Nursing school: what to expect in your second year

August 6, 2015

If you made it through your first year of nursing school, congratulations! For students enrolled in an associate degree program, you’re halfway through. But before you can call yourself a registered nurse, you still have a bit more to go.

Second year curriculum

Your curriculum during your second year may depend on whether you are in a two-year or four-year nursing program. Although specific classes may vary, there are some general things you can expect during your second year.

By now, you probably have taken most of your general education classes, especially if you are in a two-year program. Many of the classes you’ll take in your second year are nursing classes, such as medical/surgical nursing, nursing leadership and medical ethics.

Bachelor degree programs are often structured differently. Because programs are longer and require more credits to graduate, you may still have some general education classes.

During your first year of nursing school, you may have just been getting your feet wet. As you go through your second year of school, things will start to come together. All the information you learned in lectures and labs will start to make sense. For students in an associate degree program, you may study specialty areas of nursing, such as psychiatric nursing, pediatric and labor and delivery.

What to expect during clinical rotations

You most likely have one year of clinical rotations under your belt. As far as your second year of clinical rotations, there is good and bad news. The bad news is, clinical rotations may be a bit tougher. Although you are still a student, more will be expected of you in year two. You may also have clinical rotations more days of the week.

The good news is you may have the chance to do more and work more independently. Although program specifics vary, you may spend more days at clinical sites than you did in your first year, or you may have longer shifts each time you are there.

While your first year of clinical rotations provided you with a good foundation, you need to build on that during your second year. You’ll continue to fine-tune your assessment skills, but you’ll also learn how to do specific procedures. For example, you may learn how to put in a catheter, change dressings, start an IV and draw blood. The specific skills and procedures you learn depend on what rotation you are completing.

A large percentage of your clinical rotations during your second-year will be completed in a hospital. It is common for second year rotations to include areas, such as the emergency room or the intensive care unit. Some schools include classes and rotations in community nursing or home health nursing in their curriculum. If that’s the case, you may have rotations in community clinics or home health agencies.

One of the positive aspects of your second year is you may have gotten over any initial nervousness you had about doing patient care. Many student nurses start to feel more at home during their second year of clinical rotations. As your preceptor lets you do more, you may gain more confidence.


If you are in a four-year program, you may want to apply for an externship for the summer before your senior year. An externship provides you the opportunity to work in a hospital or other type of healthcare facility alongside a nurse. Since you are not yet licensed, you still have to work with a preceptor.

Although the exact responsibilities vary, many externships provide a combination of shadowing and performing bedside patient care. During an externship, you may stay in one unit or rotate through different areas. Many nursing externships are about ten weeks long. Not all hospitals offer externships, but if you can find one in your area, it can be a great way to gain more experience and get a jump on your senior year. It also may be a good way to get your foot in the door for a job in the future.

Competition for externships may vary. When you get an externship, hospitals try to accommodate your interests and place you in an area you prefer. While not all externships are paid, you may get lucky and find a paying position.

Studying for the NCLEX

If you are in a two year program and will be graduating, you can start preparing for your NCLEX during your second year of nursing school. Although you can decide when you feel prepared, most nurses take the exam a few weeks after graduation. You can wait longer if you need, but the sooner you take the exam, the faster you get licensed and can work.

It’s a good idea to start studying for your exam several months before you plan to take it. Studying months in advance will allow you to take your time and hopefully avoid cramming for the test.

Everyone has different ways they prefer to study. The important thing is to be organized and develop a plan of attack. If possible, arrange a study schedule you will stick with. It may be helpful to organize a study group. You may be more likely to stick to a schedule if you are accountable to others. Plus, study groups are a good resource and may make studying a little more interesting.

There are also NCLEX prep programs, which involve taking a two-day class or completing a prep course online. Study guides are also a useful preparation tool. Taking a practice exam, may also be a good option.

Suggestions for Success

Whether you are in an associate degree or bachelor’s degree program, there are a few several things you can do to increase your chances of making your second year of nursing school a success.

  • Be open to constructive criticism during clinical rotations
  • Realize you still have a lot to learn, but you have also come a long way.
  • Stay focused on your goal
  • Maintain organization
  • Stick with an organized study schedule
  • Try to enjoy your second year of school. Before you know it, you’ll be graduating and off into the real world!