a tube placed.  But you’re a nurse, they trust in you and that you have their health and best interest in mind.  The patient agrees.  Imagine their spouse is sitting right there aware of how another person is about to touch an area that would cause a divorce if it were anyone else.  But it’s allowed and you continue.  They trust you . . . because you’re a nurse.

You see, our kind, altruistic, almost angelic reputation is highly important and without it we could not do our job given the intimate nature of our work.  I’d like to share another example of how important it is for nurses and nursing students to conduct themselves to keep up that trust.


A few years ago, some nursing students were asked to bring a placenta to be discarded.  In their excitement of just seeing a live birth, one student took a photo of the other excited student with the placenta and shared it with their classmates. The students were released from the program on the grounds that using a human organ as a photo prop is disrespectful behavior and detrimental to the patient’s dignity and public image.


I can’t stress enough that whenever you are in uniform representing your facility or school you think twice, are on only your best, most respectful behavior, and never ever discuss your patients in the elevator, stairwell or any other public space.



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