How to Survive Your First Week of Nursing School

Posted by Camille Gray on

5 Simple Tasks to Help You Survive Your First Week of Nursing School. 

So, you’re about to start nursing school. Congratulations!!! Welcome to one of the most rewarding professions.

Just to get to here you’ve had to work so hard. You’ve had a million applications, entrance exams, and lots of pre reqs. You’ve stressed and experienced every emotion from elation to depression.

Are you tired yet? You haven’t even started. You have no idea what lies ahead of you.

Nursing school is hard. It will be one of the biggest challenges of your life. Everything is about to be turned upside down. Don’t worry, you’ll survive and, in the end, it will all be worth it.

I like to say that when you are in nursing school everything that could go wrong, does. Unexpected pregnancy? Unemployment? Losing loved ones? It all comes at the worst possible time. You still have to keep going, somehow finding a balance between your life and nursing school.

So how do you survive your first week of nursing school? I wish I had been better prepared before I started. I felt like I was miles behind from the very beginning. By my last semester, I finally got the hang of things. Read on to find out what I wish I had known/done when I started nursing school.

Good luck!!! You’ll survive!!!

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Read the syllabus

Sound pretty easy, right? This simple task will help you out immensely. As soon as the program opens up you need to be reading everything. EVERYTHING!!!

I screwed up big time. When I started nursing school, I just skimmed through all the course work, syllabus, and general info. There was so much information and I felt too overwhelmed to even look it. I thought it would be like all my other classes and they’d spend the first day of class reviewing expectations and boring us to tears in policy and procedures. I was so wrong.  I showed up on my first day and I was already so far behind.

Read through the syllabus, policies and any other class forms that they send you. Break out your trusty highlight and sticky taps and go to town. Make sure you know what is expected on day 1. 

Timing is everything

You are about to realize that 24 hours in a day is not enough. Even if it was possible to study for a straight 24 hours it wouldn’t be enough. Throw in sleeping, eating, and the occasional hello to friends and family and now you have ZERO time.

There is no way you can do it all but you’ll save yourself a lot of stress and make more use of your time if you plan. Plan EVERYTHING!

Get yourself a planner and write down everything. Work, classes, even folding laundry, schedule everything. Get detailed. Write down the pages you need to read, the subjects you need to study, the number of practice questions you need to work on.

Planning your life will help you actually get in good, quality study time so you don’t have to cram the night before a test.

Start planning as soon as the course opens up for you to look at. Don’t wait until the first day of class because you’ll already be behind. I know it's hard to start studying before you even know what you’re looking at but try.

I’m obsessed with the Clever Fox planners and since you can fill in the dates you can start anytime. Write out the entire semester’s work. The more organized you are the better off you will be.


Friends in high places

Your mother was right, your friends will get you in trouble.

You are going to find that smart friends will benefit you immeasurably. On day 1 look at the people around you and assess them (you’ll soon find yourself assessing everyone for health conditions). Find the ones that have piles of organized notes, 5 different colored highlighters perfectly positioned on the right corner of their desk, find the Hermione Granger of nursing. They’ve already started studying and are ready to go. Stay away from the ones that are rolling their eyes, complaining about morning classes and only showed up with their cell phone.

Cliques form on the first day so choose your seat wisely. You need to pick friends that are going to have study groups, not bar parties. You need friends that you can share notes with, not stories of how much you didn’t study. The same thing goes for clinical. Stay away from the ones that don’t pre-plan and just try to wing it. The ones that tell stories of how they already know ALL the skills because they work in a hospital.

Your friend can make or break you. Find positive, smart people who will help you be a better student.

The same goes for you. Don’t be too cool for school. Don’t complain or try to impress anyone with your vast experience. Share notes, give encouragement and help others.

Practice makes perfect

I’m sure you’ve heard by now how difficult nursing exams are. No one is lying to you. They are extremely hard. NCLEX style questions are critical thinking which means there is not true/false or definition questions. You have to be able to abstractly think about the problem and use reason and logic to choose the “most correct” answer.

I knew plenty of great students that knew the material, studied all the time, and were super smart that failed because they couldn’t answer the questions. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you can’t pass the test then you can’t pass nursing school.

Check out the questions below and see if you could answer it.

A patient is suffering from heart failure. Which of the following would be recommended by a nurse as part of the patient's health care plan?

  1. Discouraging a diet of fruit and vegetables
  2. Checking for swelling of the lower limbs
  3. Encourage the daily intake of fluids
  4. Encouraging vigorous exercise

You could rule out A and D almost immediately but both B and C could be correct. The patient needs to drink fluids, right? C isn’t wrong but it isn’t the most right. Swelling in the lower limbs could indicate right-sided heart failure which is more critical than drinking fluids. So, the most correct answer is B.

Start practicing answering NCLEX questions as soon as possible. There are tons of NCLEX prep books out there and they have lots of tips on how to reason through problems. Even before you start school you can begin looking through them.

This one is available on Amazon. I used an older edition and really liked it. It has critical thinking question like the NCLEX as well as rationales so you can better understand why one answer is  better than another. It also has test taking strategies. Make sure you get a study guide that is current as they do change things up. 

Invisibility Cloak

Nursing instructors are known for being strict. My school had some old bats that were known for sending home students for small infarctions.

One clinical instructor like to introduce herself as “the one they all warned you about”. She made more than one student cry. Surviving clinical might be harder than passing your test.

My best advice for handling strict nursing instructors is STAY OFF THEIR RADAR. Don’t do anything that is going to draw too much attention to yourself.

This means keep your mouth shut. You don’t need to try to impress your instructor with your hospital experience or your ability to recite every side effect of a medication. Remember actions speak louder than words. Keep quiet and let your work speak for you.

Another awesome tip to stay off the radar is to look professional. So simple. One of my instructors sent a student home because her scrub pants were too long and touched the floor. I’m not even joking. Make sure your uniform is clean, wrinkle-free and the right size. And please, please don’t wear colorful undies under white scrubs.

When you show up for clinical you are representing your instructor, your school and the nursing profession. Some instructors take it really seriously.

Nursing school is hard but you will survive. Stay positive, stay focused, and keep the end goal in sight.

Good luck!





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