Immediately after being accepted to nursing school, I called my mother. Two hours later, I went out to celebrate. Two days later, however, doubt and imposter syndrome started to creep in. Sure, I passed the prerequisites and made a good impression during the initial interview – but was I really fit for nursing? Knowing how to prepare for nursing school can help you avoid this pitfall.
Although every school organizes its program slightly differently, they all combine practical training with challenging classes, and they tend to pick up the pace very quickly. There is usually no “first-week lull” that most college classes offer.
The tips we offer here should help you hit the ground running at nursing school – and perhaps more importantly, they will help you start developing the mindset that will lead to success.
Getting Ready for Nursing School: The Must Do’s
First, let’s look at the administrative or practical requirements.
1. Organize your health paperwork
The first thing you should start working on as soon as you are accepted is your health paperwork. Most clinical sites have pretty strict requirements regarding the required immunizations for all staff members, and in this respect, you will count as one. In addition, many nursing schools often add additional requirements, such as a complete physical examination, blood panels, or tuberculosis screening.
You will need to submit proof of everything to your school before the first day. The paperwork will need to be verified. It would be impossible to list every standard or exception offered by each school, so just keep in mind that the process can take some time.
Don’t wait until the last minute.
Check the full requirements with your school and make sure that:
- You have legible copies of your childhood immunization records
- If you lived outside the US, especially during primary school, make sure those records are translated and verifiable
- If your doctor’s office can’t find the records, ensure that you have enough time to get immunity titers and to retake the vaccine if they come out negative or inconclusive
- If you can’t get vaccinated, check that your medical exemption form will be accepted by your school
- You are still covered by your last tetanus, diphtheria, and seasonal flu booster
- The right type of health professional has signed your physical examination form (some schools will only accept an MD, others might accept a document signed by a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner)
- You know exactly when the deadline is: some schools set the final due date before class registration starts.
If your school uses an online portal to submit scanned copies of your records, upload everything as soon as you get it. These portals can be temperamental: they crash (especially the day before the deadline), have odd size or format requirements for some files, or mistakenly reject something as not legible.
2. Get your essential supplies ready
At least this is a fun one!
Personally, I found the supply run to be exhilarating, and I may have spent more hours than strictly necessary looking for cute stethoscope cases.
Your basic nursing school supplies will fall into three categories:
Regular school supplies
These will depend on your study style – notepads? 5-subject ruled notebooks? A tablet? Binders and loose-leaf paper? Colorful flashcards? A pocket planner? Up to you.
My advice is to keep one set of writing tools for lectures or regular classes and another set for clinicals. Keep your “hospital pens” on your scrubs, and make sure the pens are clicky (caps get lost) and the pencils are mechanical (you don’t want to leave a trail of wood shavings behind you in a hospital)
Schools usually provide a list of mandatory or suggested equipment for clinicals. Feel free to explore the online reviews of the available options.
I would recommend not overspending on your first stethoscope: it will get banged up a lot, and your untrained ear will not be able to tell the difference between the sounds produced by an expensive model and those of a budget one. Save the Littman for when you graduate!
Other valuable supplies include:
- A lapel watch: there is a point to it! A regular wristwatch or your phone will provide a nice surface for bacteria, which you will carry home.
- Nursing scissors
- A penlight
- A manual blood pressure cuff (you should also learn how to use it, even if you will use a digital 99% of the time)
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): check with your school what type of masks are required or allowed during clinicals. Reserve some latex gloves for your scrubs pocket.
Your school will probably provide a list of requirements for what you can wear during clinicals, from the color of your scrubs and shoes to the sleeve length or the school’s monogram. If they give you the option to buy scrubs directly from them, go for it: they likely have strict uniform requirements.
You will also need a lab coat and nursing shoes, at the very least. If your school doesn’t demand a specific type of shoe, try to choose something easy to clean: tennis shoes or sneakers without laces or buckles, or clogs made from a smooth, antibacterial material such as vinyl.
Don’t forget to break them in before the first day!
Finally, there are compression socks. These are rarely required, but you should still get them. They make a noticeable difference at the end of the day.
3. Chart your route
Under ideal circumstances, we would all live within walking distance of our lecture hall and the local teaching hospital.
Nowadays, many schools have partnerships with several health networks at once, which helps them allocate students in smaller, more manageable groups and provide you with more varied experiences.
On the other hand, you may not know exactly where you’ll go until a few days before the rotation starts! Double-check the list of clinical sites your school uses, and start plotting routes between them, your main campus, and your home.
If you will live off-campus, you will also need to chart the route to classes every day.
Feeling Ready for Nursing School: Helpful Tips
None of these things are mandatory, and they might feel like they are getting in the way of your summer. But they will help!
4. What to study before nursing school
Officially, what to study for nursing school is already covered by your prerequisites. However, with the way cramming works, there is a good chance that you memorized a lot right before the final – and the six to eight weeks of summer break can quickly push them out of your memory.
Once you start your nursing classes, you might not have time to review everything before the next day. Plus, a lot of the concepts you studied as neatly separate subjects will now reappear across various topics.
The best solution? Go over your end-of-term notes periodically throughout the summer. Spaced repetition is the key to long-term learning, which will put you in a solid position for the coming semester.
Now, you don’t need to go over your entire organic chemistry textbook every week. Instead:
- Look up some practice tests every couple of days
- Check which topics were tough, and review your notes on those
- Look for the “summary” or “quick facts” section at the end of each chapter of your textbook
- Watch a few of Lecturio’s lectures – they have an entire series devoted to prerequisites
Course: Nursing Prerequisites
Reinforce your foundational science knowledge
5. Start networking!
If your school has a student portal where you can see other students’ profiles, be proactive and start making friends before classes start. If these profiles have a “social” feature or allow you to write an intro about yourself, list your hobbies or anything that will help you break the ice.
Forming groups for labs or simulations is a lot less intimidating when you already have one familiar face. Even if you are introverted or intimidated by speaking with strangers, just remember that everybody else in your first class is just as daunted as you.
While you’re at it, don’t limit your networking to people in your graduating class. If possible, try to befriend a senior student, or at least someone in their second year. They can give you pointers about your upcoming classes, tell you which sites or lecturers to choose (and which to avoid), or what the actual required reading for each class involves.
6. Get a pedicure
I did not do this before my first term, but I now book it religiously before the start of every new semester. It doesn’t matter if you are not into cute sandals or if your nail polish matches your school’s colors – it’s to give your feet a fresh start.
Nothing makes standing for hours as painful as having a small callous (or even worse, an ingrown nail!) pinching your big toe. Even if you are regularly active, you will notice that an hour pounding the floor while jogging feels different from 8 hours of walking on the hospital floor.
A pedicure is an excellent opportunity for self-care. I used to hate being touched by strangers and was very self-conscious of my feet. Now, I look forward to my “special pedicure”: I even book one of those fancy places where you can order a glass of wine and bring a book and an “ocean sound” playlist.
7. Spend some time at the hospital
Hospitals often follow their own internal rules and jargon, which can feel intimidating to newcomers. The best way to get hospitals is to spend some time in them!
If you are moving to a different city for nursing school, chances are that you won’t get to hang around your future clinical site ahead of time. However, you can still learn more about how health care works (and how all the different health professionals deal with each other) by spending a couple of days a week in a hospital.
Just look for any volunteer openings or social outreach events they organize. Call your local Red Cross office and find out if they have any upcoming training or need help. Consider it your pre-internship!
Nurse Liz’ Tips for Preparing for Nursing School
Knowing how to prepare for nursing school is as much about doing as it is about feeling excited. After being accepted into a program, you will need to get some paperwork done and plan ahead. However, putting a few of these tips into practice will help you determine what to study for nursing school, how to study it, and how to feel confident in the process.