How students should prepare before their first yea...

How students should prepare before their first year of nursing school starts

So you’ve got that coveted unconditional offer – you’re going to nursing school! But how should you prepare? Should you buy any books? What about pens, pencils, and laptops?

These were questions most of us asked after we realised that yep, we’re going to uni. Yep, we’re going to become a nurse. While some will say make the most of the time you have before induction and freshers to relax, I couldn’t disagree more. Here are a few suggestions I wish someone had told me this time last year to help you prepare and settle in to academic life at university.

How to prepare for your first year of nursing school


Download the following apps right now:

Guidelines from the Resuscitation Council (UK) on Basic Life Support, including CPR, DRSABC and everything else you need to save a life. It’s packed with flowcharts and algorithms with the most up-to-date information and policy.

With plans to phase out the bulky book, definitely download the British National Formulary. If you’ve not heard of it before, it lists drugs and medication by order of classification and contains all guidelines for use – incuding how much it costs.

NICE Guidelines
Everything you need to know about good practice, policy and procedure.

Packed with all kinds of cases, Figure1 is the Instagram of the medical world. Often, senior medical professionals will post cases that make you really think about the causes and outcomes behind them.

Khan Academy
No self-respecting student will be without this super useful app. Perfect for those who love bioscience (and even better for those who hate it) each video explains in depth everything from neuroscience to the respiratory system using handy drawings and simple terms. This is one that helped me pass my exams, for sure.


Seriously, don’t buy ANY until you know your reading list. Unless they’re, like, a quid from a charity shop your uni will tell you which books you MUST HAVE and which are suggested reading. Many can be found in the library, and if you join the RCN you’ll have access to thousands of books and journals that can be ordered in if you prefer a physical copy, or viewed online.


You don’t need books yet.

Create your own study space

Whether it’s clearing out the cubby under the stairs or ditching the spare bed and converting an entire room into a student’s dream office, get your workspace prepared now. You’ll be spending hours tapping away at your computer and reading through books (from the library, as above) so you need to find a space that’s quiet, relaxing and conducive to working and meeting those deadlines. A good desk, a comfy chair, decent light and a handy Nespresso machine should work wonders!

Oh, and give your house a deep clean. Literally everything you’ve been meaning to do – from painting that peeling wall to scrubbing out carpet stains – needs to be done now. Ain’t no way you’re going to be doing it after night shifts.

Stationery and pretty things

At this stage, ensure you’ve got a laptop in decent nick. Ain’t nothing worse than completing a 5,000 word esay for your laptop to grind to a slow halt. I use a MacBook Air as it’s light enough to take to uni, but any reliable laptop will work.

As for the rest, just stock up on Pukka pads, black pens (buy loads – doctors WILL steal them) a few highlighters. Until you know the size of your tunic’s pockets, don’t bother buying anything you think will fit. Most are the weirdest shape ever.

Do you need a stethoscope?

No. Not for practice anyway. If you want to get one to master the art of manual blood pressure just buy a cheap one from Amazon. Wait until you’re working as a cardiac nurse before investing in a Littmann.

Do you need a fob watch?

Maybe. But until you know which trust you’re in, don’t splash out. Some won’t allow metal watches for fear of infection, and if you join a union they’ll probably bang one in with their little goodie bag when you join.

Should you get a super-duper, all singing, all brush lettered student planner?

This depends. Honestly, a full day to page diary (so, one page can be allocated for each day) should be fine. I bought a cheap academic diary from The Works and in all fairness, it’s been sat in the bottom drawer of my super organised desk space the entire year.

If you’ve used a diary before and you’re good at keeping it up to date, it’s probably a good idea to think about getting one. But when you’re carrying around hundreds of books and dread the thought of all that extra weight, they’ll easily be tossed aside. Plus, is the expense worth it? Not at all in my opinion.

I prefer my whiteboard planner. It allows the boy and I to add our schedules on there, and I’ll usually take a picture of it to refer to during the week.

What should you revise?

Start by watching some Khan Academy videos on the basic systems: cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, etc. Get to grips with the cell, what it’s made of, what the organelles are etc. Basically, revise to a GCSE standard and you’ll be more than prepared. Exams are tough and many, many in our cohort failed their exams – I was convinced I’d barely scrape a pass and I LOVE anatomy. By taking the time to get up to speed with at least the basics (could you tell me what the duodenum does? Where the kidneys are located? How a lymph node works?) you’ll find lectures easy. Well. Easier.

Referencing will be your life now

Whether it’s Harvard style, Vancouver, or something your uni has created especially, referencing your essays and reflections will haunt your dreams (Laura Zito, 2017). Get to grips with your uni’s referencing guide – usually, this can be found online – and read it cover to cover. Know how an appendix contrasts with a bibliography. Understand how to reference e-journals. Getting this under grips will prevent many, many tears later.

So, I’ve covered pretty much everything. In essence, the key is in preparation. Getting your study space, stationery and, well, yourself ready means you’ll be less overwhelmed when induction begins.

Oh, and prepare to see the next three years go by in a flash. Before you know it, it’ll be the next cohort asking for advice as you prepare to get your pin number and step into a staff tunic!

Laura Zito. (2017). How students should prepare before their first year of nursing school. Available: Last accessed 01 September 2017.

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