Lessons from My First Semester in Nursing School

Nursing is a challenging yet incredibly rewarding career. The first challenge? Getting through nursing school. Current student Janet Chan shares her insights after her first semester as a nursing student.


woman at computer with to do list.

When I was accepted to nursing school, I had a rush of emotions, ranging from excited to downright terrified. It was what I wanted my whole life, yet I knew it would be a hard journey – I knew that I had to make changes to myself: my work ethic, my whole way of thinking.

I asked friends and former nursing students about their experiences and what I should do to prepare – the universal answer was priority. The transition from taking prerequisites with a large class size to a close knit lecture with only 70 students is a major change, but an even bigger change is the workload that comes with nursing school; before you know it you’ll be swamped with projects, textbook readings, and extracurricular activities, all due one after the other. All of a sudden the strategies employed for studying in a standard undergraduate program is no longer adequate – it all comes down to prioritizing.  

Planning (Ahead) for Success

My secret weapon to prioritizing is my planner. This is a generic sounding piece of advice, and yet it has helped me immensely. I look over any syllabi or handouts that professors provide before the semester starts to ensure I know exactly when things are due; I then create a plan of attack for all the exams, assignments and projects. This gives me a physical and mental calendar, a reminder of every assignment to ensure I don’t miss one.

Being on top of the workload is essential, as it quickly accumulates throughout the school year.

The final touch is a daily schedule and daily reminders on my phone so I know how much time I need to dedicate to studying. My daily schedule consists of when I wake up, what classes I have throughout the day, what time I have to study, and when I should go to sleep. A great app that I’m using, Momentum, can also be added as an extension to Google Chrome.

When I break down my days, I try to plan them out at least two days in advance so that I have leeway for any unexpected events that might occur. Nursing school is a carnival; you want to go on all the rides, and yet there are only so many hours in the day. By planning out your day and prioritizing, you can get the most out of your experience.

The most valuable thing I learned so far as a nursing student is you have to know which coursework needs your attention first and which tasks can be done later so that you are working efficiently.

Challenge(s) Accepted.

The undergraduate nursing program not only requires your undivided attention, but also requires you to be prepared both mentally and emotionally for the various challenges that come with nursing school.

The summer before class started, I worked in a retail job simply to earn an income, but working retail had given much more: the experience of working with others from different backgrounds taught me valuable skills in multitasking and professional communication. As a nursing student, you will have to balance a plethora of tasks while regularly working with others.

Another challenge is dealing with those moments when you feel overwhelmed. It is important to find a stress reliever. I relieve my stress by meditating – if there is a break in my schedule, I take a 10 minute meditation session by closing my eyes, focusing on breathing and finding my quiet space. This helps me recollect myself and helps me shut out outside distractions. Of course, everyone has their own version of stress relief – it can be as simple as going for a short walk around the library, stretching in your seat or even taking a snack break. It is important to discipline yourself, timing yourself appropriately for these breaks.

Self-discipline is another strength that helps me through the challenges of the coursework. It really just comes with experience: it’s another essential for nursing school that you will have to learn on the way.

My first exam in nursing school was a bit of a rude awakening for me – I had always thought myself to be well disciplined, yet the exam showed me how far I had yet to go.

I went through the motions for studying that I had honed for four years through my undergraduate psychology program. After this particular exam, I realized that I had to change my ways. The next time, I forced myself to start my study sheet and notes the same day that a new topic was introduced; I also made sure that I understood previous lectures before moving on to the new ones, and the results definitely showed for my next exam. This helped me realize just how important it was to remain focused and undistracted when I am studying or doing assignments. I began to work free of distractions – studying alone, with my phone turned off. When I study with friends, I try to ensure that we minimize distractions and work together to understand the materials; it helps to organize small study groups who are focused on the work and willing to help each other out.

Onward and Upward!

Nursing school, for all the challenges it provides, will still be an amazing time in your life where you not only learn essential skills, but also meet wonderful people who will push you to be the best. Be confident and don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes, just make sure you learn from them. UB Nursing is a one-of-a-kind program and when you start adjusting to the madness, it feels like home. Your professors are your best resources; they are well versed in their profession, and their experience is your key to success.

Take initiative and attend the programs or volunteer opportunities that the school has to offer – just remember how to prioritize! I hope that this post gives you a glance of what nursing school really is, a chaotic, wonderful adventure towards our shared goal of helping people.

With that, I will leave you with this quote by educator, author and businessman Stephen Covey: “The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”


UB School of Nursing welcomes comments from readers. Please submit your comments in the box below.

I appreciate this essay written by Janet Chan. As a traditional student myself, I agree prioritization is a key factor to success in nursing school. This essay has provided me with useful strategies to use while finishing my first semester in Nursing. Thank you for posting this essay.  


Thanks for sharing. In my opinion, one part that is key in the process of being successful in nursing school, is the program and instructors as well. I attended an ABSN at Concordia College of NY and it was a terrible experience. Choosing the right school and a program that caters and cares about their students makes this rough path less stressful. I would love to read about your experience with your instructors and programs rules. Have a great second semester!