How Hard Is Nursing School? The Truth About What to Expect

How Hard Is Nursing School? The Truth About What to Expect

Is nursing school hard? That’s the big question everyone asks when looking into becoming a nurse.


How Hard Is Nursing School? The Truth About What to Expect
Kate Johnson


January 26, 2023

It seems that all over the internet, and especially on social media, you see a lot of nursing students talking about how nursing school is hard and how overwhelmed they are. You never really hear any nursing student say anything about nursing being easy no matter which program they are a part of, but I’ll bet you are wondering whether nursing school is actually as hard as they say.

Well, as a nursing student myself who just finished my first year, I am here to give you a unique perspective that differs from all the things you have seen on the internet.

Is Nursing School Hard? 

So, is nursing hard? From my experience, nursing school isn’t hard in terms of the difficulty of the work. 

Rather, nursing school is hard because there is an overwhelming amount of information and work. The content itself is perfectly doable for most people, though nursing students often complain about it being hard due to the sheer volume of work you are responsible for. 

Not many of your assignments in nursing school require a lot of deep thought. Instead, you need to memorize a lot of content and be able to apply it in the situations you are presented with. Assignments can also be tedious rather than difficult. However, when you combine the large volume of content memorization with tedious assignments and a hefty schedule of balancing classes, labs, and clinical rotations, that is how nursing school becomes hard. 

What is Nursing School Like? 

The experience in nursing school is quite different from that of most other higher education programs because you have to do clinical rotations, simulation labs, and classroom lectures. It feels like doing the coursework of three programs in one. 

Clinicals are the equivalent of a full-time job, and the lectures and labs always seem to keep coming. However, if you do your best to give 100% while participating in these things, you can eliminate a lot of wasted time after fulfilling your responsibilities.

On the brighter side, nursing programs are more interesting and fun than a lot of other programs. They are hands-on, and you get to see the connections between the “real world” and what you have learned in the textbook nearly simultaneously. 

How Hard is Nursing School Compared to Medical School?

As someone who did a pre-med track undergraduate degree, took the entrance exam, and completed all of the prerequisites for medical school, and then switched to nursing, one of the big differences between the two tracks is how you prepare for the programs. 

Of course, since I went down the nursing track instead, I didn’t ever experience medical school itself, but I found the preparation for medical school much harder than for nursing. The prerequisite classes and entrance exams are quite difficult, and everyone’s competing for the top scores. That doesn’t include the fact that you have to complete a bachelor’s degree, usually in the sciences, prior to even starting medical school. For nursing, although there are prerequisite classes, I found them much easier, and no previous degree is required. 

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Combining what I have heard from my peers in medical school programs, medical school is similar to nursing school, though each program has its individual difficulties. In both programs the workload is heavy; however, to give you an idea of the difference in challenges, in medical school the content is much more pathophysiology-based, where you are learning more about how diseases and interventions affect the human body on a cellular level. In nursing, the focus is more on how to execute the ordered interventions and identify potential problems. The difficulty comes with every situation having so many factors to consider from the patient’s history, evidence-based practice, and much more. 

As you can see, medical school and nursing school are similar, but medical school is a different kind of challenge than nursing school. From my experience and what peers have shared, medical school is not necessarily harder than nursing school or vice versa. Rather, every individual has to decide which is a better fit for them based on their own personal comfort levels, needs, and wants. 

Everyone’s Definition of Hard is Different

Simply put, what you consider hard might not be the same as what others consider hard. Our individual definitions vary widely depending on our own experience and background. 

For some people, nursing school is easy compared to some of the hardships they have previously handled in their life, while others feel it is quite difficult because they have never experienced a high-volume workload or any previous hardships. We all also have different learning styles and may naturally gravitate toward one subject or another.

I have found that the most difficult hardship of nursing school is simply the volume of information that I am responsible for in short periods of time and being able to recall and apply that information to a different situation every time. However, others may have no problem with that aspect. 

Ultimately, whether nursing school is hard for you or not will depend on your own definition and capability. Even though there are plenty of people on the internet that tell you how hard it is, you may be pleasantly surprised, like I was, to learn how manageable it is with a consistent schedule and good organization. 

My Best Advice

Am I smart enough to be a nurse?

If you’re asking yourself, “Am I smart enough to be a nurse?”, the short answer is “yes.” I firmly believe that anyone can be successful in nursing school if they give their best effort, take advantage of resources like Lecturio, and adhere to a consistent schedule of studying balanced with self-care. 

What I have found most helpful in managing the workload of nursing school is to plan for success. I always lay out all of the dates when I am required to physically be somewhere, whether it be for class, labs, or clinical rotations first. Then I schedule out time almost each day to review, study, or complete assignments that are due. 

Putting these things on the calendar with a specific time helps you to stick with it instead of just hoping at some point you’ll make the time to do them. In order to prevent burnout, I always schedule self-care time as well and I highly suggest you do, too!

I also use a variety of resources to help the content stick in my head because there is so much to remember. For instance, I might read about a subject in my textbook or learn about it in class, and then to reinforce it, I will watch a lecture about the same topic on Lecturio. 

If there is anything you take away from this article, it’s this: Ignore the very loud internet that says nursing school is the hardest thing ever. Our top nursing educator, Rhonda, would tell you to “Quiet your amygdala.” It is her way of reminding you that feeling overwhelmed and anxious is just a natural response to stressors and can be managed (aka “quieted”) if you are aware of them. 

Nursing school is busy, but the content is not necessarily hard. Luckily, being busy is typically easier to handle than hard content.

We've been there.
We get it.

Don’t have a clue what to expect in nursing school? Terrified of clinical?

Nurse Liz has spent years troubleshooting the challenges of nursing school for her social media community. Get her proven strategies and inside tips for every step of nursing school. 

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