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. Nursing is a team sport…we are all on this crazy ship together. Click To Tweet 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!



3 thoughts on “Do you have the right attitude for nursing school?

  1. Greg Mercer, MSN

    Please keep in mind that “super OCD” reflects a common misuse of the term by nurses and many other people. OCD is an illness, not a character trait, a debilitating cause of serious suffering in which people experience overwhelming anxiety unless they frequently attend to thoughts and behaviors that are generally nonsensical, counterproductive, and embarassing. Nurses do not have “super OCD” becuse if they did, they’d be quite unable to function at work. Such completely inaccurate use of a diagnosis does not project an image of competence, knowledge, or professionalism. Quite the opposite.

    1. Nurse Mo Post author

      Greg brings up an interesting point…at what point does a term work its way into the vernacular to become not only misused (as Greg points out here) but universally understood to mean something that is substantially watered-down from its actual definition. Labeling oneself or others as “OCD” has indeed become commonplace as a way to describe a character trait of being detail oriented, bothered by things that are not in alignment, and highly motivated to instill order out of chaos…all very good traits for a nurse. It does not, however, imply that nurses are using the term as a psychiatric self-diagnosis or that nurses do not understand that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a serious and disabling illness. It has, unfortunate as it may be, simply become shorthand that is used, albeit incorrectly, by many a competent, knowledgeable and professional nurse to convey the aforementioned attributes. Should we rethink our shorthand? Yes, we probably should. But are we incompetent (a harsh accusation indeed) because we have allowed ourselves to adopt common vernacular? I do not think using the term OCD incorrectly labels one as incompetent, unknowledgable or unprofessional…a more accurate label might be unconscientious. We know the term is used incorrectly, but we do so anyway. The real question is WHY? And why is it so universally misused and misunderstood? An interesting question and one we should certainly consider as mental illness faces enough stigma as it is. So, I invite the readers of the blog to think about their own use of this term and consider more accurate alternatives. I will certainly do the same and would like to thank Greg for bringing this issue to our attention. And, for the record….if any of my readers have ever used this term in conversation not related to discussing an actual mental illness, I do not think you are at all incompetent, unknowledgeable or unprofessional. Quite the opposite. You’re all amazing, and we are ALL of us learning something every day.


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