How Hard is Nursing School? Students Tell All

female nursing taking exam 

Few professions allow you the chance to directly improve someone’s life every day you come to work—but nursing is one of them. Nurses work on the frontlines of the healthcare field. They’re the ones getting their hands dirty, soothing a patient’s pain and calming worried families. They’re the medical professionals patients remember years after treatment.

But despite the amazing growth of the field—employment for registered nurses was projected to grow 19 percent between 2012 and 2022—nursing isn’t a pie-in-the-sky fantasy feel-good job. It takes hard working, dedicated professionals who are passionate about their patients. And it’s not easy.   

But how hard is nursing school? To answer that completely, let’s break it into two questions:

  • Is nursing school hard?
  • Will you be able to handle it?

To help answer these questions, we’ve asked several nursing students and graduates to tell us what they thought was the hardest part of nursing school, and what they did to overcome these challenges. Here’s what they said:

Time management

Time management is one of the biggest challenges in nursing school, according to our respondents. Rasmussen College nursing student Krystl Taylor says the key for her success is staying organized.

“Being organized has helped me a lot—there’s so much going on with my kids and assignments so it really helps me know what’s coming up and what I need to do to be ready,” Taylor says. “It also lets me work ahead so I don’t feel like I’m drowning.”

You’re going to be pulled in multiple directions between coursework, clinicals and studying—not to mention any additional personal, social and family responsibilities you may have on your plate. To succeed you need to be able to use your time wisely and keep yourself on schedule.

There are several strategies to make the best use of your time, but here are a couple strategies that should help.

1. Make a to-do list & stick to it

Creating a to-do list for the day or week will keep you organized and help you prioritize your time. This will help prevent small assignments from sneaking up on you and also allow you to plan ahead as needed.

2. Set aside time for school

Schedule time to focus solely on school work, even if you don’t have anything that needs to be done immediately that day—the time can be used to work ahead or review NCLEX questions. Once you get into the routine of having a certain time of day blocked off for school work, it becomes a lot easier to keep up.

‘Correct’ won’t cut it

According to our respondents, exams in nursing school are a bit trickier than what you may be used to. It’s no longer good enough to just be correct; your answers need to be the most correct.

Think of it this way—while it’s correct to keep pressure on an open wound to slow bleeding, if that’s all you did for treatment you’d be well on your way to a degree in medieval medicine, not modern nursing. Understanding the best—not just the effective—course of action to take is important for nurses. Some questions might offer two answers that are technically correct, but the challenge is choosing the one that is the most appropriate for the given situation.

“Students need to read carefully to figure out exactly what is being asked,” say Amy Matthys, Rasmussen College nursing dean. “Often students read more into the question than what is stated and ask themselves ‘Well, what if … ?’ which is a big cause of mistakes.”

Beyond taking your time and reading carefully, there isn’t an easy way to combat this. You’ll need to have a very strong grasp of the material so you know not only the answer, but why that answer is correct. Matthys says the best way to get better at these questions is to practice.

“Check out a review book from the library and try to review 10 practice NCLEX questions every day,” Matthys says. “These books explain the rationale behind the answers which will help you increase your knowledge base and confidence when test time comes around.”

Understanding the rationale behind answers will help with the format of NCLEX testing as well. The difficulty level increases as you progress further into the test, so understanding why an answer is correct becomes more and more important.

There’s so much to learn

Learning medical terminology can feel like you’re learning a completely different language, and unless you routinely speak Latin at home, it is. Nursing graduate Patrick Joyce credits Rasmussen College staff for successfully completing nursing school.

“They assisted me in finding a tutor for the difficult classes I needed extra help in,” Joyce says. “They found ways to motivate me and wouldn’t let me give up. No matter how hard it got, they really were a rock of support for me.”

Because you have so much to learn, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed initially, but as time goes on you’ll get your bearings. Think of it this way—the first time you rode a bike you didn’t hop on and bust out a sweet wheelie, you had to wobble around for a bit and fall off before you got the hang of it.

There’s no shame in using the “training wheels” available to you as a nursing student either—asking your instructors questions, working with a tutor and studying with classmates can all help you get you rolling along.

Take a little time to relax

Nursing student Kerstein Bracken says she makes sure to set aside time for family. “I try to do something special with my kids on the weekends since I don’t get to see them as much—things like painting nails or just taking time to snuggle,” she says.

The life of a nursing student is a busy one and it can be easy to get caught up in what you’re doing and forget to relax. Spend some quality time with your family and friends to clear your mind of school work when you can.

It doesn’t seem like much, but taking the time to relax and appreciate the little things can help you recharge and keep you from getting burned out by nursing school.

You can do it

It’s only natural to be a little unsure of yourself before taking on a new challenge. It is important to remember that succeeding in nursing school is not impossible—if you put in the work, get organized and are willing to sacrifice some of your free time in the short term you could be on your way to a rewarding career.

If you’re ready to take the next step visit the nursing program page. If you need a bit more reassurance, read these tips on how to manage nursing school stress.



Will Erstad

Will is a Sr. Content Specialist at Collegis Education. He researches and writes student-focused articles on a variety of topics for Rasmussen College. He is passionate about learning and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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