7 Things You Wish They Taught in Nursing School

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

Nursing is a profession that requires a high level of education. Ever since the 19th century, nurses have undergone extensive training and received detailed medical education before they start practicing. Today, nurses can have anything from an Associate’s of Science in Nursing, to a PhD.

But even with all of that education and training, there are still things they simply don’t teach you in school. Once you enter the working world and start practicing, you may realize just how much you don’t know. Some things are only learned by nurses through experience.

What do you wish they’d taught you in nursing school? These seven things are popular responses to that question. Some are positive, and some are negative, but they’re all things you don’t usually learn about in college.

1) Time Management Skills

It’s rare that time management is taught in schools. If it is, it’s often in late elementary or middle school, not during your college years. In any profession, time management is important, and nursing is no exception. Nurses face a serious problem: they’re given workloads that are often so intense that they don’t comply with recommended standards. Sometimes the recommended nurse to patient ratio simply isn’t followed, leaving an individual nurse responsible for too many patients at one time. There’s also overtime, often due to insufficient staffing.

With their many tasks and responsibilities, nurses need to know how to organize their time effectively. This is usually a skill that’s developed on the job, not in college. However, many nurses wish they’d addressed time management concerns in nursing school. Prioritizing your time for classwork and studying is quite different from the kind of time management challenges you encounter when working as a nurse.

2) Dealing with Doctors

Many physicians are a joy to work with, but everyone’s personality is different. There are always doctors who are challenging to work with. Many nurses aren’t sure how to handle it if they’re working with a physician who’s rude, arrogant, or otherwise unpleasant. Like dealing with a bad boss in any other job, this isn’t something that’s addressed in college curricula.

3) Listening to Nursing Assistants

Many nurses work closely with nursing assistants, who’ve spent less time in nursing school than they have. However, despite their lower level of medical education, a veteran nursing assistant who’s been practicing for years can teach you a lot about patient care. When you’re having trouble managing a patient, your assistant can be an invaluable source of advice.

4) Making Wise Assessments

Nurses are trained in how to conduct physical assessments, and many are also familiar with mental state examinations and mood assessments. But these aren’t the only things you might need to pay attention to. In nursing school, they don’t teach you how to read patients closely — you learn that on the job. Over time, you learn how to tell if a patient is lying about their symptoms. You also learn about consistent correlations between seemingly unrelated symptoms, helping you better understand their diagnoses. This is something they probably can’t simply teach you in school. It must be learned through experience.

5) Dealing With Feelings

Nursing can be emotionally stressful sometimes. From the adrenaline rush of emergency situations, to sadness when a patient passes away, nurses feel things strongly. There’s also the matter of putting your own emotions aside during emergencies, and coping with seeing disturbing illnesses and injuries. Dealing with the emotional aspect of nursing is something that people learn in the trenches.

6) Dealing with Change

Today’s healthcare facilities are budget-conscious, yet innovative. This can create an environment where things change quickly and frequently for staff. This can be challenging for nurses to keep up with.

7) Coping with Mortality

Are you really comfortable with the phenomenon of death? Many people aren’t, and young nurses often find themselves saddened or disturbed by witnessing death. Death is a normal part of life, and it’s something that everyone eventually has to come to terms with and fully accept. Nurses witness death all too often, and it can be draining if you’re not emotionally and spiritually comfortable with it. Over time, being face to face with death allows nurses to become less and less phased by it. But the fragility of life isn’t something they really address in nursing school. In everyday life, it’s swept under the rug, because people are uncomfortable talking about it. But medicine is one of those careers where you look death in the face.

Learning Continues Throughout Your Career

For nurses, completing their degree is only the beginning. Over the course of your career, you’ll develop brand new skills you didn’t even know you needed. From managing your time and dealing with ridiculously demanding workloads, to facing off with the inevitability of death, some things really can’t be taught in a classroom.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. I really feel I was taught most of those in nursing school but then again I was in the industry in other roles for 14 years before going to school for nursing, maybe that is the difference. Maybe some things I knew already? Or maybe because I knew some things already I could pick up on the above items being taught where others were focused on too much too learn to get the items above when taught?


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