Ever feel as though what you learn in class is really different from what you experience in clinical? Never mind if you work in a clinic or hospital, too!

Your professors and instructors hear it all the time: This isn’t what happens in real life!

Let’s talk about IRL, shall we? 

“IRL” is used in chat rooms, games, or social media to tell other people you are talking about something in the real world and not in the constructed or internet world. Nursing school is a constructed reality, based on real life nursing. It has to be this way. 

Nursing school gives you a very brief and targeted overview of nursing to make sure you can be ready for anything, generally, in nursing. Your nursing program has to make sure you can be safe, on a basic level, for any area in nursing you choose.

The really attractive thing in the nursing profession is that there are almost INFINITE jobs within the nursing career. This is also what makes nursing school so different from what seems to happen “in real life.”

Add to this fact that nursing and medicine is continually changing. Some things that were considered best practice for nursing care ten years ago are no longer true. Medications that we routinely administered as recently as last year are no longer in production and are no longer approved for use. 

Nursing professors and instructors will NEVER be able to teach you all of nursing inside of those hours and days. If you work for 45 years at the bedside, you will still NEVER know ALL of nursing. It is like the big, blue ocean. It is not possible to know all of what is there. Just so we are all aware of that particular reality.

Let’s look at this another way. A typical hospital orientation, without a residency program, is 6 to 12 weeks, 3 – 12 hour shifts per week.

That is 216 to 432 hours of direct nursing care with a dedicated preceptor at your side. That is to get you accustomed to how ONE unit in ONE specific facility takes care of ONE population of patients.

Compare this to school. If you are in a strong nursing program, you may get roughly 150 hours of hands-on experience each semester
— The equivalent of 4 work weeks.

That is approximately 600 – 1000 total hours in which time you:

  • Learn how and when to give medications via every route for many conditions
  • Practice how to perform basic care of a person
  • Perform skills for each population in the lab at school
  • Get introduced to how to use each computer system and work within each facility, which changes with EVERY clinical practicum rotation
  • Discuss a wide variety of issues during pre-conference and post-conference
  • Participate in observation-only clinical practicums
  • Explore every population that nurses serve including, but not limited to:
    • Home care
    • Mental health
    • Outpatient
    • Inpatient
    • Pregnant women
    • Newborns
    • Kids
    • Adults
    • Critically ill patients
    • Elderly patients

AND all of that is not counting what you have to learn inside the classroom and textbooks to pass exams in each course and the licensing exam!

Hopefully, that makes it a bit clearer how and why nursing school is a constructed experience and sometimes must vary a bit from ‘real life.’

Watch for the next blog, coming soon, “In Real Life, For Real, Though”

Posted by Catherine MSN RN

Catherine is a nursing subject matter expert at Higher Learning Technologies, the developers of awesome Nursing Mastery products. Catherine worked in oncology, pulmonary, progressive care, intensive care, med-surg, step-down, and hospice. Catherine teaches clinical, classroom, and simulation and has completed contracted writing with WGU, WK/LWW, ATI, Pearson, Kaplan Test Prep, Elsevier, Excelsior, and HTRSD. #BoyMomma #ICanStudyAnywhere #NursesRock

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