Nursing School vs Real World Nursing (2024)

What are some differences between nursing school and real world work as a nurse? Is nursing school harder or easier? Is working as a nurse harder? What are the differences?

Those are great questions. There are definitely some differences between working as a nurse and being a student in nursing school.

Nursing School vs Working as a Nurse

Here are some differences I’ve noticed between nursing school vs working as a nurse in the real world.

Nursing School and Nursing are Both Stressful in their Own Way

Nursing school can be stressful because you’re always worrying about passing classes, performing well on exit exams, and keeping track of all of your assignments. That stress is very real, but it’s a different kind of stress compared to working as a nurse.

When you work as a nurse, the stress will come from knowing that you have your patients’ lives in your hands. You’ll be stressed over call lights going off, calling doctors, and working to get your stuff done before your shift ends. You have all of the responsibility on you, as opposed to the responsibility being on your clinical instructor or preceptor.

Nursing Care Plans are Different

In nursing school, it took me forever to complete care plans. I think my first nursing care plan took about 4-6 hours to complete. I remember thinking, “How on earth am I going to complete several of these while working as a nurse?”

However, the care plans in nursing school are quite a bit different from the ones you’ll do on the job. Nursing schools often require extreme details when completing care plan assignments, and they do that so that you can learn to think like a nurse. You’ll have to fill in interventions, list diagnoses, and so forth.

On the job, however, your care plans will be easier to complete. Because you’ll probably be in a certain specialty, you’ll learn the common issues your patient population will face. It will become so automatic for you that you’ll look at new patient and be thinking, “This person is going to have fluid volume deficit.”

You’ll also know those interventions to go along with the care plan. And because most hospitals have their care plan process in digital format, it will usually consist of clicking boxes and selecting from suggested options. In addition, your care plans will probably change throughout the day as you monitor your patient.

Nurses Use Different Lingo

As a nursing student, you tend to learn the “proper” way of saying medications, supplies, and so forth. However, when you begin to work as a nurse, you pick up nursing slang for things. Nurses develop their own slang because they have to communicate quickly and effectively.

I can still remember being a nursing student, and a nurse asked me if I’d go and get an I.S. out of the clean hold. I said, “Sure!”

Unfortunately, I had no idea what an “I.S.” was! Thankfully a nursing assistant knew that it meant “incentive spirometer,” and they kindly directed me to it.

That’s just how nurses communicate. They abbreviate medication names, equipment names, and more. You might come across a nurse on the floor saying something like this: “I had a patient who was NPO, their 18-gauge blew, they needed a stat chest x-ray, along with a BMP, a CBC – and their trops were elevated!” The average person would be thinking, “Huh?!”

Don’t worry…you’ll catch on.

Nursing School Falls behind Nursing Practice

Nursing is an ever-changing profession. New research is being performed constantly, and protocols are constantly updated based on the latest evidence-based practice. As a result, nursing school often falls behind a bit.

When I was in nursing school, we had to learn how to perform a sterile wet-to-dry dressing change and demonstrate it for a skills check-off. Once I started working as a nurse, I really never performed a wet-to-dry dressing change!

I recently took a continuing education class on this very topic, and the instructor was talking about how it really isn’t used as much anymore due to the newer products and procedures that are safer and better.

So, you might learn nursing skills a certain way in nursing school, only to find out that some minor changes have taken place once you get on the job.

Nursing School is Broad; Nursing is Narrow

When you are in nursing school, you’ll learn a little bit of information about nearly every nursing specialty. You’ll learn very broad information that will create a foundation for whatever specialty you choose to work.

You’ll learn about pediatrics, OB, psych nursing, geriatrics, med-surg, critical care and more. You really don’t get into the nitty-gritty of the individual specialties or areas of nursing. However, once you begin working as a nurse, you’ll specialize in a certain field. You’ll learn the nitty-gritty details of whatever specialty you choose, and you’ll master that specialty over time.

As a result, you’ll probably do a brain dump on the other nursing information you learned in nursing school. For example, if you specialize in oncology nursing, you’ll master that and know so much about it. However, you’ll begin to forget many of the details about, say, maternity nursing.

Being a Nurse is better than being in Nursing School

In my personal opinion, being a nurse is far superior to being a nursing student in nursing school. In nursing school, it’s about 90% theory and lectures, and 10% skills and application. In the nursing profession, it’s flipped: its 90% application and 10% theory and learning. In fact, you apply theory and think critically as you’re working.

If any of you are still in nursing school, hang in there. It gets better—I promise.

When You’re a Nurse, Say Goodbye to Homework!

One of the best parts about being a nurse is that you no longer have to deal with homework and exams. Granted, when you are first hired on as a new grad, you might have to take a few exams and classes as a part of your training or residency program.

However, once that is out of the way, you’ll rarely have to take any more classes. The only time you’ll have to study is if you plan to attain some extra certification or take a continuing education class, and those are usually very easy compared to nursing school classes.

That’s a big deal, because when you’re in nursing school, it sometimes feels as if you can never really have a break or catch your breath. There’s always another exam to study for, another assignment to complete, or NCLEX questions you should be practicing. You never really get that sense of closure like you do when you start your career as a nurse.

Oh, and you also get a paycheck, and that’s always nice!

Conclusion: Nursing School vs Working as a Nurse

I hope that gives you an idea of how things are different in nursing school compared to real world nursing. I prefer nursing in the real world to nursing school, but nursing school does have some good points, too.

Nursing School vs Real World Nursing (2024)
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