10 Things You Didn’t Learn in Nursing School

“Nursing school prepared me for every situation I have ever encountered in the real world of nursing.” - Said no practicing nurse ever.

All nurses come across situations that no amount of school or training could have prepared them for. Here are 10 things that they don’t teach you in nursing school.


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1. You will work every holiday for the first 3 years of your career.

In nursing school, they said “You’re going to have such great hours! 12 hour shifts but only 3 days a week!” This sounds fine and dandy but what they didn’t tell us is that we will have to work every holiday and pretty much any day that everyone else in society has off. Christmas is a work day. Thanksgiving is a work day. July 4th is a work day. The day your sister gives birth to your niece is a work day.


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2. How to complete a bed bath… on a ventilated patient with an arterial line, 2 central lines, tracheostomy, all while currently on a sedation vacation.

In school, they taught us how to give  a textbook bed bath to the perfectly healthy, obliging, and cooperative patient; this accounts for 0.5% of the patient population.


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3. When a patient is dying, you will likely spend more time comforting and cleaning vomit of the family members than that of the patient.

They taught us all about how to comfort the patient and how to deliver the news. They failed to mention how many tough conversations we would have with the family. The family becomes the priority at times and most of the time, we end up being whatever it is we need to be at the moment. If they throw up on the floor, we become a janitor. If they are mad about the treatment, we become an object to be yelled at. If they are sad, we are a shoulder to cry on. We nurses are basically chameleons. We have to learn to change with the environment we are given.


4. An “allergy,” according to patients, is actually anything at all that they don’t want to take. It has nothing to do with anaphylaxis.

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School taught us all about how stubborn patients would be. However, they failed to mention how clever they would be. All a patient has to do to get out of whatever they want is to have an allergy towards something. This creates a tough work around when you know what is best for them but they don’t want to abide. This is a useful trick that we should all keep in our back pocket. After all, we will be patients one day and we probably won’t want to take all the recommended medications we are given.


5. The doctor is ALWAYS right.

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If there existed a Ten Commandments of Nursing, this would likely be commandment #1. However, when it comes to patient care, we tend to be pretty protective. As intelligent and knowledgeable as they are, physicians should stick with the textbook stuff and leave the bedside patient care to us!


6. The smells...

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There is nothing on earth that could have prepared us for the rancidness of stench that comes with job. The things we nurses have smelled will haunt our dreams for the rest of our lives. Turns out, humans are gross.



7. Your scheduled shift is really just a guideline. It is rarely just a 12-hour shift.

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Clock out time is never set in stone. If a patient is crashing -- you stay. If a patient just pooped -- you stay. If oncoming nurse is late -- you stay. If said oncoming nurse has 1,339,774 questions in report -- you stay. If you aren’t finished charting -- you stay.


8. You will need a poker face that could win you millions of poker money in Vegas… because, well, people.


 You can’t make this stuff up. The stories we nurses could tell would blow the general public’s mind…or would it?! People have a strange way of life. Powdered donuts dipped in mayonnaise because it “makes it slide down the throat easier.” “Reverse diabetes.” Multiple times a day I know we want to scream THAT’S NOT A THING!! or WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!....but we can’t. 




9. You will need reflexes and physical strength that no sport could ever train you for.

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Ever had a pile of poo thrown at your face while treating a patient? Bob and weave, people! And watch out for the IV poles, crash cart, family members, needles, and innocent bystanders.





10. You will find yourself mentally and physically exhausted at the end of every day, but you will know you without a doubt made a difference in someone’s life.

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In addition to the laughter referred to in #8, as well as the shock and awe of #6, there will be the feeling of high-intensity concentration during code blues and the satisfaction of seeing a spontaneous return of heartbeats after 3 rounds of CPR.


Nothing can prepare you for the emotional exhaustion after having used every piece of knowledge and every bit of medicine and technology the world has to offer, just to watch your patient die. On the bright, beautiful side of this is the wonderful moment you never saw coming - where you are able to hold the hand of a patient as they peaceful and gracefully cross from this life to their next. For those patients whom you have lost unexpectedly after a long fight, they knew you were there. Their families knew you cared. And thank you for that.

- Nurses Everywhere