Why is nursing school so hard?

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Graduation is approaching–you have the finish line in sight and are SO ready to be done! Of course, most new grads still have the NCLEX to look forward to and to prepare for, but school is almost over!

Now, having made it through and done things you once thought were absolutely impossible, you know you are not the same person who entered nursing school so long ago. You are about to enter the workforce as a professional. No longer a student with an instructor watching over your shoulder, you’ll have your own license and will be responsible for what you do in your own right.

Responsibility is what having a license is all about. No one has the right to practice certain trades, drive a car or fly a plane without providing proof they can do it safely. Successful completion of a course of study from an accredited school is the first of the necessary steps to becoming a nurse (passing the NCLEX is the other).

Why then, should nursing school be so difficult? Hard to get in, even harder to make passing grades and to keep up with your clinical hours! You’re constantly evaluated, not only on tests but also on a personal level by those who observe the way you dress, speak, interact with others and carry yourself as a potential professional nurse. And a social life? Forget about it!

Nursing is a different discipline from any other degree program at a college or university. You are being prepared to literally hold another person’s life in your hands one day. You learn how to resuscitate a person, give drugs that can be very dangerous, perform a physical exam and develop critical thinking skills so you understand what you are doing and why. You learn to be an educator and advocate for patients, their families and other health care providers. Even doctors will learn things from you!

Nursing is not a good career choice for the faint at heart, nor is it a route to snagging a doctor to marry (aka getting an MRS degree). The soap opera depictions of romantic merry-go-rounds do not happen in real life. Nursing is extremely hard work that can be so profoundly exciting and unique, people actually get a high from it!

Is it fair for schools to weed out students who do not have the right stuff to do this kind of work? I happen to believe that it IS–because when all is said and done, it is not about US but about patients’ needs being met. We are not doing anyone a kindness by encouraging people who do not have what it takes to stand and deliver good patient care to stay in the profession.

In most schools, students who figure out that nursing is not for them after all usually drop out of the program. And many who stay in because of a false sense of job security from a recession-proof career and other such notions find themselves miserable and going from job to job, seeking the satisfaction and happiness which never was guaranteed in the first place.

So yes, nursing school is about teaching you critical thinking, meeting patient needs, and being an advocate. But it’s about making sure you’re ready for the truly difficult task ahead: Recognizing that you’ve entered more than a career…you’ve entered a calling. Even at times when things were truly bad and I desperately wanted to get OUT of the profession and prayed for guidance toward something else, the answer was a firm NO and I was steered back into nursing, whether I liked it or not at the time.

So, as you prepare to receive your diploma and school pin, be happy and proud that you are embarking on a journey into one of the toughest jobs you will ever love!

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

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