14 Shocking Things You Learn in Nursing School

a female and male nursing looking at monitor

You probably weren’t surprised that they covered the alphabet in kindergarten, or that you studied a map of the United States in geography. But nurses will be the first to tell you, there are a lot of things you learn in nursing school that will probably shock you right out of your seat.

We’ve already talked about how to be successful through some of the hard parts of nursing school and even how to cope with stress. But let’s get behind the scenes and look into some of the moments in nursing school where students had to stop and pinch themselves before committing the lesson to memory.

Things you learn in nursing school

1. How strong your stomach gets

The things nurses see coming through a clinic or hospital runs the gamut. From fungus to puss to bed sores, it’s often not very pretty, and they have to learn to let it roll off their shoulders. Nurses get really good at eating lunch right through those conversations about bodily fluids, says registered nursing (RN) graduate Jacqueline Larson.

2. Scabbies

You may have heard reference to this disease in an old movie and thought it was just a mediaeval rash. It is actually an infestation of microscopic mites burrowing under the skin. How’s that for a mental image? This lesson still haunts RN graduate Patty Van Kampen.

3. Peripherally inserted central catheters (PICC line)

PICC lines are small, flexible tubes that are inserted through the arm and terminate in the chest, essentially acting as a catheter for the heart. Given the importance of the heart to a properly functioning human body, this is something that can be scary for some nurses to learn. What’s even more surprising is that the care provider measures where to start the line and “guesstimates” how long the line needs to be to end up close to the patient’s heart, says RN mobility student Jennifer Jacobson.

4. Gloves do more than protect you from disease

Nitroglycerin is a commonly used treatment for patients experiencing chest pain. All nurses should be extra careful when handling it, however. It can actually cause you to have a bowel movement if it makes contact with your skin as the result of a vasovagal reaction, says RN student Joelle Gawlik.

5. How little you can do once a patient leaves your care

Patients are tracked meticulously while they are onsite at a healthcare facility but the process gets trickier once they walk through the hospital doors. A nurse can only control so much and the rest is in the hands of the patient. There are a lot of patients who get discharged and you know they’re going to be back in a week or two, says RN student Katie Johnston.

6. Patients will stretch the limits of their body

Depending upon the field, nurses may see as many as 70 patients a day. That equals a lot of stories that one nurse can collect over the years. One of the most shocking examples RN student Jennifer Breu encountered was a man with a blood alcohol level of 0.69 who still managed to drive his car.

7. If it’s fluid, you can drain it

RN mobility student Jennifer Jacobson was apprehensive the first time she was asked to measure and change a Jackson Pratt (JP) drain tube. They are closed-suction medical devices that are used to prevent fluid from building up in surgical sites. They were pretty gross, says Jacobson, and usually filled with blood and discharge from an infection.

8. Sleep is really, really important

RN student Katie Soik found out the hard way how bad it can be for your body to get less than a full six hours of sleep. With so many demands on a college student’s time, it can be tempting to try and cut back on this “less productive” part of your day. It will only hurt you though. Sleep deprivation can cause increased stress, decreased performance and cognitive impairment—all of which can impact your performance on the job.

9. How much you learn about yourself

With all of the time spent on learning the human body, it may come as a shock that nursing school is a great time to learn some things about who you are as well. Without the intricate assignments she received in class, RN student Jacki Wagner would have never learned what a perfectionist she is.

10. Start thinking about the end at the beginning

Even if you’ve never been the type of person who sneaks a peek at the last page of a book before reading it, you will have to start thinking about the end sooner as a nurse. Discharge planning starts at admission, says RN mobility student Jennifer Jacobson. It is one of the most important parts of the process and needs to be factored in the whole way through.

11. Don’t judge a book by its cover

Just because a patient looks healthy on the outside, does not mean that everything is working like clockwork on the inside. For example, a slight deviation in the color of someone’s tongue can have major health implications says RN student student Larissa Miller.

12. The human body is a living petri dish

We’ve all heard about the importance of washing our hands regularly. You may have even heard that there is more bacteria in your mouth than your toilet. But how about your nose? RN student Brooke Firkus was surprised to hear that more than half of the population carries the drug-resistant staph germ MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), right in the front of their nose. MRSA is now responsible for more than 19,000 American fatalities every year.

13. Checking people out takes on a whole new meaning

RN student Kristine Fox finds herself noticing random strangers for their buffalo hump or whether their veins would be ideal for inserting an IV. It takes people watching at the mall to a whole new level.

14. Being a nurse is really hard work, but it’s worth it

There is a reason people talk about the challenges of nursing. From time management to identifying the “most correct answer,” there is a lot that can add stress to a student’s plate. Sometimes that even includes a few tears, says RN student Tamra Ling.

But it is all worth it in the end to have an in-demand career that actually helps heal others and improves the life of a stranger. Not to mention an amazing support system of experienced nurses to help you all the way, says RN student Jamie Nyberg.

What will you discover?

The things you learn in nursing school go far beyond the number of bones in the human foot or the number of pints of blood in each patient. Each of these students and nurses came across things that inspired their curiosity while pursuing their adventure.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting a 26 percent growth in the number of nursing jobs available through 2020. So there is no more exciting time than right now to become a nurse. It’s time to start your own adventure. You may surprise yourself with what you can do.

To learn more about the nursing programs at Rasmussen College, check out the School of Nursing home page.

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Katy Katz

Katy is a Content Marketing Specialist at Collegis Education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys creating engaging content to help former, current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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