Crystal Gustafson
Crystal Gustafson
November 20, 2015 - 3 min read

10 Absolutely Necessary Skills They Can’t Teach You In Nursing School

Someone would think that after four years of college that a person would have some idea of what their profession would entail; this was not the case for me. I’m pretty sure that my new grad years were more educational than all of my years spent in college.  Here is what I learned my first year nursing.

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1. Nursing is not what they teach you in school.

Anatomy and physiology, chemistry and biology classes all contain interesting factoids, but in the real world, they didn’t really apply to my daily work life. The real skills like understanding when someone needs an intervention, navigating family dynamics and time management are all learned on the job and with experience.

2. Don’t attempt to memorize anything.

Relying on yours or other people’s memories can lead to mistakes. Always reference drip rates, drugs, drug interactions or anything else you don’t know with actual evidence based reference material.

3. I learned that I am in fact superstitious.

I learned to never say “quiet” or “slow” when referring to my night and I would resent anyone who told me my assignment would be easy. Full moons are the real deal and so is Friday the 13th.

4. Having a routine for everything makes life easier;

Especially when it comes to assessing patients, looking at EKGs and organizing your day. It may take time to develop but it ensures you don’t skip a beat. Organize your day in a way that works best for you, not your co-worker.

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5. Patients know more about themselves then I do.

If someone tells you that insulin drops their blood sugar and they request not to have it then don’t give it to them. I made this mistake early on.

6. Your “gut feeling” is an actual phenomenon and you should listen to it.

I didn’t actually learn how to trust my gut until a few years later but I definitely felt my gut yelling at me on multiple occasions as a new grad. Your first reaction is usually the right one. Learn to listen to it.

7. Having a good mentor was vital to my success as a new nurse.

There is nothing worse than feeling like you have no one to turn to in the midst of a crisis. Finding someone who is kind, supportive, patient, compassionate, has a positive attitude and a good sense of humor is very important.

8. The people you work with will determine your work life happiness.

You can have the worst patients on earth but as long as you have great personal relationships with your coworkers and good teamwork, then any night no matter how crazy, won’t be that terrible.

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9. Caring about someone who refuses to care about themselves is a waste of energy.

There are people in this world who are in a mental or emotional place where they just don’t have the desire or ability to better their situation.

Whether it be quitting drinking, smoking or changing their eating habits, the most you can do for someone is to educate and not judge them. When they are ready to make the change they will. It is not up to you to do it for them.

10. I learned how to set my pride aside.

Your coworkers are your greatest resource. If you think your patient doesn’t look good but can’t put a finger on it then ask one of your coworkers for a second opinion. Nursing is a never ending learning experience. You will NEVER know everything. If you need help than ask for it.

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Lessons learned outside the classroom

My first year post grad year of nursing was both exciting and humbling. There was a tremendous learning curve that was extremely stressful and overwhelming at times. Mistakes were made, tears were shed and judgements were formed; all of which affect my nursing practice to this day.

The first year in the trenches was the hardest but it was also the most memorable. I saved a life, witnessed a death and made more friends than I had ever before, all in my first year nursing. 

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