5 Important Lessons You Won't Learn in Nursing School

You can study the textbooks all you want, but some lessons aren’t taught in the classroom. Here are five important things every new nurse should be prepared for.

By Anna Chandler, RN

When you start any new nursing job straight out of school, you learn a lot, fast. Nursing school touches on so many topics, but your first job will be a deep dive into only one of them. Specialization unlocks an entirely different vocabulary, and it really is like learning a whole new language. Here are five things I never learned in nursing school but wish I had. Hopefully these tips will get you started in the right direction as you begin your nursing career.

1. Learn proper time management.

When you begin your first nursing job, you are spread REALLY thin. You have a thousand different things to do in a limited amount of time, and you can’t afford to be slowed down. Be conscientious about how you are managing your time, and make sure you are prioritizing what is most important. Reevaluate your “to-do” list throughout your day to make sure that you are consistently putting what is most important at the top.

2. Understand the politics of working with physicians.

As in any job, there are “office politics” on the floor. Physicians are under entirely different pressures than nurses are, and they have different goals. Be mindful of these relationships. There is very much a hierarchy in the medical world, so prepare yourself for that.

3. Understand the importance of networking.

In healthcare, networking will set you apart. I spent a lot of time searching jobs online after graduation, and I applied to more than 40 different positions. Very few people network in healthcare, and it definitely sets you apart when you are searching for your first job. It was only when I started bringing my resume to nurse managers on the floor that I started making some traction in my interview process. Get one step ahead by building those relationships before you start looking for a job.

4. Find a mentor early on.

Find someone you can talk to about challenges and problems early on. It is so important to have someone you can go to with questions, as well as someone who can help coach you through a variety of professional situations. Build a team of people who are willing to work on your behalf.

5. Learn to have hard conversations.

Whether discussing a procedure with a physician, de-escalating a distraught family member or navigating asking for a raise, it is crucial to handle those hard conversations with grace. It was a difficult transition for me because I wasn’t prepared for those types of conversations, but anticipating them allows you to prepare and learn how to confront these types of scenarios.

Are there things you never learned in nursing school that you wish you had? Share them in the comments below.


Anna Chandler, R.N. is a guest contributor to the Relode Vital Signs blog and an MBA Candidate at Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management. She has more than five years of surgical nursing experience and plans to utilize her health care and management background in an advisory role post-graduation.

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