Psychopharmacology the easy way

psychopharmacologyPsychopharmacology is possibly the most interesting subset of pharmacology simply because the conditions these meds treat are absolutely fascinating. But the problem is, there are a ton of them…and keeping them straight can be difficult! Never fear, Nurse Mo is here! I’ve compiled a few tidbits for keeping those psych meds all straightened out in your fabulous brain.

Step 1: Have a general understanding of the conditions each med treats. This will take you beyond memorization to actual understanding. When you understand information, it has a tendency to move into long-term memory rather than jump out of your skull as soon as you hit “submit” on your exam.

Step 2: Learn about each type of medication as a group…study the atypical antidepressants together, the traditional antidepressants together and so on and so forth. The reason for this is that drugs of a particular class will share some common characteristics.

Step 3: Make up goofy mnemonics and acronyms to help you remember which drugs go into which class. For example, the mnemonic I used to help me remember the atypical antipsychotics was “All Good Zoos Save Rare Cats.” This equated to Abilify, Geodon, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Risperdal and Clozapine (Case in point, I am writing this post 5 years after I made up this mnemonic and I could recite 4 of the 6 off the top of my head. 5 years!!! Not bad!)

Step 4: Learn the side effects that are associated with each class of drug. My method involved making up ridiculous stories that I actually recited to myself (quietly, to myself!) during the exams. For example, here is one for the traditional antidepressants. The underlined and bolded words are the key words in the story. Try not to make fun of me.

A very traditional man became depressed when his dog B.C.* ran away. He ran through the neighborhood, and worked up quite a sweat. His heart raced, and as he searched for his dog, he realized that for the first time in years he wasn’t thinking about sex. This realization stopped him dead in his tracks, and his heart slowed. As he stood there, mouth dry and muscles twitching from the exertion, he saw B.C. trying to urinate on a fat lady’s lawn. He ran to his dog and scooped him up, dizzy with happiness. He danced around the yard with graceful rhythm, until he stepped in a pile of dog poo. “BC”, he exclaimed. “I thought you were constipated!” He flailed around the yard trying to get the poo off his shoe as the fat lady watched from her window. She was convinced the traditional man who was flailing about on the lawn was having a seizure or a stroke. (*B.C. = blood cell)

So, from this silly little scenario you can see that the traditional antidepressants (also known as tricyclic antidepressants) cause some pretty unpleasant side effects:

  • Decrease in white and red blood cell production
  • Sweating
  • Tachycardia or Bradycardia
  • Low libido
  • Dry mouth
  • Twitching muscles
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Altered heart rhythm leading to QT prolongation
  • Constipation
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • …and there are probably others as we learn more about these drugs!

For my Mental Health Nursing course I made up goofy stories for all the drug classes, which you can find here. But, if you have the time I encourage you to make your own as you’ll be able to remember them that much more readily when the time comes.

Good luck and be safe out there!

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Nursing School Almost Killed Me

I was watching a TED talk a few days ago, and it talked about the “WHY” and how important it is to know the “WHY” if you want to make a meaningful connection with your audience. I’ve known all along why I created this site and why I put so much time and energy into creating educational content for students…I thought it would be good to share the WHY with all of you.

Reading the title of this post,  you may think I’m exaggerating…or grasping at straws, or trying to blame myself for things outside of my control. But I don’t think so. You see, in the past five years I’ve done a lot of research and reading into chronic stress, inflammation and the role this plays in our health. And the fact of the matter is, I was healthy, vibrant and absolutely fine until my second year of pre-requisites. It was then that I started having symptoms that I chalked up to things like dehydration and low blood sugar. It turns out, there was a much more ominous reason for my misery.

Most of you don’t know me (except through this site), so it may be difficult for me to convey just how intensely I pursued my dream of being a nurse. It consumed me. As an older student, I didn’t feel I had the time to wait 2 or more years to get into a lottery-system ADN program, and I knew that the BSN program in my hometown was fiercely competitive. If I was going to have any shot at all of changing careers, I knew I had to be a “Straight A” student all the way. And I was. But I paid a price for that…a huge one.

Not only did I study incessantly, but I also stressed constantly about my grades, learning the material, doing perfect “knock-their-socks-off” projects and presentations. I ignored friends, I ignored family, and most unfortunate of all, I ignored myself. I used to have an incredibly healthy diet, was in excellent physical condition, had wonderful balance in my life, and a social calendar full of fun activities with friends. But I let all that go in pursuit of my dream. My diet suffered, my exercise disappeared, my joy plummeted and soon the only thing that brought me pleasure was getting that “A.” I was obsessed, unhealthy, and stressed to the max.

The first sign that something was wrong was that I began having headaches. Incredible, mind-numbing headaches accompanied by blurred vision that made it nearly impossible to do anything except lay down in a dark room with my eyes closed. The first ones I remember occurred during a summer school session of A&P 2. I attributed my symptoms to simply being dehydrated, and treated myself with lots of water and Excedrin Migraine pills. I once had a headache so debilitating, I had to ask the professor if I could go to the bathroom in the middle of an exam. Normally this would be an absolute “no,” but he took one look at me and granted me permission to leave the test. I must have looked awful.

On another occasion, about eight months later, I had another blockbuster of a headache. I was in Organic Chemistry class and had to leave halfway into the lecture. You have to understand I had never ever missed a minute of class…so for me to leave was pretty monumental. I remember driving home, so out of it and with such blurred vision that it was all I could to to stay between the lines. When I got home, I called the advice nurse and from the questions she asked, she was clearly trying to decide if I was having a hemorrhagic stroke. But at the time, I didn’t know anything about “the worst headache of your life” or blurred vision or generalized weakness…so I laid down, drank my water, took my Excedrin and waited for it to go away. Which it did. Eventually.

After that, I noticed that whenever I was a bit dehydrated, I’d experience blurred vision. Sometimes with the headache, often without. It became more of a nuisance than anything and the headaches weren’t frequent enough that I seriously did anything about it. I mentioned them to my GP, but there wash’t any followup. And so it went.

Eventually I graduated nursing school, stressed about the NCLEX, passed NCLEX, stressed about finding a job, and found a job. In the ICU. In an ICU that had not hired a new employee in at least ten years. And certainly not a new grad. To say I was stressed was an understatement. During this time, I started having other strange symptoms…my big toe of my left foot would occasionally feel like it was on fire, I was extremely tired all the time, my heart would feel like it was pounding, and the headaches and blurred vision continued. I even had angina during yoga class. It scared me, but it passed so I soldiered on. At this time I knew a lot more about pathophysiology and knew something was wrong, but could not figure it out. But I was so focused on the new job with its intense orientation, that I once again ignored my own needs in pursuit of my goal to be Super Nurse.

It was around this time that I had my regular checkup with my OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Gail. I will forever be thankful to her for doing something no doctor had ever done. I requested a lipid panel as I hadn’t had one done in several years and she recommended we do a full CBC and chemistry panel as well. Yes, a simple blood test is what finally got me on the path of figuring out what was wrong. If Nurse Gail hadn’t ordered that test, there’s no telling where I’d be right now…likely disabled or possibly even dead. So, I went off to the lab, got my blood drawn and looked forward to seeing if my cholesterol was as fabulous as it had been during my pre-nursing days. I didn’t even begin to consider that something would be wrong with my CBC. But something was.

The first test showed a Hbg of 17.1, a Hct of 51.8 and PLT at 859. Clearly something was out of whack. Of course, the first thought is that the sample was faulty somehow, so I went in for another draw. This was was even worse, with Hbg at 17.2, Hct at 51.9 and PLTs the same. I self-diagnosed myself as iron-deficient (don’t ask how I got there…I have no idea!) and tried eating more meat. Well, that didn’t work as my next draw ten days later showed Hbg 18, Hct an astonishing 52.8 and PLT 922. I was a walking time bomb. With blood that thick and platelets that high, I was at immense risk for a thrombotic event of some kind. I was immediately referred to a hematologist/oncologist and sent to the infusion center at Kaiser to have some of that extra blood drained off in a procedure called a phlebotomy.


My veins needed lots of warming up at my first phlebotomy. I think they were hiding…I was really scared here but my friend Kerry came with me :-)

polycythemia vera

See that stopcock? The blood was so thick it barely flowed through the tubing so they had to keep flushing the line. Imagine that thick blood trying to get through my brain…no wonder I had headaches!


Almost done with my first phlebotomy. They had to poke me a few times :-(

polycythemia phlebotomy

Second time getting my vampire action on…an old pro!

The point of a phlebotomy is to get the Hbg/Hct down to safe levels so the blood can flow freely through the body while reducing the risk of a clot. I ended up having three phlebotomies while I worked with my oncologist to figure out what was wrong and what we were going to do about it. After loads of lab draws and tests, I was eventually diagnosed with one of the myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). These chronic blood cancers involve an overproduction of blood cells and can vary from just the platelets to all the cell lines. In my case it is the platelets and red blood cells, so my particular MPN is polycythemia vera. If you’ve learned about PV in school, you have probably read some pretty scary statistics about life expectancy of 10 years and so on and so forth. Luckily, there has been loads more research since those stupid statistics were published, and many of us with MPNs live normal lives as long as we keep our blood counts under control and we don’t progress to myelofibrosis or acute myeloid leukemia, a fear I live with every day (knock on wood, please!).

Since having my diagnosis made in 2011, I’ve been taking interferon and have been able to decrease my dosage from weekly to every three weeks. The side effects, though manageable, have certainly affected my life. Namely I’m more tired than I should be…it’s either the meds or the disease…either way it’s kind of annoying and I am working really hard at increasing my stamina by working on my fitness and diet. At this time, I can manage working two 12-hr shifts a week, as long as I have rest days in between. I also lost a lot of hair, but now that I’ve decreased my dose of interferon I am happy to report that it is growing back :-) It’s not back to it’s full glory, but I’ll take it!

Looking back, I can’t definitively say that nursing school led to my impaired health, though there is growing evidence that chronic stress and inflammation wreak havoc on the body (including leading to cancer). However, I can definitely say that had I not been so focused on school I would have paid closer attention to myself, seen a doctor sooner and been diagnosed years earlier. The fact that I didn’t have a thrombotic event is somewhat of a miracle and something I am thankful for every single day.

So, that leads me to the WHY. I created this site as a way to help nursing students get through their programs with their sanity (and health) intact. And despite the title of this website, it’s not about getting all A’s. Being a “Straight A” nursing student is about learning the material, taking excellent care of your patients, and taking excellent care of yourself. If my notes, resources, tips and study guides help you do these three things, then I have accomplished what I set out to do.

Thanks for all your emails and comments…I love seeing how this site is helping you get through your programs. And as always, be safe out there!

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Scrubs Girl makes her debut!


Screenshot 2015-04-21 16.10.59Scrubs Girl was a little cartoon I played around with while in nursing school. But, unfortunately I cannot draw! Now, with the help of amazing technology, I can make cartoons to my hearts content! Introducing Scrubs Girl!

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Be an End of Shift Report Rockstar

Screenshot 2015-04-21 07.18.40Learning how to give an awesome and succinct end-of-shift report is a vital skill that is crucial to patient safety. Once you start practicing giving/receiving report in clinicals,  you will be astounded at how often this is a disjointed, unorganized mess that leaves you discombobulated and with more questions than answers. To give an awesome report, follow these tips:

  • Use a report sheet (also called a “brain sheet”) that works for you. I have the sheets I use posted here, your unit may have a standard one to use, or you can make  your own. Whatever the case may be, and no matter how many of the “cool kids” give and receive report without writing anything down, use a report sheet. It ensures information does not get lost and helps you give report in a timely manner.
  • Develop a system for conveying information. For me, this is SBAR utilizing a head-to-toe format in the “assessment” portion. Some people jump around from head to gut to feet back up to cardiac with a detour to respiratory and psychosocial. Don’t be that person. It’s head-to-toe, top-to-bottom, beginning-to-end all the time, every time. It’s the only way you’ll be confident you’ve remembered everything (and even then you may still call the unit on your way home!).
  • Include a bedside check with the oncoming nurse. Some hospitals require the whole report be done at the bedside, but if yours doesn’t then please go into the room together. Check the patient, check their gtts, surgical incisions, chest tubes, vent settings, wound VAC, and neuro status together. This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process…just a quick bedside check to confirm that the stuff in the chest tube now looks like the stuff you’ve been seeing all night, or that the draining on the surgical dressing hasn’t changed, etc…
  • Review any new orders together. On the floor, there may not be time for this, but definitely review orders if you are in a step-down or ICU. This ensures critical items were not missed or forgotten. And yes, some things will get passed shift-to-shift. This is fine as long as you got something done and the patient is better off for it.
  • Ensure you leave time for questions. Don’t take up the whole report timeframe chatting about the patient’s cute grandson or how fantastic your new compression socks are working out. Leave time for questions, and leave time for your fellow nurses to also give report in the allotted timeframe and get out of there on time!
  • Speak with confidence. If this means you need to practice a little bit beforehand, then practice. Sneak back to the supply room or at least go over it in your head. As a student, you can make an excellent impression if you convey information well…this is the perfect time to shine!
Brain sheet

A report sheet will help keep your information organized.

I hope this helps you master the art of giving excellent end-of-shift report…a skill that is often overlooked but absolutely vital and always much appreciated! To help you get the hang of it, I’ve recorded a Podcast episode using a fictitious patient…you can check it out here (subscribe via iTunes and receive episodes automatically!).

Be safe out there!

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Mailbag Monday…the prerequisite blues

Recently I received this touching email from Rebecca who is experiencing something I think a lot of us have experienced.

I really really want to get accepted into the bscn nursing program at my university. I haven’t been in highschool for 22 years. I am 40 years old.

I just started taking some pre-admission requirement courses, physics, maths, chemistry 3 weeks ago. While I love chem, and think physics is interesting, I am really struggling with the grade 10/11 math. And its not even a pre-calculus!

I am just so tired, daily. I just started and while eating breakfast I am reviewing the periodic table, elements, mols, grams, amu etc. Then at lunch it’s review the physics, then all night its on the phone with my math tutor at $30 an hr….I know I am whining….hang on..

I don’t want to end up in a cafeteria worker career. I do want an education and I know everything comes with a price tag, I just wonder if I can do it. I am feeling a bit beaten down because today I missed my GED math exam to get my general equivalency diploma, because my car service to take me the 2 hr drive showed up late. (I don’t drive) and the little catch up college I’m presently in is threatening to throw me out without completion of it.

Waaa. whoa…I’m feeling bad for myself. I know.

But give me some positive encouragement, if you don’t mind, please. How am I ever going to get through all the sciences of a bscn????

glad I found your blog, I am going stick around a while.

As an “older” student myself, I totally understand where Rebecca is coming from! When I took college Algebra I had not done any math beyond my checkbook calculations in over 20 years! And yes, when you’re a bona-fide adult with all the bona-fide adult stuff that comes with it (kids, husbands, mortgages, grey hair, car payments, wrinkles, aging parents…the list goes son!) then finding the time, energy and motivation for everything can be tough.

If I were to sit down with our friend Rebecca here I would probably advise against taking such heavy prerequisite classes all together…especially as someone who is getting back into the swing of things with school. The list of prerequisite courses for nursing school generally includes some “fluff” classes like communication, psychology, anthropology, sociology, and whatnot…I paired my heavy science classes with those and was SO glad I did. But, if you don’t have much choice and have to double up…then the best advice I have is to streamline your studying, stick to a schedule and always always always take time to do something kind for yourself. I worked myself into very poor health while I was a student, and hope that the advice and tips I provide help all of you to maximize your time so that you can take care of the person who matters most…you!

Rebecca, if you’re reading this…please write in and let me know how you’re doing. Good luck with school, everyone!

Be safe out there!


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Do you have the right attitude for nursing school?

nursing school succeed

As you have likely heard a million times already, nursing school is tough and it takes a special person to survive with their sanity intact. With these five simple attitude adjustments, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to conquer nursing school and anything it can throw your way!

1) Learn to be flexible
Many of you are super detail oriented, super organized and super good at planning out your study schedule and your life. Nursing school isn’t always quite so kind in that regard. If you go into it with the attitude to “be flexible” you will save yourself a lot of frustration, I promise! Assignments will get changed, due dates moved, lecture PPT slides posted at midnight the night before your class, and clinical assignments flip-flopped. Just take a deep breath and reeeelax. It will all work out, you’ll learn what you need to learn and you’ll eventually become a safe nurse taking excellent care of your patients. So, if flexibility isn’t your strong suit right now…try to get into that frame of mind. To quote the movie, Nell…be like a  “tree in the wind.” Did I just age myself?

2) Embrace the idea of “early to bed, early to rise”
There’s no getting around it. Nursing school requires a lot of early morning starts…namely for clinicals, but for lectures, labs and exams as well. Most likely, you will be meeting your clinical professor BEFORE the shift starts, which means you may be at the hospital as early as 0600. Learn to embrace those 0430 alarm clock blarings by setting the coffee maker to brew automatically and getting to bed at a decent hour. Otherwise, you will be pretty miserable, and tired, and grumpy…and that’s just not the real you at all.

3) Check that competitive attitude at the door
With so many nursing schools turning applicants away, the pressure and competition to just get INTO a program can be intense. During your pre-reqs you may have felt the pressure to be the best student in the class, to get all As and score the highest on your admission exams. Ok, turbo. Now it’s time to chill. You’re in! One of the things you are going to learn pretty quickly when you start clinicals is that nursing is a team sport. You are all on this crazy ship together…so replace competitiveness with cooperation and work together.

Share notes, quiz each other, do your part of group projects, and offer a helping hand at the hospital. You get the idea.

4) Be humble…no one likes a “know-it-all”
Yes, you may be incredibly bright and ridiculously booksmart. But when you’re in the hospital and learning hands-on nursing from someone with way more actual hands-on experience than you, adopt a humble and thankful attitude or you may find the welcome is not so warm. The reality is, things in the hospital aren’t always done exactly as you learned in school and that’s usually OK. To borrow an old Southern expression, accept that there are multiple ways to skin a cat and learn from the opportunity. Now, if you are working with a nurse or a patient who instructs you to do something that you KNOW isn’t safe you can always fall back on the old line that “my nursing professor requires me to do it this way.” But for the most part, you’re going to be humble, and smart and wonderful…all rolled into one irresistible package.

5) Learn to accept criticism graciously
Oh, there’s just nothing quite like the steely eye of an astute and observant clinical professor. Get used to being called out on your shortcomings as in, “Why didn’t you chart X” or “Did you do Y?” Never ever get defensive or try to offer excuses. Just say “No, but I’ll go do it right now. Thank you.” Did you see that? SAY THANK YOU! Your professor isn’t getting his or her jollies off being such a stickler. S/he is trying to keep you safe. S/he is trying to keep you from killing someone. S/he is trying to keep you from doing something stupid that will get you booted from the program. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! What’s the name of the game? It’s THANK YOU!

As always, be safe out there!



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Storage caddies are cool, right?

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know I am a sucker for all things related to organizing (also a sucker for pens, post-it notes and all things laminated!). Depending on the type of unit you work in (or have your nursing school clinical) it may make sense for you to have your “stuff” organized and accessible in some way…but not necessarily on your person. This obviously isn’t for you if you work in a unit where you are never in the same spot for very long or are running hither and yon your entire shift (like in the ED). But if you work critical care,PACU, and even on the floor you may find that having  your goodies in a storage tote works well, provided you have a place to actually put it. In the ICU where I work, we have WOWs (workstation on wheels) at every room and tables outside every two rooms or so. I typically put my goodie bag there and have easy access to all kinds of things  I might need throughout my shift but don’t necessarily want to carry in my pockets.

A true "goodie bag" for nurses :-)

A true “goodie bag” for nurses :-)

  • Extra pens and highlighters (yes, we are still paper charting!)
  • Extra mini sharpies in case the one on my badge holder peters out. What do I use these for? Did you even have to ask??
  • My custom “post-it” notes with my check-off lists, like you see here. Love these!
  • A laminated list of commonly used gtts…cardizem, norepinephrine, nitro, neosynephrine, etc…
  • Cute post-its with “thank you” and “you rock” messages on them, that I sneak to my awesome co-workers after they do something awesome for me (gave three of those out yesterday…woot woot!)
  • A drawing one of my patient’s daughters made for me, saying I’m the best nurse ever.
  • An emergency Lara Bar for those busy shifts when I don’t get my morning break until 11 or 12.
  • A pack of gum, which I call “report gum” so that we are all fresh for giving report at the end of the shift.
  • A few dollars in case someone goes on a coffee run or I need something from a vending machine…doesn’t happen often as we can use our badges to buy stuff, but it’s good to have just in case!
  • Kathy White’s “Fast Facts for Critical Care” is in the larger middle pocket…it is a super handy reference for all things ICU-related. The 2013 version is currently available and is a must-have item for your critical care library.

I couldn’t find this exact tote online for you guys anywhere, but this one looks promising! I got mine at a craft store, just look for something made of vinyl or some other material you can easily wipe off. A fabric tote would just attract all kinds of goobers. Blech.

Be safe out there!

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Feeling like a real nurse

I was enjoying a cup of coffee this morning and indulging in one of my favorite guilty pleasures…looking on the internet for funny or inspiring nursing memes or photos. I came across this one and immediately had  reaction. A negative one.

nursing meme

Whoever wrote this is not a nurse

Whoever wrote this meme is not a nurse, or is the worst kind of nurse…I can’t decide. This person clearly believes that a nurse is a pill pusher and nothing more. This author demeans the profession and positions nurses simply as someone who can bring you a physician-prescribed pill rather than intervene appropriately based on assessment and the nursing process.

Guess what? I massage my patients. Sometimes it’s exactly what they need. Imagine lying in bed for days on end, hooked up to a ventilator and you finally get to sit up. How good would it feel to have someone massage some lotion into your back…a back marked with linen creases and aching from lack of movement? Imagine that you’re suffering through critical illness myopathy and your muscles have become contracted with lack of use? How good would it feel to have someone massage the muscles of your hand and bring some movement and fluidity back into your fingers? Imagine that it is you, lying in that bed, completely dependent on others. How good would it feel to have someone give you exactly what you need, rather than what’s simply easiest for them?

Yes, we’re all busy…sometimes enormously so. But consider that in the time it takes for the RN to go to the medication room, draw up the medication, possibly find someone to witness the waste and then return to the room, s/he could have quickly alleviated the patient’s discomfort, connected with another human being and done actual real hands-on nursing care. Emphasis on the word “care.”

By limiting nursing to the role of simply giving meds and carrying out doctor’s orders, nurses strip themselves of their autonomy and patients of their humanity.

And this is coming from a nurse who gets a thrill out of having a patient on nine continuous infusions, multiple vasopressors and max vent settings…because I love a challenge and I love complex critical care. But I also love people. And connecting with them. And nursing them back to health. And sometimes what they need from their nurse, the person they have entrusted to their wellbeing, is actual hands-on care. A hand to hold, someone to talk to, someone who will urge them toward wellness by walking them down the hall even when every step is a monumental task, and yes…someone to massage their feet.

When do you feel most like a nurse? Is it when you’re carrying out doctor’s orders, or thinking, assessing, intervening and connecting with another human being?

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Product Review: A book on ‘lytes

As a nursing student I had an insatiable appetite for books and spent more of my student loan than was necessary buying loads of books…if it had to do with nursing school it was in my library. Eventually I realized that I didn’t have time to read all those books but did keep a few tried and true workhorses, one of which I am reviewing today in the First Ever SANS product review!  Every couple of weeks I’ll review a product that is crucial to my nursing school and working nurse sanity…reap the benefits of my hard labor and just trust me on these!

The book “Fluid & Electrolytes” is from the Saunders Nursing Survival Guide series and it is excellent! One of the things I really like about this book (which I still use today) is how it explains the physiology of electrolytes and fluid balance. More than just a listing of lab values, this book explains why and how electrolyte imbalances affect the body. Plus…BONUS…it includes NCLEX-style questions at the end of each chapter. How cool is that?

Screenshot 2015-04-09 22.14.48Straight A Nurse’s rating of this book? 5 stars! If you purchase through this link, you’ll help support Straight A Nursing Student :-) Thanks and be safe out there!

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What does a nursing student need?

15 things

If you’re a soon-to-be nursing student (or know a nursing student) you may be scouring the internet or asking friends and coworkers what a nursing school supplies a student really needs. With these 15 items, you will be set with the supplies you need to rock the heck out of nursing school!

1) Comfortable shoes
This goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to find shoes that function at the level of comfort required by a nurse. What you used to think were comfortable shoes, will possibly fail miserably after standing for hours and hours on end. Sadly, most schools require white shoes for reasons that are completely unknown to anyone but nursing school administrators…so finding white shoes that are comfortable and not hideous can be quite a challenge! The Nerdy Nurse has a list of options for women, and most guys simply wear white sneakers. Sorry, guys.

2) Stethoscope
Unless you are planning to go into a cardiac unit, you probably don’t need a cardiac stethoscope. Yes, they are cool…and yes, they afford you bragging rights with your fellow students. But they are EXPENSIVE, and stethoscopes are one thing that often get lost, misplaced, loaned out and generally stolen. Get a decent one, but don’t break the bank. If you land that dream job in the CVICU, then by all means buck up for the fancy version. A Littmann Master Classic II is a great middle-of-the road steth that will serve you well for years to come (put your name on it!)

3) Scissors
You will be surprised how often you need a handy little pair of scissors. You will also be surprised how often one of the nurses you’re working with will need to borrow them. Get a pair that you can easily identify (like these…or these) and put your name on them as well. If you are dreaming of working in ED, then get the trauma scissors. Otherwise, the smaller size works great.

Ain't no one gonna steal these!

Ain’t no one gonna steal these!

4) Hemostats
Hemostats are easily the most-used item in a nurse’s tool kit. You will use hemostats multiple times a day to unscrew super tight IV lines, to get those darn fentanyl bags off their spikes, to clamp foleys so you can obtain urine samples, to get the metal cap off a bottle of Precedex…the list goes on. If you are clamping a foley and only have a hemostat with teeth, by all means please put some gauze or something between the teeth and the plastic so you don’t poke holes and make a giant mess. Check them out here!

5) Electronic reference guide
Yes, you could haul around a drug guide and lab manual everywhere you go, but having them on your phone is so much easier. Besides, you’ll be carrying around enough stuff as it is! Skyscape is easily the leader in electronic reference guides…they have tons of options for nurses and students including a drug guide that includes all the information you’ll need for your clinical write-ups. While you’re there, check out some of the freebies that come with their app. Students love freebies!

6) A reliable calendar
For some people this is their phone, for others it’s a paper calendar and for others its a DSCN3587combination of both. Figure out before school starts which method works for you. Nursing school schedules are insane and it may be difficult to keep it all organized with just a phone calendar, but this could work for you if you’re not a big list maker. If you are, then you’re going to need to write some stuff down in a paper calendar of some sort. This one pictured to the right is great for the ladies, while the UnCalendar is more unisex and utilitarian…both are fantastic!

7) A Google account
With a google account you can create Google Documents that are accessible from anywhere. Got a few extra minutes while waiting for your car to be serviced? Open Google and proofread your case management paper. Want to review the notes you took in Community Health? With Google docs, they are right there! You can also do collaborative projects with others and share files easily (and yes, you will be doing lots and lots of group projects in nursing school!)

8) gFlash or some other electronic flash card app
With gFlash (or something similar) you can easily create electronic flash cards that youphoto can use to quiz yourself whenever you find you have a few minutes downtime. Not only is it faster than writing them out, they’re more portable too. The gFlash app is great because it holds back all the cards you missed, mixes in a few others just for fun and continually re-quizzes you until you get 100%. It’s a great way to study material that must be memorized.

9) A flash drive
Share files among friends, download journal articles and mobilize all your documents with a flash drive. Get a fun one so you’ll at least smile when you’re working.

10) A clipboard with storage space
For clinicals you will likely have a bunch of paperwork with you…clinical preps, reference sheets and notes. Having a clipboard with a storage area makes it easy to keep all this mess together in one place, keeps HIPAA information out of sight, and ensure your paperwork won’t go flying all over the place when you inevitably drop it while trying to juggle IV bags, warm blankets and Colace. (link)

11) A bookstand
Nursing students spend a lot of time reading and working on the computer. A bookstand will save your neck while reading, and provide a handy prop for reference materials as you work at your computer. This one is sturdy, high-quality and will last for years (after graduation, you can use it to hold cookbooks!)


Find it fast with tabbies!

12) Plastic divider tabs
These tabs are invaluable for marking important items in text books or your notes. With tabs, you can find the information you need in a flash.

13) Highlighters in various colors
Highlighters come in super handy not only for highlighting material in books, but color-coding notes as well. Or, take one to clinical to highlight important things on your report/brain sheet. The uses are endless! One tried-and-true method is to highlight different types of information with different colors…lab values, signs & symptoms, measurements or numerical values, meds, side effects, etc… Go crazy!

14) A watch with a sweeping second hand
An analog watch with a sweeping second hand is important for doing things like counting pulses and respirations. The sweeping hand ensures you don’t accidentally count to the beat of the second hand as it jumps around the watch. Find something with a wrist band you don’t mind getting wet. And if you’re planning to work night shift, then go ahead and get one that glows.

15) A sturdy clinical bag
You’re going to be taking a fair amount of stuff to clinical (binders, photo 1stethoscope, snacks, etc…), so invest in a sturdy clinical bag made of some kind of material you can easily wipe down. Obviously cloth bags are not ideal unless it’s one you can throw in the wash regularly. A simple backpack is great, or a tote bag from TimBuk2 like this one.

As an Amazon Affiliate site, purchases made through these links to Amazon support Straight A Nursing Student. SANS was not paid or compensated in any way to provide these product recommendations.

Good luck with school!

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