Surviving Nursing School 101: New Grad RN

Congratulations on choosing nursing! It is a fantastic career path with many options and it’s truly the back bone to the medical field. That being said, let’s take a dive into what you should focus on in order to succeed and get the most out of your nursing program. Nursing school is in no way, shape or form easy and I give you a lot of credit for being accepted!! You’ve got this! Personally, I would describe nursing school as an intense boxing match: You need to tackle each task with persistence, stability and strategy and finally—Win the match! It is going to become challenging, however don’t give up… dare to stick with it! I graduated from a four-year BSN nursing school in May of 2017. Since then, I have been working as an RN in a Medical-Surgical unit. I am writing this post to help you push through, and get the most out of all the information being thrown at you. I found these skills/tips helpful and I hope you do too!   

Time Management & Organization

If there is anything I can’t stress more, it’s mastering the skill of great time management! It may seem like it’s complicated but TRUST ME when I say it, managing your time will help you in the long run, and it will also get you into a great routine when It comes to working in the field. In a hospital setting, many tasks need to be performed in a timely matter. You are going to have a great deal going on in your life during nursing school. You don’t want to forget anything and you surely do not want to become so frantic that you begin to pull your hair out! I highly recommend purchasing a planner (I personally used a Lily Pulitzer Agenda, It was fun, vibrant, and came with a lot of cute stickers). After you’ve received all of your syllabi – sit down, go through all of the dates and write them into your planner. As a nursing student myself, I found this very helpful because it gave me a good idea of how much time I have before each exam to prepare. I also color coded my classes, exams, and assignments.  

Staying organized and keeping everything in order will seriously help you keep track of all the work you have to do. Again, nursing school is extremely stressful, and you really want to make sure you don’t forget to do anything! Having a planner is also a good way to schedule (non-nursing) plans, and it’ll even give you that extra push to look forward to that night out with friends. (Of course not the best idea to do so before a test.. you know what I mean.. ). What it really comes down to, is finding a method that works for you and STICKING WITH IT – every time you change up your organization method you waste a ton of time re-learning a new system.  Find something you are comfortable with and stick with it.

Mental Breaks

You’re only human!! Don’t get down on yourself if you’re just-not-retaining-anymore-material. That’s probably a good reason to STOP, regroup, and do something else. It is very important to TAKE BREAKS! Do yourself the favor and walk away from the material after some time, go for a walk around campus, go to the gym, have lunch with a friend, call a family member– anything. Your brain needs a break in order to really understand the material, after 6 hours or so (yes 6 hours) I would make sure that I would get up from that library chair and move around; even if that meant going to the bathroom or sitting outside of the library scrolling down social media. Taking a break will help you feel refreshed and give you that extra push to keep going. & don’t just take one! Take a few! Just make sure you keep your focus and don’t get lazy.

Also, besides study breaks- make sure you’re giving yourself some “me” time. This won’t cause you to fail a test or assignment and will help you gain more focus when you dive back into it. Head over to the gym to workout, watch a movie, go shopping, whatever it is that you enjoy- do it!

Helpful Tips:


  1. You are going to be taking a TON of notes during nursing school.  Having a way to condense those notes and make them usable is important.  If you are old fashioned, you will want to buy a lot of index cards to write down and review important terms. Also, check out Quizlet– this is an online flashcard site (I used this a lot).  You can create a set of flashcards on your profile by typing in the information.  It can be really helpful when you connect it with the app – allowing you to view your flashcards anywhere. You can also share the link with friends in your study group (you can split up the chapters or terms).
  2. Utilize YouTube. 90% of any system I couldn’t wrap my head around- I looked up on YouTube. There is a large variety of videos explaining how things work in simpler and less confusing ways. Many of my friends found videos really helpful for electrolyte imbalances.
  3. Acronyms are SO HELPFUL. Even if they’re silly (A joke between you and your friends). YOU’LL REMEMBER IT!!
  4. Have a sense of humor!! Most people think of the medical field as only serious, but it can be very stressful and if you don’t have a sense of humor, you won’t find it easy to survive. Be willing to laugh at yourself and at awkward situations.
  5. I have yet to meet anyone who knows everything about every drug: nurse, physician, pharmacist, etc.  There is too much information to know it all. That being said, it is important to have a good drug reference guide/text. The most common used drugs you should create flashcards for. The MAIN information you should know about a drug is: What it is used for, side effects/adverse effects (know the difference between these two) and, antidotes (if there happens to be an overdose).
  6. Medical dosing- create a conversion chart (most nursing programs will give you one). MEMORIZE IT. It will help you in the long run when you get a random question on an exam and you have no idea how many micrograms equal a milligram. (1000mcg = 1 mg).
  7. Purchase a “clicky pen”.  It sounds strange, but it really is that important. Try to spend one day in nursing school with a pen with a cap, and see how that goes. You will lose that cap. You will likely lose the pen because you can’t attach it to yourself. And, you are definitely likely to end up with ink stains and marks because you don’t have the pen’s cap. Clicky pens are much easier to use. You can connect them to your scrubs and you can store them without worrying about ink.
  8. It is very helpful to have a set of lab values, along with possible reasons why the patient may have an abnormal result, at hand during clinical settings.
  9. Form a study group. This is really helpful to hear how others understand certain topics especially if you’re having some difficulty. Talking aloud really helped me understand the material and study groups can also be a lot of fun. My advice would be to review the material on your own first once or twice and then meet with your group. There’s going to be a lot of late nights in the library, a large consumption of coffee and unhealthy snacks, but it’s fun being with other students who are going through these struggles WITH YOU.
  10. Don’t study to worry about getting a certain grade. Don’t focus on being the best in the class. Be the best for YOU! Learn and study the material to fully understand it and be able to confidently apply it.
  11. Practice skills on others. Take a family member or friend’s blood pressure. Listen to their breathing sounds. Know where the 5th intercostal space is on an actual person! Put the text into perspective. This will make you comfortable in a clinical setting.
  12. If you can, get a job in a clinical setting. Apply for internships and externships. This will make you well-rounded and more confident when taking care of people.


Wishing you the best in all that your program throws at you. Tackle it all with determination and skill. Don’t let anything or anyone get you down and truly work hard for YOU. Only YOU can understand the material a certain way, only YOU can pass that exam for yourself, ONLY YOU can truly absorb all the information you need to be the best nurse you can be. Remember, no matter how difficult the days may get, never forget why you became a nurse!


“As a nurse, We have the opportunity to heal the heart, mind, soul and body of our patients, their families and ourselves. They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou


Feel free to ask me any questions!

Devan LaBarbera


Twitter: @infinityintuit
Instagram: @infinityintuition


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