How Hard Is Nursing School? (Expert Tips On How To Survive)
Written By: Sarah Jividen BSN, RN, SCRN
Are you considering a career in nursing but wonder how hard nursing school will be?
Before I became a second career nurse, I already had almost a decade of experience working for a medical device sales company, and often worked alongside other nurses (on the business side).
One day, I decided to make a colossal life-altering career change at the age of thirty. I walked away from my corporate sales career and leapt into the life of an ambitious and very "green" nursing student.
Unfortunately, however, I also mistakenly thought that since I had been working around nurses for so long that somehow nursing school wouldn't be as hard for me than others (spoiler, I was wrong!). As it turns out, you don't obtain a true nursing education just by being in proximity to those who are the real deal.
Why is nursing school so hard?
Many prospective nurses have asked me over the years," is nursing really school hard?"
The long and short answer is a resounding YES. It may be one of the hardest things you ever do. But for a good reason!
There is a lot of emotion involved in becoming a great registered nurse. You are helping people during the most challenging times of their lives. You will see babies born, and you will watch people pass away. You will save lives with medicine, compassion, and life-saving "code blues." You will work as a team with other healthcare professionals, and you will all be expected to be competent in your nursing skills as well as articulate in the way you communicate.
Being a nurse is a privilege. Helping strangers will give you a vantage point that most people will never have. And it will make you stronger and more resilient to deal with almost anything that life throws your direction.
Here are the Hardest Parts of Nursing School (With Expert Tips on How to Survive)
1. You will likely have to go into debt; prepare for it!
As if the stress of going to nursing school and starting a new career isn't enough, most nursing students go into debt. For that reason, many nurses choose to get an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN), which is significantly cheaper than obtaining a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (BSN).
However, most hospitals are no longer hiring ADNs as new grads, so you will find yourself having to go back to school anyway. In the long run, it ends up costing more money and more time (not to mention it prolongs the stress as well!).
Here are a few financial tips while you are in nursing school:
• Downsize your living situation as much as you can. Move-in with family if possible to save money on housing expenses.
• Don't spend money on anything that is not an absolute necessity.
• Cook meals at home instead of ordering takeout and pack all your lunches.
• Socialize with friends in each other's homes instead of going out. (You will be so busy with studies that your social life will probably take a hit anyways).
• After you graduate, continue that lifestyle and pay off as much student loan debt each month as possible.
2. Tell your friends and family that you love them, and you will see them after you graduate.
The loss of much of my social life was another situation I outright denied as I was starting nursing school. But the endless papers, weekly tests, projects, presentations, and clinicals you will have in nursing school will take up 95% of your time. You WILL have to choose what is most important to you to pass.
After month one of my BSN program, it was apparent that my social life was going to be put on the back burner if I wanted to graduate. So I had a discussion with friends and family explaining that my #1 priority for the next two and a half years was to graduate from nursing school and earn my BSN.
3. You will often feel like you are drowning.
You will be learning about every aspect of the human body and mind. Just when you figure out how something works, you will be moving on to the next topic.
The thing about nursing school and studying the human body is that you don't realize how much you don't know - or even how much there is to know - until you get there. It should feel overwhelming.
But it is important to remember that this is only a period of time, and one day you will move past it. Nursing schools are known for weeding out as many as 30% or more students within the first year (mine was closer to 40%). But these programs need to ensure that you will be prepared to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and enter the nursing profession.
4. Self-care needs to be your priority.
You must learn how to put your health and well-being first. Because if you don't do it, no one will.
Here are the four best self-care tips for nursing students:
• Establish good sleep hygiene. All-nighters will happen, so you need to get quality sleep when you can. Invest in blackout shades, a face mask, and earplugs.
• Get 30 minutes of exercise every day - even if it is just a brisk walk.
• Eat the way you would tell your patients to eat. Stress is a fact of nursing school - don't turn it into stress eating. Pack healthy lunches, so you don't reach for junk food on school days.
• Try meditation - there are so many apps that can help students manage stress levels starting at only 10 minutes a day. So there is no excuse not to use them!
5. You will fail - use your failures to learn more.
I remember failing a physiology test that I thought I was prepared for in my first year of nursing school. After the shock of that, I thought for sure I would be kicked out of my program, and my life would be ruined. At my nursing school, like most in California and across the US, anything below an 82% was considered an F.
Now looking back, I appreciate that scary moment because it forced me to up my game, study harder, and write better papers.
I hope this article answers the question, "why is nursing school so hard?" and gave you helpful tips on how to survive. Know in advance that nursing school will be a struggle. But if you stay focused on your goal and make learning your #1 priority, you will come out an RN on the other side. Take it one day at a time, and you can succeed.
Best of luck!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is PA school harder than nursing?
Becoming a Physicians Assistant (PA) is closer to the role of a nurse practitioner (NP) than a registered nurse. But it is possible to become a PA without having to have a BSN first like you do when you start an NP program.
The length of time it takes to become an NP or a PA is very similar. An NP must earn a bachelor's of science in nursing (4 years) from an accredited program before applying to NP school (another 2-4 years). PA programs require a health bachelor's degree before attending PA school, which is between 2-3 years.
Sarah Jividen BSN, RN, SCRN
is a healthcare content writer and experienced ER and neuro/trauma nurse. Her writing is focused on the nursing profession, breaking medical news, evidence-based healthcare and wellness trends, and motherhood. When she is not working you might find Sarah playing with her two toddlers, or exploring the great outdoors.