Nursing School students walking in the hospital

You’ve decided to become a nurse. That’s amazing! You’ll join an over 20 million-strong team of healthcare professionals in The US. The journey to RN starts in nursing school. You’ll learn everything you need for human anatomy, biology, medicine, and patient care.

We’re here to help you get prepared for nursing school in the USA. We’ll cover everything to expect in your first year and offer some tips to help you succeed. 

What to expect in year one of nursing school?

Your first year of nursing school can feel like entering a new world. Your brain will soon become overwhelmed with all the different medical terms, anatomical terminology, and scientific principles. 

Year one of nursing school focuses on human anatomy, biology, physiology, and pharmacology (how drugs work in the body).

During the first semester, your courses will likely include the Fundamentals of Nursing, Anatomy, Physiology, and Health Assessment. These introduce you to the core principles of the field as well as beginning practical nurse skills. 

Your second semester will continue with Anatomy and Physiology II and possibly introduce you to the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and pharmacology. The first year of nursing school is highly science-driven. If you didn’t like to study science in high school, you must devise a plan to ensure you stay on top of your classes.

There will also be plenty of simulation labs for year one nursing students. Labs give budding nurses a chance to practice new skills on dummies. You learn the basics of patient care and build confidence before moving on to actual patients later.

What to expect in the first month of nursing school?

The first month of nursing school can be one of the hardest for some students, but it’s also one of the most exciting. When you go to labs, you’ll get to don scrubs and a stethoscope and see a glimpse of what you’ll feel like when you’re working as an RN.

During the first month, you’ll get into the groove of studying. Now is the perfect time to plan your routine and stick to it at all costs. Expect to turn down some social invitations as you focus on your courses; once you get into the flow of nursing school, it becomes easier to balance school and your social life.

What will you learn in the first year of nursing school?

The first year of nursing school is dedicated to the fundamentals of nursing and human anatomy and physiology. You will learn about the body’s major systems, how they interact, and how the medication affects them. 

Through the fundamentals of nursing, you’ll learn about the basics of health assessment, positioning patients, pre-surgical (perioperative) care, nursing theories, medical charting, and more. 

How hard is the first year of nursing school?

The first year of nursing school can be challenging because it is so science-intensive. Many students study a great deal due to the sheer volume of medical terminology and anatomy they need to memorize. 

While the first year can be challenging, it is also filled with plenty of wonderful moments. You’ll love applying your developing skills in labs; you’ll make friends with other nursing students and be proud of how much you learn in just one year of training. 

What do you need to buy before starting nursing school?

Before nursing school, you’ll be sent a list of supplies required by your program. For example, some schools require students to wear scrubs at all times in class, so make sure you check with yours. 

The type of scrubs you can wear may vary by school; some allow you to wear patterned scrubs, but others require all students to wear uniform dark blue scrubs. 

In addition to two pairs of scrubs, you should also buy:

  • Comfortable nursing shoes. These may also need to meet regulations for your school’s dress code.

  • A stethoscope. You’ll need it in labs and possibly as part of your uniform. 

  • All the required textbooks. You can also rent them to save money or sell them back later.

  • Face masks and hand sanitizer. Keeping these on hand is always a good idea, especially if you are in close quarters with other people all day.

  • Nursing school study guide. Aim for only one your first year, focusing on the content you’re actively learning. 

  • A reliable laptop. You’ll need this to do homework, study, and track all your documents.

  • A planner. Using your phone is okay, but many nursing students find physical planners help them stay more organized. 

  • A recording device. As long as your teacher says it’s okay, recording lectures and replaying them while you study can be helpful.

  • Light compression stockings. These can reduce swelling during labs and clinicals when standing on your feet for 8 to 12 hours.

  • Nursing apps. Your school may suggest some apps that have essential information on medications and proper dosing. 

  • A penlight with pupil sizes. This is used during health assessments during physical exams.

Our best tip for first-year nursing students is to avoid overspending. For example, don’t spend hundreds of dollars on a stethoscope when a $30 stethoscope will do just fine for your labs.

What sort of classes is in the first year of nursing school?

The first year of nursing school is all about prerequisites and core classes. You’ll study English, math, science, and possibly reading and writing. These courses will set the stage for future coursework and profession. 

While it’s not set in stone, your first-year courses could include:

  • Math – As a nurse, you need to understand the basic concepts of math. You also need to be able to calculate precise measurements for your patient’s vitals and medication dosages. Typically, first-year nursing student courses will include basic algebra and possibly statistics.

  • Reading and Writing – You will also learn the best ways to read and understand health data and reports. In addition, you’ll refine your writing skills so that it’s clear, concise, and easy to understand in the workplace.

  • Science – Even if you took science, biology, and chemistry in high school, it’s also required in the first year of nursing school. Then, depending on where you go, you might have to take a microbiology course, health, and wellness, human anatomy, and physiology.

Nursing-Related First-Year Courses

The introductory classes for nurses can quench students' thirst for knowledge in their field and whet the appetite for more involved coursework. Be patient. The first-year nursing courses typically include but are not limited to:

  • Roles of Nurses in a Medical Setting

  • Pathology

  • Pharmacology

  • Health Care Management and Practices

  • Health Assessment

  • Clinical Courses for First-Year Nurses

The practical experience that clinical courses provide nursing students is essential. It can help them gauge their weaknesses and strengths. This coursework is likely the first time the student is allowed a turn in the real-world nursing experience.

When do you start clinicals at nursing school?

Clinicals are considered part of your core classes. Depending on your nursing school, you might start your clinical rounds in the first or second semester. Clinicals are specifically designed to provide hands-on experience caring for patients in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals and outpatient clinics. 

You may also find yourself doing rounds on every floor of the hospital to become familiar with how each floor is run and what types of care you’ll provide if you work there. 

Some Tips to Thrive in Nursing School

Since the schedule in nursing school can be rigorous, it’s essential to stay healthy as possible. So our top tips for thriving in nursing school are about taking care of your physical and mental health. 

While you will likely face your fair share of stress and challenges, you can get through them. With the proper routine and belief in yourself, you can transform your biggest nursing school obstacles into achievements.

Get Plenty of Sleep

As a nursing student, you need to prioritize your health. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep each night. You should also try to keep the same sleep schedule, even on weekends. 

This routine will make it easier for you to get up at the same time once the weekend is over. However, you should note that trying to fit missed sleep into your weekend isn’t the best idea. While you might feel better, any positive effects from getting more sleep will disappear once you start sleeping less again. 

Balance of Studying and Socializing

Similar to prioritizing your sleep, you also need time to find the right balance between work and play. So, In addition to creating a study schedule that you know you’ll stick with, you also need to pencil in time to socialize with friends and family. 

Even if it’s only one or two days a week, make time to do the things you enjoy. With the right balance, you’ll feel refreshed, relaxed, and, most importantly, ready to learn without feeling like you have no social life. 

You should also set aside time each week to practice self-care. With so much going on, it’s easy to forget that you also need a little TLC and time to unwind. So whether going to a spa, giving yourself a facial, or simply spending time journaling, make pampering yourself a priority. 

It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t feel guilty if you need to take time for yourself. Going to nursing school is a full-time commitment, so it’s normal to feel like you need time to decompress. 

Exercise Regularly

Staying active might seem demanding during the first year of nursing school; however, it’s important to find the time to exercise at least five times a week. 

Remember that you don’t need to go to the gym to exercise. You can take a jog after dinner or do short bursts of cardio in 10-minute increments throughout the day. You can also make walking your primary source of exercise and strive for 10,000 steps a day. 

Eat a Healthy Diet

While the first year of nursing school can be intense, you still need to make sure you’re following a healthy diet. For example, meal prep on the weekend, so you don’t have to spend time preparing after class. You should also keep plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables on hand for snacking and swap out sugary soft drinks for water. 

Your goal is to fuel your body with what it needs to stay alert without hitting a wall in the afternoon or evening. If you consume coffee, you should keep it to a minimum and only drink one to two cups daily to minimize caffeine intake.