Where Nursing School Failed Me and My Advice for Student Nurses

Stories - Sign Nursing School SurvivalI received an excellent nursing education from a great university in the Northeast. I was well prepared for my NCLEX, passed the test in the minimum of 75 questions, and received multiple job offers thereafter. I began my nursing career at a busy medical center and currently work at a home health agency as a visiting nurse.

It sounds like every nursing student’s dream, right? What could possibly be missing? I was doing what nursing school trained me to do – providing safe and effective care to my patients. I was becoming exhausted and needed to find ways to prevent burning out; a burnt out nurse can’t provide safe and effective care. Wait, did nursing school teach ways to prevent burn out? Sure, we spoke of coping skills and risk assessments for illness related to depression, but how can I prevent myself from burning out?

Nursing school thoroughly prepared me for my career as a nurse and most schools, mine included, teach a holistic approach to nursing, emphasizing the connection between mind, body and spirit. A large portion of holistic nursing is self-care, something that may be mentioned, but as a passing topic with minimal emphasis. My professors were great and often shared stories of their nursing school days, locked in their dorms, turning down invitations to parties and social gatherings. I felt like I wasn’t alone, but again there was something missing. How can I stay motivated, calm, energized, and most importantly happy? Why wasn’t that part of the curriculum for such a stressful, though thoroughly rewarding, profession?

Creativity – and I am not talking about the way many nurses improvise on the job due to lack of supplies and what have you. Creativity and forms of self-expression are not necessarily encouraged in nursing school. Sure, our professors would often encourage us to go on walks, exercise, and do things for our mental health. However, nursing school curriculum tends to be heavily focused on sciences, health, nutrition, and nursing assessment and skills. There are a few liberal arts classes and one elective, but that is not nearly enough to truly embrace creativity and self-expression.

This is not to say that these courses aren’t of any importance because they are. Bottom line, nurses need to know how to appropriately care for patients. However, students should be encouraged to take up art, music, writing, fitness, yoga, or anything that has nothing to do with the healthcare profession. Encouraging these passions, aside from nursing, will teach self-care through self-expression. It will prevent burnout because burnt out nursing students can only lead to burnt out nurses.

Nursing schools should go beyond encouraging self-care, but making it a requirement. Maybe requiring a student take a creative writing class will help her express herself through words when she’s had a difficult shift. Maybe requiring a student to take a photography class will help him express himself through photographs when he’s trying to unwind. Nursing can be emotionally trying and the first year is the most difficult. I can remember countless hours I spent crying during those first few months.

While my alma mater provided me with an excellent foundation for nursing, it failed me in encouraging self-expression. Maybe if I had taken a few creative writing courses or learned an instrument, I would have had an outlet to express my frustrations. Nursing student – express yourself and make it a habit! Practice it often, as you do your clinical skills and nursing diagnoses. Practice it now, so you are an expert by the time you’re a practicing nurse! You deserve it.


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