What your nursing professors don't tell you...

It is not hard for me to think back to the frustrating days of nursing school.

I worked as a tech in a busy emergency room throughout my time in nursing school. Upon graduating, I definitely felt as though I learned far more working as an ER tech than I ever learned in school.  

I vividly remember telling my mother (a seasoned nurse - i.e. an RN that most of her colleagues would define as a badass) that I was pretty sure some of my professors had never touched a patient or worked at the bedside before.

It wasn't that infrequently that we would learn something in class that was considered outdated in actual practice. 

I carried all of these sentiments with me...until I became a nursing instructor and learned some things that they usually don't share with their students. 

Information that I think would have been helpful, had I known it during school.

Well now, I am sharing it with you...


1.     Your Textbook is King!

Have you ever looked at the copyright date of your nursing textbooks? Chances are they were at least a year old (if not more) before your nursing program ever adopted them. I can't even begin to guess how long they were in the editing and publishing phase, before they actually made it into the hands of you, the consumer.


What am I getting at?


Some of the information within your textbook is going to be outdated before the book is even available for purchase. This isn't the fault of your professor. They understand this and many of them hate that they have to teach material that is completely irrelevant (or at least I did!) – but they have to teach by the book.


So even though say…


…the CPR guidelines have changed, but your textbook doesn't reflect that and teaches the old way…


…or your textbook says that a certain medication – which is now recalled and cannot be used by anyone, ever – is the best possible medicine for the treatment of septic shock…


…or the lab values you are taught are far different from the ones they are utilizing in the hospital…


they still have to teach by the book…and…it is what you will be tested on. Because if it is in the book, then they have a leg to stand on when you challenge a test question or make a grade appeal.


Speaking of challenging questions…when you challenge a question on a test, the answer that you are challenging for or against needs to be in the book or the handouts that they (your professors) have provided for you. You need to reference some piece of text that they have given you so that you have a leg to stand on. Just basing a challenge off of your opinion usually will not get the job done.  Nor will going by old powerpoints that used to be used in the class, even if they are still accessible to you through your online learning platform. It needs to be the most current textbook your program is using and/or the most current handouts they’ve provided for you.

IF you have an audio recording of the lecture – that you have specifically been given permission to record – that proves that the instructor said something to make you believe that the answer you are challenging for is correct, then you could use that as well.

As a professor, I ENCOURAGE you to challenge questions when you think they should be challenged. Not all questions are good. And your professors shouldn’t ever get upset that you want to challenge a question. That’s not to say that some won’t…but those truly out for your best interests will always see it as a learning opportunity for all parties involved.


As you will see in clinical and once you start working in the hospital, things are often, though not always, far different from what you learned in the classroom. But take heart…your professor is (probably) not an idiot who has never touched a patient…she is just teaching by the book to which she is bound.


2.     They Don’t Write Their Own Tests

That is right. Most of your nursing professors do not write each and every question that is put on the test. Some don’t write any of the questions – nor would you want them to. Most nursing programs utilize test banks. These are large banks of questions, often written by the professors of old, and adapted as needed. Some professors will write some of the questions on each exam, including yours truly – as I frequently found that the available questions were too easy and didn’t truly test the student’s knowledge or critical thinking skills. But I have yet to meet a professor that has constructed an entire unit test or final without the help of a test bank.


I have had a few students get upset upon finding out this information – but you really shouldn’t. These are tried and true questions that have been tested out on students before you, and they are deemed reliable and good indicators of your knowledge level.


Using a test bank also means that the questions are inserted, for the most part, in a random order, as are the answers. Why does that matter? Have you ever been taking a test only to realize that you have answered ‘B’ on the last 4 or 5 questions? You hastily go back through each question and decide that you must have answered at least one of them wrong because there couldn’t possibly be 5 answers in a row that were ‘B.’ Well, with this sort of randomization of test questions there actually can be. So, the next time this happens to you while you are testing don’t automatically assume that you have answered something incorrectly. Definitely go back through and make sure that you read everything closely. But don’t second-guess yourself.  You are usually right if you go with your gut.


3.     They must love teaching…

They must love teaching, because (at least in my experience) they have more work to do than time to do it, and they could be making more money working two 12-hour shifts a week at the hospital than they make working more than full-time hours (once you account for all of the time spent working at home- which, again, in my case was a considerable amount of time).