So you want to go to nursing school. Good choice. It’s a job that will always be there, and the flexibility is amazing. You can work in a hospital, at a doctor’s office, or in home care. You can work with adults, kids, elders, or you don’t have to see patients so much and push papers if that’s your thing (shudder). Some nurses do nothing but helicopter or air-ambulance work, and others work a nice, stable 12 hour shift 3 days (or nights) a week. The possibilities are endless. But before you get to work as a nurse, you have to go to nursing school, and there are some things you need to know if you want to have a relatively easy time.
First, how badly do you need to start working? You can take the RN exam with either an Associate’s (2-year) or Bachelor’s (4-year) degree. That’s right, an AS or a BS gets you into the same test. If you need to start working right way, the AS is probably your best choice. If you intend to continue your education at the graduate level, or if you want to learn better critical thinking skills, along with a more in-depth look at why you are doing something rather than just what needs to be done. I want to make it clear that Bachelor’s prepared nurses are not “better” nurses than Associate’s prepared, just more educated.
Next, there is the subject of technology. If you are computer-phobic, get over it. You will probably be recording everything you do with a patient on some form of computer for the rest of your career. Paper charts are going the way of the dodo. They still exist, but they are being phased out a little more every year. Most colleges have some form of computer skills class, and there are plenty of “computers for idiots” type books out there. I also recommend that you invest in some form of PDA (like a Palm Pilot, windows mobile device or smartphone), and get into the habit of using it. I’ve been carrying some form of PDA for about 10 years, and now can’t live without it. I have a drug/lab/disease reference package that also has continuing education and specialized calculators, which I use on a daily basis. I use Epocrates, but LexiComp has good products, as do Tarascon and the Sanford Guide.
Now for some of the actual school stuff. You will be taught a great deal about professionalism, the politics of nursing, and the works of various nursing theorists. Learn them so you can pass the tests, but don’t sweat the details. In almost 15 years as a nurse (almost 7 of those as a nurse practitioner) I have never asked myself which nursing theorist applies to this situation, nor has another nurse asked me to compare and contrast the work or Dorothea Orem and Sister Callista Roy, (unless they were in graduate school and needed it for a paper.) As for the nursing lab skills, go ahead and learn how to make a mitered corner (AKA “hospital corners” on a bed using flat sheets), but every hospital I’ve worked in uses fitted sheets. For lectures, sit near the front, and make sure the professor knows your name by the third or forth class. Don’t be afraid to disagree with the professor, because that shows them you are actually thinking about what they are teaching (ethics class is especially good for this, because there is frequently no “right” or “wrong” answer, and the professor is looking more for someone who can state their case well).
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