Three Things You Don’t Learn In Nursing School

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

As a registered nurse, you probably went through at least two years of school, though many RNs opt for the four-year route to secure their bachelor’s degree. During this time, you gained invaluable knowledge about the skills required of successful RNs, learning everything from basics like chemistry and anatomy to more field-specific topics such as maternity, pediatrics and elder nursing.

Despite this comprehensive academic coverage and experience in clinical rotations, there are certain things about a nursing career that you often don’t learn in a classroom setting. Check out these lessons that students may not find in the curriculum:

1. Many of your clinical skills develop once you start working
While nursing school covers the technical side of this profession, registered nurses may still experience moments where they’re left clueless about how to complete a task. A study published in the journal BioMed Central Nursing elaborated on this point. Researchers used focus groups to review opinions of 90 nurses. The study authors found that these individuals viewed their clinical education as insufficient, which led to anxiety and feelings of incompetency.

Of course, all new employees experience some levels of unfamiliarity, but lack of experience may weigh more heavily on emotions and confidence in the health care industry. That said, nursing schools do not have the capabilities to teach every single component of health care. Not only would this level of education require far more than four years, but health care professionals constantly see new issues arise.

Take the Zika virus, for example. Experts from the University of California, Los Angeles discovered that this virus’s rapid mutation makes it more dangerous and able to affect people across the world at an exceptionally fast rate. While their research has led to new findings, it also raises more questions, which means no one — nursing school professors, health care workers or otherwise — has definitive answers. Because of this inevitable uncertainty, nurses must adapt to new information as it arrives while working in the field. It is important, then, for RNs to take advantage of every learning opportunity.

2. How to deal with all the job-related emotions
As you know, nursing is no walk in the park. Patients come to you on their worst days — perhaps they just got in a car accident or experienced a bout of pneumonia. This inevitably affects how they treat you and other health care professionals, which can take a serious toll on your emotions. While nursing school certainly doesn’t sugar coat the life of an RN, many individuals in this career find themselves without the right tools to bounce back from a bad day. The evidence lies in burnout rates.

A study published in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing (OJIN) found that nurses “cover up” feelings as the main tactic for handling emotions on the job. Meanwhile, 69 percent of nurses who employ this tactic experience high rates of burnout. This extreme emotional labor could push nurses out of their jobs, revealing how effective stress management for nurses serves both health care professionals and their patients.

3. Always take care of yourself first
As alluded to in the above point, nurses must focus on their own well-being to properly care for their patients. Perhaps nursing school instructors reference this lesson, but many nurses only learn the importance of this mindset once they are on the hospital floor. Remember, this applies to both physical and mental health.

Taking care of your physical health is only logical. As the American Nurses Association outlined, daily duties include anything from wound care, conducting physical exams and administering medication to coordinating care and providing health education. These tasks would prove difficult if you’re tired from not getting enough rest or coping with the flu.

Meanwhile, your emotions also play a crucial role in how you care for patients. Research pulled for an overview for a separate OJIN study found that nurses have a higher rate of depression than the general population — 17 percent, compared to the national rate of 9 percent. According to the Mayo Clinic, feelings of sadness and hopelessness serve as only the start of other symptoms of this condition, such as slowed thinking, agitation, and physical ailments like back pain. All of these manifestations can hinder your ability to provide optimal care.

As a nurse, your education never ends. From schooling through your career, you constantly learn new lessons that ultimately shape you into the best health care professional possible. To make the most of this journey, view every experience as a learning opportunity and don’t forget to take care of your physical and emotional well-being.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. As a psych nurse it was rare to have an intervention where the nurses discussed the atrocities we personally and professionally experienced dealing with an out of control psych patients. It’s a sad fact that nurses just have to stuff those feelings and their fears in that environment.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with the need for good self-care to balance burn out. there’s no such thing as an easy nursing job but that’s also where the reward lies. I have a degree in psychology and nursing and I’ve been told “it’s great you have an RN but I’m hiring you for your psych degree”. Sometimes I wish I could postpone my real life problems but that’s not really what balance is about. I really do have more for others when I take care of myself well.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

3 Big Lessons I Learned When My Patient Almost Fell

It was a normal day, except I felt extra determined to get my patient out of bed. Maybe my coffee was double strength, who...

Did You See It? –Nurse Comforts Boy After Tonsil Surgery

Don't you just love when a positive story about an amazing nurse goes viral!? Here's one that caught our attention. After 5-year-old Slade Thompson woke...

10 Emotions Every Nurse Experiences at the End of a Shift

. Ah, yes—the final sprint to the finish line at the end of a 12-hour shift. A time as terrifying as it is hopeful. Of course, no two...