Things Every Nursing Student Should Have…Even Through Grad School: Part I

I have stewed over this topic for several months as I am finishing up my second to last semester of my Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program. I do not consider myself an expert on this issue; however, there were several things that got me through nursing school that I could not survive without. The following stuff is mainly for an undergrad nursing student. Part II (coming soon) will be more for a nursing student in grad school. 1. A cheap watch that tells military time I am a cheap watch girl because, working with the pediatric population ( & going through 6 watches in 5 years), I have learned that it is not worth it to get an expensive watch. Also, the amount of lifting, moving, bending, carrying, etc. that a nurse (especially the average nursing student, since the nurses on the floors are happy to have students do the grunt work) does makes for a broken watch every 5 months or so. These watches are so cheap, $9.99 at Target. Military time watches saved my life. My husband always makes fun of me for having a military time watch, but it's truly a lifesaver. I never got used to adding or subtracting twelve hours to regular time. This watch made my life so much easier and my documentation much more accurate as a student and nurse. The first time I was truly grateful for having a military time watch was during my first job straight out of nursing school in the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit). It was during my first real code (code blue) ever and I was the recorder. When you watch ER or something, it amazes me that they never show the recorder who has to write down every single thing done to a patient during a code. 2. A good stethoscope I started out with a Prestige Medical sprague stethoscope. I remember an instructor telling us that we should buy a stethoscope with both a diaphragm and a bell in order to hear both high and low pitched sounds. This will be helpful for you distinguishing different breath sounds (rales, rhonchi, wheezing) and heart sounds (gallops, rubs, murmurs). I also (vaguely) remember being told that the shorter the tubing for the stethoscope, the better. This basically has to do with the physics of it all. You'll be able to hear the sound more clear the shorter the tubing is. My prestige stethoscope was a great starter. Once I was able to save up enough money, I got the a Littmann stethoscope. I made the upgrade to the Cardiology II because the difference in my ability to auscultate faint adventitious sounds of the body and checking NG (nasogastric) placement improved 20 times. Well, I was unable to actually measure the difference, but there was a definite difference. If you're the kind of student who feels that you need to have something like this early on (like now), hit those loved ones up, all of them at the same time. My Littmann is approximately 4 years old and still working very well. This is another very good investment for nursing school. 3. Comfortable nursing shoes I was never a trendy "croc" aficionado. Many hospitals don't even let you wear them. I'm a New Balance girl, myself. From working anywhere from 4 to 16-hour shifts, these babies keep you comfy. 4. Pocket protector filled with bandage scissors, many packets of rubbing alcohol, a permanent marker, a highlighter, and (at least) two 4-colored pens This is also something my husband makes fun of me about. It may seem nerdy, but it's going to save you the ink stains. Plus, it acts as a very handy storage area in your pocket. You'll learn to stuff unimaginable things in your pocket just to avoid an extra bag or trip. It's all about the multi-tasking. highlighter- Just highlight the important stuff for patient/family education. The patient is already overloaded. bandage scissors- I'm asked every single day for my scissors. rubbing alcohol- This is for a quick clean of almost any surface...also, those bandage scissors are going to end up in some pretty gross places permanent marker- Labeling meds/IV bags/anything really two 4-colored pens- You'll be surprised how much you might need red ink for taking off orders...depending on your institution. You'll learn that the piece of paper that you have all of your activities recorded for the day (tube feeds vs. PO meds vs. IV meds vs. I's & O's ) will need some color coding. This is pretty anal, but it helps map out your day. I've done this ever since junior high, and it has made me more organized in my thought process. You'll need at least two pens because us nurses are all filthy pen thieves. 5. Mosby's Drug Guide This book was a good starter for me. It has all the info that you will need for when your instructor grills you. The language is easy to understand. The part of the book that I really like (I'm sure it's even better now because I only have the 4th edition from 2002) were the pictures of how to give different kinds of injections. It also gave pictures of different common drugs used in the general population. This is helpful for that those cute little old people taking 15 different kinds of medications per day, don't know what they're for, but can tell you the color of the pill. 6. A PDA Know these initials and know them well. PDA stands for personal digital assistant (for those who always wondered, but felt too dumb to ask), otherwise known as a palm pilot. In nursing school, one thing I hated was carrying around 5 different books to get me through clinicals. After biting the $200 bullet, I got hip to my first palm pilot. The greatest thing about these little devices is that you can carry 10 or more different medical books all on this little device. One thing you may be thinking is, "I can't afford this. She's out of her mind." Believe me, I couldn't afford it, either; however, it has proven to be the best investment (besides becoming a nurse) that I have made for myself financially and medically. This is what you can do. Again, tell all of your family members...I mean all of them, to not get you anything else for your birthday/Christmas except a palm pilot. You will have a vast array of knowledge at your fingertips, your backaches will go away, and people in the hospital (doctors, nurses, patients) will be impressed. Plus, every palm pilot comes with some kind of built-in calculator (another nursing school must), calendar to schedule appointments/meetings, and an address book to help you manage your hectic life. See Part II of this post (will be posted soon) on what to look for when buying a palm pilot and programs/books to put on it. 7. The knowledge that things will get better and that you will overcome this. I didn't want to have to be all preachy, but I wanted to include this because I think it's important. The decision to become a nurse is a very important one. You will hold people's lives in your hands, literally. The pressure between nursing school, your job to make ends meet, possibly kids/family can all seem like it's just too much...not to mention all the blood, vomit, mucous, urine, and poop that you're going to have to put up with. There is something to be said about those nurses that tend to eat their young. It seems like they use you as their own little "fresh blood" punching bag. Someone probably did the same thing to him/her in nursing school or his/her first job, so they feel like they need to pass on the tradition. I don't believe is this bs. This is part of the reason that there is such a shortage, because even some nurses can't appreciate each other and stop the cycle of hate. You need to take it upon yourself to kill that person with kindness and do your job 150%. If you are still thinking of quitting nursing school/nursing in general, speak to a nurse who has been around the block a few times (not sexually) and that truly loves what he/she does. You may not find many nurses that like where they work, but you should find nurses that love what they do. No nurse should be in this profession that is burned out and/or hates what he/she does. When a person comes to this point, this is when they should leave nursing, even if there is a shortage. It's just not fair to the patients. Coming Soon: Things Every Nursing Student Should Have...Even Through Grad School: Part II---palm pilots, programs, books, and websites. Oh My!

  1. Annie,

    In addition to all the things you mention, I also find indispensable: a small curved hemostat, a good penlight with an incandescent bulb (not an LED), and the Merck Manual.


    Dennis Crisman
    May 19th, 2007 at 8:02 pm
  2. Hey Annie….

    I have a PDA and am looking into loading it up with some software to help me with school. Do you have any opinion on what type of software to load onto a PDA that would be helpful? Here is what I have come up with so far, but I am unsure about these two products. Please click on the links below and give me your opinion when you have time….MUCH APPRECIATED!!! Corrine

    Product #1:


    Product #2:

    PS..looking forward to your article on PDA’s :)

    June 10th, 2007 at 10:47 pm
  3. Hey there, Corrine. As for product bundles, the F.A. Davis bundle looks like a better deal. The only reason that I say this is because of experience with most of the programs included in the F.A. Davis bundle. The Davis Drug Guide is a wonderful start for nursing students. That was the first drug book that I had on my PDA. It has a lot of info for patient monitoring that is helpful for student nurses and it’s spelled out very nicely. I always believed that this particular nursing guide was very good when it came to herbal drugs, which you’ll run into a lot with people self-prescribing themselves from what they read on the internet.
    I talk about Taber’s in Part II of this article. I absolutely love Taber’s. Out of all of my medical programs, I use Taber’s the absolute most. Taber’s has never failed me. As I said in part II, it’s 2394 (?) pages all wrapped up into a tiny program. It takes up much less room than epocrates, too.
    Having a good lab and diagnostic book on a PDA is always great. I wish I had one in undergrad nursing school instead of lugging around heavy reference books.
    The book on disease and disorders looks okay, too. It’s always nice to have that handy.
    I don’t know much about pepid since it wasn’t too big when I was in nursing school. It has just started to receive some popularity. All of the programs offered in this bundle seem okay, too. However, beware of 3 things.
    1) Try to get a bundle that is being updated with the newest research. Medicine is changing everyday. I don’t know much about pepid or the FA Davis bundle, but I do know that the Davis Drug Guide is updated pretty regularly, so you’ll get to know black box warnings and such.
    2) These two bundles are great, but you’re going to need a little more if you plan on going back to school for your master’s degree. This should save you the time and energy. You should have a medical calculator that has different equations like pediatric fluid maintenance, BMI, metric conversion, and various IV drips that you can just plug in numbers. Epocrates explains things on a very simple level. If you plan on getting your master’s degree within the next 10 years, then you should probably take a look at Epocrates Essentials. In Part II of this article, I describe Epocrates and what it has. It has all of the components of both of these bundles and more AND you get to keep up on current research weekly. I also listed another bundle you can buy through Skyscape’s website in Part II. Play around with all of these websites.
    3) Having said #2, I will say be careful of buying books that are way over your head. I made the mistake of buying the Washington Manual of Medical Therapeutics thinking that I would have an edge on my classmates because this stuff was on a doc’s or NP’s level of thinking. I was wrong to get it…or at least I got it 3 years too soon.

    I hope this helped. Happy shopping!

    Annie Mo
    June 12th, 2007 at 11:22 pm
  4. Hi Annie Mo,
    I’m looking forward to sharing “Things Every Nursing Student Should Have” parts 1 & 2 with nursing students via my website,
    Thanks for sharing your insights!

    July 27th, 2007 at 12:24 pm
  5. [...] left a cliffhanger of a post in Part I of this article. This section of the article will focus more on things to help you be successful [...]

    Things Every Nursing Student Should Have: Part II, Palm Pilots and Programs - Unsought Input
    October 23rd, 2007 at 12:05 pm
  6. Hey Corinne, great list of the “hard” stuff… and I found that a credit card and a sense of humor are also absolutely indispensable :)

    Barb the Nursing Scholarships Guru
    January 28th, 2008 at 9:07 pm
  7. Hi

    I am a 4th year nursing student and absolutely agree with Annie Mo regarding what a nursing student should have thru school and after. My only negative comment is regarding the Littman stethoscope. I too researched stethoscopes before buying one and all the testimonials from doctors, nurses, students etc all pointed to the LIttman stethoscope mfg by 3M. The Littman stethoscope is high quality and there is a remarkable difference in the listening device on it compared to other marketable brands of stethoscopes however, my unhappiness lies with the mfg 3M/Littman. Thru my carelessness I got blue ink embedded in the tubing this was a pink breast cancer stethoscope that cost me $100 so blue ink on the baby pink tubing is quite noticeable. I appealed to 3M for either tubing replacement under warranty even though my fault or to advice me how to safely clean the ink off the tubing as not to damage it. After all they mfg the stethoscope and boast about their fabulous and outstanding customer service, in reality it did not impress me. Yes it was my fault an unfortunate accident but the stethoscope was still under the 3 year warranty coupled with the lifetime warranty. Did I expect 3M to honor the warranty truthfully yes as I couldnt understand why the ink wouldnt come out thru regular means as this was a quality product and a simple thing like ink can be taken out of many items. I didnt necessarily expect them to replace the tubing(would have been nice) but I did expect more help from their customer service either thru referring me to other areas or venues that could assist me in removing the ink. A stethoscope is a big investment for medical personnel one that is not made everyday so when we spend that kind of money on quality we or I expect a little more from the mfg than customer service saying for $45 plus shipping and handling we will replace the tubing but that is all we can do. Do I expect too much absolutely not I expect a little more from a big company like 3M than give me your money. This is not to deter anybody from purchasing a LIttman stethoscope they are of high quality and one of the best in the market however, be careful while using it that you dont damage it in anyway that would be considered accidental etc as you wont get help from the mfg. As a footnote thru the testimonials and blogs from various yahoo readers etc there were several suggestions on how to remove the ink from the rubber tubing. Will it damage the stethoscope I dont know but what I do k now is I have nothing to lose at this point and will try readers suggestions.

    Jenifer Figueiredo
    August 5th, 2008 at 8:28 am
  8. Another important item to add to your list is discount nursing uniforms scrubs. It’s important to find a good, cheaper pair of scrubs to get you through orientations and clinicals.

    December 2nd, 2008 at 1:00 pm
  9. Thank you for posting this great information. I was researching the Littman Stethoscope and found this site with your comments. How is your NP career going now? I am currently taking prereq’s for a 2 year RN degree (first semester) — I am 49 years old. I ‘used to be’ an excellent student, mostly A’s, but I find I am sucking at memorization. I love A&P right now – the course is so interesting (much better than calculus). You think I can overcome this if I just keep plugging at it? I have a great analytical mind, and a high IQ, and very good ‘people skills’ and my instincts are that I would be good in the medical field if I can make the grades. My mind is not quite as fast as it was in my 20′s…. Any new thoughts you have about a PDA with all the new technology would be much appreciated… are you still using the same one in your post? As you can tell, I am all ears for any info you care to share… drop me a line anytime, and best wishes to you and yours — Betty

    October 12th, 2009 at 9:24 pm
  10. OMG thanks for all the info guys I just had my orientation Friday for ADN semester one I must say that I am excited, happy, freaked out, and have been trying to find a PDA does anyone have a specific recommendation I need to have one by the 22 and I found some for med students on ebay but I cant find that much info and want something that is gonna last. Any other advice would be greatly appreciated too thanks Ashley

    August 7th, 2011 at 4:41 pm
  11. Jenifer Figueiredo, your fault. Pay for replacement tubing and stop complaining.

    December 6th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

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