Get the Most out of Your First Year of Nursing School

March 27, 2015

Gap Medics students ready for surgery! Being a nurse can be a great career choice for several reasons. The field offers a lot of opportunities in various specialties and settings. From working in the emergency room to labor and delivery, there are many options to choose from.

The first step in becoming a nurse is getting your registered nursing license. You have the choice of attending a two or four-year program. Two-year registered degree programs result in an associate degree while a bachelor’s degree is earned in four-year programs.

Whichever path you take to become a registered nurse, your first year in nursing school may be filled with excitement, nerves and mixed emotions. While you may be happy to start your education, it can be a lot to deal with. From tough science classes to clinical rotations, the first year of nursing school can be tough. Luckily, with the right attitude and information, you can get the most out of your first year.  

What to Expect

Nursing schools may have different curriculums depending on whether they are two or four-year programs. With a four-year nursing program, you may take many of the same classes as an associate degree program, but may also take more general education and nursing theory classes. Regardless of the nursing degree you are pursuing, your curriculum will likely include classroom lectures, labs and clinical rotations at affiliated medical facilities.

In addition to science classes, nursing school also involves classes including nursing fundamentals, medical-surgical nursing, pediatrics and mental health nursing. In addition to labs, you will complete clinical rotations. Nursing schools may have affiliations with hospitals, mental health clinics, and nursing homes. Programs vary on when they start clinical rotations. Some programs start clinical rotations your second semester while others start sooner.

Making the Most of Your First Year

Once you know what to expect, you can determine ways to make the most of the experience. Making the most of nursing school your first year means learning as much as you can, which prepares you for the following year. It also means enjoying the experience and growing personally. Consider some of the following ways to make the most of your first year as a nursing student.

Accept school will be challenging and time-consuming. If you go to nursing school your first year and think it will be as easy as high school, you may be in for a surprise. There is a lot to learn and juggle your first year. In addition to science classes and labs, you may have to work eight or 12-hour shifts at a medical facility during rotations. When you start your first year, accept the fact you will be busy and may have to prioritize your activities outside of school.

Understand you may not love everything about nursing school. There may be classes you do not enjoy and aspects of clinical rotations you do not like. Rarely does someone love every single thing about their job. Don’t get discouraged if you do not enjoy a class or one particular rotation.

Go into your program with an open mind. Before you start nursing school, you may have it all planned out. For example, you may plan to become an emergency room nurse and work in a large medical center. It’s great to have an idea of what you want to do, but try to start school with an open mind. You have the chance to learn about different types of nursing and experience various medical facilities. You may find something interesting, which you had not previously considered. Don’t be so narrowly focused, you miss opportunities.

Talk with as many medical workers as possible. As a first year nursing student, you may have the chance to rotate through different hospitals. Take advantage of the situation and talk with medical workers in various specialties. It can be helpful to learn what other allied healthcare workers do. 

Don’t be timid during clinical rotations. Clinical rotations during your first year of school may be your first experience taking care of sick patients. It can be overwhelming, especially in the beginning. But clinical rotations provide a great learning opportunity. Get as much hands-on experience as possible. Ask questions and try to assist with procedure when appropriate.  

Develop time management skills early. Nurses need to have strong time management skills. They often care for multiple patients, juggling orders, treatments and charting. As a nursing student, it is essential to develop time management skills as early as possible. Determine ways to keep track of assignments and stay current with everything you need to do. Not only will time management skills helps you as a nursing student, but they are critical when you start your career.

Find a study buddy. It can be helpful to have a classmate to study with. Better yet, form a study group. Getting together with your classmates can make studying easier and more fun. Several people working together may be able to help decipher complex information better than one person working alone.

Remember your goal. Some students may get frustrated or feel overwhelmed during their first year of nursing school. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Keep your eye on your goal and remember why you want to be a nurse.

Troubleshooting During Your First Year in Nursing School

If you run into a problem during your first year of nursing school, don’t just ignore the situation. Each year of your program builds on the previous one. If you do not address an issue, it can become an even bigger problem in the years to come. Whether you are falling behind in classes or are having trouble dealing with the emotional aspects of witnessing illness and death, there is help available.

Talk with someone you trust about what is bothering you. Be honest with yourself and try to determine what the problem is. You can also discuss the situation with your instructors. You may be able to make adjustments when needed to improve your study habits, grades or perspective.