Nursing School Success Tips

Nursing school is HARD! I know this because, you may or may not be surprised to learn that I…NurseBackpacker…am a nurse.

In Canada, if you go to college and get a diploma, you are a Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) (or LPN in some provinces). If you go to university and get a BScN, you are a Registered Nurse (RN).

I’ve done the college scene, and am currently an RPN. I am now in university to become an RN.

What does all of this mean, and why do you care?

Because, all of this schooling means I have a lot of experience with the beast that is nursing school.

Yes, it is a LOT of work. You can do it though. And yes, you can leave college with a 3.9 GPA, like I did. But, you have to be smart about your approach.

Here are a few things I implemented into my schooling that really helped me get through each semester:

Get a Planner

Organization is absolutely crucial. If you are notoriously disorganized, you need to nip that in the bud. Right now. An effective planner is a lifeline in nursing school, and one you will rely on heavily.

Whether you prefer an electronic calendar, a paper one, a giant laminated calendar on a wall, a Roman sun dial – whatever, it doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter what your bestie is doing to keep herself organized.

The only thing that matters is what works for YOU.

I’m old school, and like a monthly paper planner. Nothing fancy, but I need to be able to see the whole month laid out in front of me, and I like that I can take it with me, so I can check it on the go. I also write everything in pencil, because I like it to be neat, so if I need to make changes, I can.


Nursing school success tips

A nursing student’s bible…a good PLANNER!


USE That Planner

Buying a planner is great. But what good is it to you if it sits on the shelf collecting dust? Your planner will become your best friend. Personalize it…draw on it…talk to it…name it…whatever. This is your bible.

On the first day of class, your professor will give you a very intimidating looking addendum. It will outline your readings every week, as well as when assignments are due, special dates, etc., etc.

Calm down, it’s not that bad.

IF you are organized.

Sit down with your shiny new planner, and enter all due dates and other important information from those dreaded addendums. Taking the time to do this will serve you well throughout the semester, because you will always know what’s coming.

Another great idea is to colour code. Pick a color for each class, and use only that color for everything to do with that class. You can even go so far as to use the same color of Post Its that you will inevitably use in your textbooks to note important pages. For all you visual learners, you will like this one!

Study. Every Day.

Yes, every day. Ya, this one sucks, I know, but it’s definitely necessary if you want to excel as a nursing student. There is so much information to cover in a short amount of time, you can’t expect to leave things to the last minute, and still succeed.

Procrastination is the enemy because there’s no way to cover a week’s worth of material the night before the next class.

But, if you break the weekly material into smaller increments, it will be much more manageable and not nearly as overwhelming, and you’ll retain more overall. A win win!

Another note regarding those addendums when you are studying – the assigned readings will look ridiculous. One class will list 5 chapters of 100 pages each. Every single week. And you have five classes.

Excuse. Me.

My advice is to skim those chapters before diving in. If you look at the material in the textbook, alongside what your professor covered in class, you will get an idea of what to focus on. This will cut down your reading because you can focus on certain topics, and skim the rest to get an idea of what is being said, without going into too much detail.

Also, make sure WHERE you are studying is working for you, not against you. I won’t give specific details here, because we are all different and what works for me, may not work for you. But do know that your environment has a big impact on your mood, which in turn will affect your success rate for a study session.

Do you prefer a quiet area by yourself? Music in the background? Bright lighting or soft lighting? A bag of Doritos as a study buddy (totally guilty on this one)? You get the idea.

I’m an, “at home by myself with bright lights first thing in the morning” studier. I like to explain things to myself out loud, so the library is definitely not my spot. No doubt my neighbors question my sanity, but it works for ME, and they get free anatomy lessons while waiting for the elevator, so really, I see no downside to this approach.


Nursing school success tips


Don’t Memorize

Nursing school is unique because nursing is not a field where you can just memorize information and be on your way. Instead, you have to comprehend what is going on, so you can connect the dots.

A straight up memorization study technique will see you failing by midterm. But, if you take the time to comprehend WHY something is the way it is, you will be that much farther ahead.

For example, if my patient is undergoing chemo, I can memorize the fact that chemo will wipe out everything in his immune system, and leave it at that. But, if I comprehend what chemo is doing to his body, I will understand that chemo often causes anemia, which means chemo patients often feel cold.

Knowing this, I can then make sure he always has a fresh blanket from the warmer. This small gesture nurtures the therapeutic relationship between patient and nurse, leading to a more positive experience for both. And really, isn’t that one of our goals in healthcare?

Take Breaks

Let’s be real, nursing school is hard. If it was easy, everyone would to it, right?

It’s a full time, stressful job that requires organization, focus, and perseverance. To be able to maintain this for months on end, every semester, you need to step away from those 15 pound textbooks with microscopic writing, once in a while. No one can study 24/7. If you try to go this route, you will burn out before midterms.

Nursing school is a marathon, not a race.

Whether it’s a couple hours each week where you go to the gym, prowl social media (guilty!), binge watch the latest season of OITNB on Netflix (also guilty!), or hang out with friends, you NEED to take breaks.

I will say this about hanging out with friends – if they are all nurses, like mine are, the dinner conversation will inevitably turn to hilarious and disgusting nursing stories. It was so much more fun after I did clinicals, because then I was able to contribute my own nasty tales to the conversation.

Not to worry if this freaks you out right now. Part of your development as a nurse includes the ability to talk about the grossest of gross things over appetizers, like it’s no big deal. A talent reserved only for those of us in the medical field.

Be Creative

Don’t just rely on your professor for all the information. They are there to guide and teach you, yes, but they should not be your only avenue for learning. Instead, use various sources to comprehend material. Mix it up, see what you like, and see what works for you. I use a variety of resources, such as:

  • YouTube videos
  • Reading the textbook
  • Recording lectures and listening to them
  • Rewriting things in my own words

Also, depending on your style, study groups can be very helpful. After all, one of the best ways to learn, is to teach someone else. Be selective when choosing your study group. Ensure that you are with people who are as organized and dedicated as you are, and have similar learning styles and studying techniques. Otherwise, you may find that study sessions are not productive, and will only slow you down.


Nursing school success tips


Get Enough Sleep

Let’s be real, all nighters rarely work. Denying your need for sleep is not healthy and more often than not, counter intuitive.

Getting enough rest should be easy if you, a) use your planner and stay organized, and b) study every day so you aren’t cramming at the last minute.

If you do go this route, know that your memory, focus and attention will not be what you expect the next day, and you will not retain nearly as much as you hope.

Don’t get stuck in this predicament. Get the rest you need. I promise you will do better on that exam, if you are rested, refreshed, and alert.

Attend Class

Well this seems like a no brainer, right? It’s surprising that I actually have to mention this, but yes – attending class is VERY important. Obviously.

Many students seem to think that because they have the addendum and the textbook, they don’t need to waste their time going to class, and that they can just read the book, and show up for exams.


Aside from the fact that professors like to drop hints about exams during lectures, attending class gives you the chance to hear the material explained in a different way, ask questions, and get extra help. I had numerous college professors that would say things like, “you might want to put a star beside that”.

Assuming that class is not important is the wrong attitude to have, and will most likely result in a fail. Yes, I’ve seen students fail courses and have to drop out of nursing school. Don’t let this be you.

Nursing school is intimidating, I know. During college, I was convinced I was going to immediately fail every class at the beginning of every semester. But, with each successful test, assignment or exam, my confidence grew. And so will yours. Keep your head in the game, stay focused, and watch that GPA climb!

Now tell me, what study tips do you have for students, nursing or otherwise?

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Got accepted to nursing school? Congratulations! These tips from an experienced nursing student will help you navigate any nursing program.
Got accepted to nursing school? Congratulations! These tips from an experienced nursing student will help you navigate any nursing program.
Got accepted to nursing school? Congratulations! These tips from an experienced nursing student will help you navigate any nursing program.
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  1. September 25, 2018 / 5:09 pm

    Great tips here! It’s been… hm, a while (wink) since I stepped inside a classroom, but I still remember the joy of organizing and planning for my classes. Maybe that’s just me. But hey, being a student can be awesome!

    • NurseBackpacker
      September 26, 2018 / 2:16 pm

      I totally agree, it can definitely be awesome – if you’re organized and stay on top of things. Any other way is just stressful. And I totally hear you – before nursing, it was definitely a “while” since I had been in a classroom as well. ha! Thanks for reading! 🙂

  2. September 16, 2018 / 11:20 pm

    Great advise for anyone. I am in the 2nd year of my Life Coaching/Executive Coaching business. Your advise is perfect for me. I love following your adventures. You are a vibrant, curious, wise and beautiful young woman. I hope your fall is off to a good start.

    • NurseBackpacker
      September 17, 2018 / 11:32 am

      That’s wonderful to hear, Roland, I’m so glad you found this helpful! Thank you so much for all of your kind words! Here’s to a great Fall ahead! 🙂

    • NurseBackpacker
      August 29, 2018 / 6:39 pm

      Great, I hope it is helpful for you! Thanks for reading! 🙂

      • August 29, 2018 / 6:40 pm

        really helpful ! Thank you for this

  3. Allen Rodi
    August 29, 2018 / 2:21 pm

    Great Post Nurse! Love the formatting, I could scan it then read the parts I wanted to.

    • NurseBackpacker
      August 29, 2018 / 3:45 pm

      That’s great to hear, thanks for reading Allen! 🙂

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