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Advice For A Nursing Student | Scrubs Magazine Nurse Blog Carnival
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Advice For A Nursing Student | Scrubs Magazine Nurse Blog Carnival

My advice to nursing students.

The following is a contribution to the Scrubs Magazine Nurse Blog Carnival.  The topic for this round is “Thriving as a Nurse” and is being moderated by Keith Carlson at


I recently received a letter from a first-year nursing student who attends my alma mater.  She asked me how I became successful in nursing and if I had any advice for her.  I think my answer to her question serves the Blog Carnival’s topic well.

UTAustin_logoHey Gail,

I recently stumbled on your blog and I am so glad I did! I am a current freshman at UT Austin and I am really excited to see someone who graduated from the nursing program here at UT achieve so much success. I hope to be like you someday, being a nurse, going to graduate school, and also giving back to the community. I would appreciate if you could provide any tips on how you became so successful at UT and beyond in your career as well.  Thank you very much for being an inspiration to me and I hope to be just as successful as you in the near future.

Best Regards,



Dear Zxxxxx,

THANK YOU for reading and writing to me personally.  In response to your question, I’ve come up with a quick list and a long explanation using examples from my career that I hope will be helpful.

How to thrive in nursing:

  • Define success by something measurable (but not money).
  • Do as many things in nursing (and nursing school) as you can.
  • Be prepared to become a leader.
  • Land a first job that will open doors for you.
  • Say yes and go beyond what is expected.
  • Get outside your comfort zone.
  • Understand the rules and know which ones to re-write.
  • Be creative.
  • Learn about the business of health care and not just how to give a shot or start an IV.
  • Consider further education.
  • Pat yourself on the back.


When I started out in nursing I didn’t have a clear picture of what success meant to me so I defaulted to money as the measure.  That was just dumb because nurses are paid a standardized hourly wage and are far removed from free-market capitalism.  I was making half the money that my friends were and always felt unsuccessful by comparison.  Thankfully I’ve moved on and now I measure success by how many people I can help and this makes a lot more sense.  It might take you a while to decide what success means to you but please don’t make the mistake that I did by measuring your worth as a nurse by using money as a marker.

Despite the frustration over my paycheck, not all was lost during my early years in nursing.  I was doing something else which turned out to be more valuable than making money.  Because of an unlikely professor, I made it my mission to learn as much about every area of nursing that I could.  I say unlikely because he was a young, new assistant professor and, whether it was nerves or something else, he was flustered during his lectures.  The class picked up on his weakness and grilled him.  It was torturous to watch and I decided that before becoming a leader in nursing, I better have plenty of knowledge and experience.  I wanted to be prepared and set out to build a well-rounded nursing resume.

My first (and only) staff position was in a critical-care step-down unit and it set the tone for my entire career.  I had the opportunity to care for patients who were on the verge of getting better or going downhill fast.  It was a roller coaster ride and I learned to be confident while working outside of my comfort zone.  I highly recommend making contacts and getting your ACLS during nursing school so that you can start working in an ICU or critical care unit right after graduation.  Even if it isn’t what you want to do for the long haul, once you’ve got ICU on your resume, you can do anything.    

After one year and eight months, I moved on to travel nursing which provided countless opportunities to challenge myself and learn more.  I got my TNCC and PALS certifications so I could have more freedom to try new things.  I was floated to the ER, I gave chemo, I took care of pediatric patients, and I got assigned the sickest, most high-acuity patients on the units where I worked.  Because I said yes to new experiences, they continued to open up for me and they will for you, too.

When I settled down in NYC I started taking private duty shifts on the side.  I loved private duty but I wanted a more proactive role in my patient’s wellness.  This was never really appreciated by the agencies that I worked for so I started attending classes at the Baruch SBA Development Center and formed my own LLC.  My business has provided me with wonderful relationships, amazing professional opportunities and I finally have a little bit of money in the bank.  If you know which limitations you set for yourself and which ones are set by others you’ll be better able to move forward.  Don’t let someone else’s rules hold you back from what you know is right.

Now I’m at the stage in my career where I am limited by my BSN–I need to be able to diagnose and prescribe medications for my clients.  I am currently attending NYU and loving every minute of it.  I will transition my business into my private practice after I pass the boards.  You mentioned graduate school and I think that is great.  I would have done it a little sooner if I’d known what I know now.

Finally, I want to congratulate you on your decision to attend the University of Texas for your BSN.  The scholarships and awards you win will remain on your professional CV forever so take the time to apply for them.  Strive for good grades because “cum laude” will set you apart from others when being considered for a job that you really want.  Enjoy everything that Austin has to offer and say hello to Mrs. Patton for me.

I hope this response will help you in some way.  Don’t hesitate to ask me any further questions and keep in touch.  I would love to know how things turn out for you.




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  • Great post and what a wonderful way to inspire and teach, through the story of your evolution. I have to admit, the first line- about having that clear vision- is totally key. In any aspect of our lives the way we will thrive is to be clear on what we want and to move towards that dream. So many focus on what they don’t want and how to move away from it. I love that you are moving towards your goals and motivating others to do the same! Wonderful writing, thank you. Elizabeth

    • Avatar Nurse Gail says:

      Thanks for reading, Elizabeth. I think when a nurse has a vision of his/her future, some of the BS in nursing can be avoided. Coping with stress becomes more manageable. Also believing in myself in an utterly disrespectful work environment allowed me be able to move forward instead of having multiple breakdowns. When things were rough at the bedside I knew I was laying a solid foundation to eventually springboard myself to a new level.

      During those times of stress however, I needed to employ some self-care. I like your blog as a resource for nurses:

      Again, Elizabeth, thanks for reading! Take care!

  • Great post. I especially liked that first on your list was the mention of money. Success does not equal money especially in nursing! I educate everyone that mentions how much money nurses make about the reality of a nursing paycheck. Our pay is usually half of what the general public assumes.

    • Avatar Nurse Gail says:

      You are so right Erica! Success has to be what we define it as and people DO overestimate how much nurses make. If readers want to learn more, they can check out Thanks for your comment!

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