Things I wish I knew before nursing school.

I can’t believe how fast four years of university have flown by, I pinch myself everyday that I am finally a nurse. Over the past few years, I have been passionate about guiding students who are planning to pursue nursing school and give them information that the schools never do. I’ve compiled a list of things I wish I knew before starting nursing school at the University of Ottawa and I hope that they can help guide you as you go through your journey of nursing school.

1. Living away from home for the first time is tough, but so worth it.


Before coming to Ottawa from my hometown of Mississauga I felt like I was SO ready to be on my own. For probably the last two years of high school I felt so anxious to move away from my parents and start my own life. It was definitely a wake up call once I actually started living on my own, that my parents were now 5 hours away and I didn’t realize how much I relied on them during high school. Looking back four years later, despite the challenges of adjusting to being on my own, I’m so glad that I made that choice. It made me more savvy about my money and being self-reliant. Now I totally feel well equipped to embrace adulthood with good skills under my belt.

2. You don’t need to buy brand new textbooks to succeed.

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In first year I was so scared to buy textbooks used or to buy the older edition, but I quickly realized that buying new textbooks was really expensive and kind of a waste of money. For most classes everything I needed to know to do well on the exams was in the class slides and the textbook only really helped for extra understanding. Saying this, I personally liked having the textbooks to develop a better understanding of class material, but I know some people who barely used their textbooks at all and still did very well. I suggest joining the nursing Facebook groups and trying to get your books used and sell them after you’re finished with them. This giant pile of books hardly cost me a thing because for the most part I bought used and sold the books when I was done with them. The only textbooks I used for two years (third and fourth year) were: Medical Surgical Nursing, Clinical Skills, Math for Clinical Practice, and my Nursing Drug Reference (which was super helpful to have for clinical placements!).

3. Be adaptable with your study habits.

IMG_1477Find study habits that work for YOU and adapt as you go depending on what you’re learning. I personally studied better alone and only a few days before exams, but I know other people who liked to study in groups and weeks before exams. You need to find what works best and don’t be afraid to trial and error. My grades varied through nursing school but I was able to maintain a steady average once I figured out what worked best for me.

I’d also recommend finding or creating a motivating study space. I liked having a clean and inspiring desk space at my place to do casual studying, but when it came to crunch time I found I studied better at the library or a building on campus. TIP: The RGN library at uOttawa is way cleaner and quieter than the library on main campus. FSS by the living wall is also a peaceful study place that I loved to go.

4. Nursing school gets harder and busier as you go.


Each year of the nursing program is busy in it’s own way. First year is very course and exam heavy and a big adjustment from high school. Second year is so new because it’s the first time learning true nursing material and clinical skills. Third year has so many different clinical placements, which means adapting your studying to each new type of nursing and lots of commuting to clinicals. Fourth year is just crazy. Five full days a week during first semester, and in second semester, your first time juggling a real nursing schedule with daytime and overnight shifts as well as two online courses. Take each year as it comes, but just know that you are going to be busy throughout the full four years.

5. Seek as many opportunities as you can.


At uOttawa we were lucky to have so many options for clinical placements. Each one brought new experiences and opportunities to explore the various areas of nursing practice. No matter what kind of nursing you choose to pursue, having so many different clinical placements really makes you a stronger and more adaptable nurse. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek opportunities during clinical. Build a good relationship with your clinical instructor and the other nurses on the floor and you will be able to have way more opportunities this way. Nursing school is a time to learn so you will make mistakes and ask silly questions, but that is okay.

6. Get involved and connect with upper year students.


Participating in 101 week in my first year was an amazing way to connect with other students in the program. I asked so many questions from the upper year students and I can honestly say I felt way more comfortable starting the program because of those conversations.

As a third and fourth year student I was an exec member of the Undergraduate Nursing Student Association which gave me so many leadership opportunities that I feel will be beneficial in my future clinical practice if I choose to pursue a master’s in education or become a clinical manager.


I got to lead the uOttawa team at Nursing Games which was so fun and even go barreling down the rapids of the Ottawa river with a bunch of other nursing students, which I have to say was quite the bonding experience. I’m so grateful I decided to get involved as I will forever cherish these awesome memories I made, as the fun parts of nursing school.

7. Take much needed breaks.

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Nursing school can be incredibly stressful at times, so prioritizing down time is really what kept me going. Don’t beat yourself up for watching that extra episode on Netflix or for taking a day off. It is so easy to burnout in nursing school if you don’t allow yourself some time to just relax and do the things you enjoy. It took me almost four years to feel this way, but it’s something I know will benefit me as I pursue a stressful career.

8. Explore the city you live in.


I’m so glad that over the past four years I’ve really got to know Ottawa so well. I love exploring, trying out new restaurants and coffee shops, and enjoying the free activities the city provides as well. Ottawa isn’t just a university town, there is so much to do and explore outside of campus. Head to these blog posts below to check out some of my Ottawa favourites for each season:

Savour spring in the capital.

Ways to make the best of Ottawa summer.

Ottawa winter survival guide.

Fall favourites in the capital.

9. Becoming an RN is very expensive and registering with the college requires a lot of patience.


I didn’t really realize until fourth year, how much it would cost to become a licensed nurse. I wish someone had warned me, but with all the fees and N-CLEX study materials I’d suggest saving at least $1000 to cover these costs.

Also know that it takes a lot of time to get registered with the college of nurses, so don’t expect to be able to write the N-CLEX until at least June. Make sure to submit all your fees and forms as soon as you can, but in the end it’s just a waiting game that you don’t have a lot of control over unfortunately.

10. Savour it.


Nursing school is tough. It will challenge you in so many ways, but it is such a good time to learn. Savour each opportunity for learning for what it is, whether or not it’s the kind of nursing you think you want to do. Each opportunity is just as important to making you a well-rounded nurse.

I’ve heard from so many people that the first year as an RN can be scary, so try to enjoy the comfort of being a student while you can. Savour each experience and be grateful that you have chosen to pursue such a dynamic and honourable profession.

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