Musical selection: Rondo alla turca, Sonata in A, W. A. Mozart, K. 330, courtesy of Classical MIDI Archives, © 1999 Pierre R. Schwob

This article originally appeared in the Summer 1996 edition of REVOLUTION -- THE JOURNAL OF NURSE EMPOWERMENT (1-800-331-6534)


Think back to the scariest roller coaster you've ever ridden. Remember how terrified you felt as the cars began to plummet down that first precipitous descent? Remember what it was like never knowing what was just around that bend? And finally, remember how exhausted but strangely exhilarated you felt when you got off?

Well, multiply that by a thousand and you'll begin to understand what nursing school is like.

From your first day of classes till your pinning ceremony, nursing school owns you body and soul. Mention "American Idol" or "Desperate Housewives" to a nursing student, and he/she won't have the slightest idea of what you're talking about. Nursing students don't write for the school paper or try out for school plays. Nor will you find many nursing students frolicking on the beach in Florida during spring break. They're too busy studying for that pharmacology test staring them in the face the first day back.

Nursing school attracts more and more mature recycled students who face numerous challenged not encountered by their younger counterparts, like the need to continue in a full-time job and handle family responsibilities, or missing an exam because the baby sitter called in sick or you had to work overtime. There is always the possibility that the working student may have to choose between continuing to work and giving up school and a long-cherished dream or quitting work and facing financial hardship. Your family might not always give you the support you need. It will not occur to any of them that no law forbids them to change a light bulb or walk the dog. You'll come home from clinical to find a load of dirty dishes in the sink, an overflowing laundry hamper, and two chapters you still have to study for tomorrow. Your kids will fight or pester you as you're trying to figure out a care plan. It's possible that relations between you and your significant other can become significantly strained.

The ultimate irony of nursing school is that it doesn't teach you how to be a nurse. It teaches you how nurses think, what they do, and how and why they do it, but only by being a nurse can you finally learn how to be a nurse.

The thought "What am I doing and why am I doing it?" pervades the nursing student's every thought and action. Make a mistake in an accounting calculation, for example, and you'll only have to spend some time crunching numbers to track down the errant figure. Make a mistake in a drug dosage calculation, however, and you could end up with a negligence suit on your hands.

Whatever your motivation is for attending nursing school, forget about "saving humanity." You can't. All you can do is to play your part to helping your patients achieve and maintain their optimal state of health. And sometimes all you can do is to help them die comfortably. Finally, accept the fact that nursing school will unltimately break your heart. If you can get through nursing school without crying, perhaps you should have considered some other profession.

But just when you wonder whatever happened to your sanity, something will remind you why you chose to enter nursing school in the first place. A kind word of encouragement from an instructor. A good test grade. A smile from a patient. A "thank you" from a physician. That friendly staff nurse who walks you through your first enema. A laugh shared with a fellow student. And suddenly everything you learned about IVPBs, dosage calculations, trach suctioning, sterile dressing changes, and the nursing process falls into place. You may not always know why you're going to nursing school but you'll be very glad you did.

So make sure your safety harness is securely fastened, take a deep breath, and get ready for the roller coaster ride of your life!

Graphics courtesy of