35 Things Every Nursing Student Needs before Starting School
UPDATED FOR 2021
Getting ready to start nursing school?
Chances are you are feeling a dash of excitement, a pinch of overwhelm, and a whole lot of scared to death. That’s normal. Nursing school is a big step.
Unfortunately, if you walk into nursing school unprepared, you’re already behind the curve. So, what do you need? Here are our must-have nursing school supplies for nursing students.
1. NURSING.com (shameless plug)
Almost more than anything else, we get nursing students emailing us daily saying they struggle with the way they are being taught. Either material isn’t explained well, or professors are just reading PowerPoint slides. We saw a problem and decided to fix it!
On top of that, we’ve created powerful study tools like flashcards, image and audio databases, and massive NCLEX test question databases.
All our instructors are nationally certified in their field (meaning they have certified in their specialty beyond RN).
We packaged all these courses and tools together into NURSING.com
The purpose of NURSING.com is to bridge the gap of what you’ve read and been taught to making it finally “CLICK” and make sense. You know that feeling you get when the light bulb finally turns on? You will have a lot of those with our courses.
In fact, we call those moments “LINCHPINS,” and our entire curriculum is built around providing you with those moments.
You can get started with NURSING.com today: Start a Risk Free Trial
Clothes & Accessories
You can’t do nursing school without the right clothes . . . that’s just crazy talk.
2. The Right Scrubs
Now, this one is tricky. Your nursing school may have guidelines on the types of scrubs you can wear, so you need to check on this first. Find out if you have to wear certain types, colors, or brands so that you don’t buy scrubs you can’t use. But, if you have some freedom, here’s what you should consider.
You need pockets. You are going to be carrying around quite a few small items – pens, pieces of paper, notebooks, guide books, etc. You need to have a place to put all of those things, and, if you are allowed to, think about scrub pants that are painter or cargo style.
Read through ALL the annoying papers your school sends to you to make sure you are buying the right scrubs.
Seriously, what list of nursing school supplies would be complete without the RIGHT pair of scrubs?
3. Flesh Toned Underwear
Yep . . . you read that right. . . (see above). Many nursing schools require that you wear white scrub pants. Once you get past groaning over this, keep in mind that you will want to invest in some flesh-toned underwear…and you might prefer that they are designed to avoid panty lines too.
4. Awesome Shoes
Ask any nurse, and they will tell you how important awesome shoes are. In nursing school, you will be on your feet all the time. And, without the right shoes, you are going to be in pain. There may be guidelines on what shoes you can wear, so check with your school on this.
When you go shopping, you can try different options, but some of the most preferred brands include:
Pick shoes that are comfortable for your feet, though, by taking the time to shop around. I have never personally used “nursing shoes” . . . when I started in nursing, my favorite shoes were Nike Free . . . they don’t provide much support, but it feels like you are walking on marshmallows.
5. A Wheeled Backpack
Okay . . . despite being made fun of . . . this is a handy little tool to have during nursing school.
To be honest, I used an over the shoulder bag all throughout school . . . and now I have scoliosis (not really).
Do you want back pain or long-term back injuries? If you do, then, by all means, carry around a normal backpack. However, if you enjoy walking without pain, then you need a wheeled backpack.
The textbooks you need for nursing school are very heavy and unwieldy. Getting something you can drag behind you is just a very good idea. . . .
I have hung on to a good portion of the books I used during nursing school, and they take up an ENTIRE bookshelf . . . my MedSurg book alone is 4 inches thick. No, I’m not joking!
RELATED ARTICLE: 7 Best Nursing Bags For Nurses
6. Nursing Watch
I have a confession . . . I don’t, nor have I ever used a “nursing watch.” So why have I included it on here? Because most schools will require you to purchase one and bring it to clinicals.
Instead of a watch with a second hand, I either used my phone or the clock in the patient’s room. Most hospitals have clocks in the rooms with second hands, or a timer on my phone worked well.
The reason you need SOMETHING to measure time precisely is that many meds must be administered according to a set amount of time. Like over 2 minutes, over 5 minutes, within 10 seconds . . . these watches make that possible.
Here is one that seems popular on Amazon if you choose to purchase one.
7. Badge Clips
Displaying your name for people to know who to write their comment cards out to is not the only convenience of having a badge clip. You can keep some pretty important information on here that will make your job easier. I personally keep an EKG box measurement tool on my badge along with all the important numbers I need to call.
The only thing about badge clips you should know about is that you MUST have a solid, sturdy device. Spend the extra $2 or however much for the good kind. I have broken the string, broken the plastic part that loops through your badge, I have had the entire casing pop off to find a curly piece of metal that flew out and hit me in the face. Just trust me and get the good kind.
The alternative to the badge clip is the lanyard. This may seem like a sensible solution to the badge clip drama until you are turning a patient and suddenly your neck is now held captive. Or you lean over all the things nurses have to lean over, and well you get the picture.
Despite my obvious bias, there are plenty of people who prefer the lanyard to the badge clip, leaving you with the conclusion that you should dabble with both before you pledge to one way or the other.
Nursing Organization Tools
Organization and time management are two of the most difficult things to adjust to and manage as a new nurse. Here are a few things that can help with that
9. A Student Planner
You are going to have a great deal going on in your life during nursing school. You don’t want to forget anything and you don’t want to get so frantic trying to remember everything that you pull your hair out. Larger stores usually have student planners. This way, you can write your schedule, make notes, and keep up with important phone numbers.
We have done a few podcast episodes about this before:
What it really comes down to is finding a method that works for you and STICKING WITH IT . . . every time you change up your organization method, you waste a ton of time re-learning a new system. Find something you are comfortable with and stick with it.
While I was in school, the thing that worked best for me was a simple excel spreadsheet . . . now I mostly use Google Calendar.
Ashley Adkins RN has a great video about nursing school planners on her YouTube channel:
Check it out here!
10. Notecards or Quizlet
You are going to be taking a TON of notes during nursing school. Having a way to condense those notes and make them usable is important. If you are old-fashioned (like me), you will want to buy a lot of large note cards, not the 3X5 ones but the bigger ones.
Also, check out Quizlet . . . this is a digital/crowdsourced flashcard site. It can be really helpful when you connect it with the app . . . allowing you to view your flashcards anywhere.
The only caveat is that anyone can create any flashcard . . . the downside to this is that you can’t be 100% certain the information is correct on public flashcard decks.
11. A Voice Recorder
Have you ever tried to remember a whole lecture? Or, have you ever scribbled down notes in a hurry and then found it impossible to decipher them when you got home? There’s an easy solution to this problem. Get a tape recorder and actually record lectures so you can listen later.
Sony makes a great voice recorder with 4G of internal memory . . . sounds like a lot? Just wait!
Talk with your administration and see if they can start recording lectures and making them available school-wide. . . many campuses are doing this and it provides students with a lot of great content to ease the journey.
12. Study Guides
Like I mentioned above, my MedSurg book alone was 1,800 pages and over 4 inches thick.
While I appreciate having the information AVAILABLE, it becomes very hard to determine what information is necessary and what you actually NEED to know.
To help with this we’ve created a few online study guides that you can access at any time.
Our two biggest study guides are:
On those pages, there are links to save to your Pinterest board. I’d recommend starting a “Nursing” Pinterest board where you can store and save awesome nursing resources . . . make those two pages your first pins. (in fact, maybe save this post too).
13. Facebook Account
I know most people already have a Facebook account, but within Facebook, you can create private groups. Once school starts you should create a Private Group for your cohort or for your study group.
My cohort used the FB group like crazy!
Within the group, you can clarify assignments, vent, and share funny stories, etc. We were able to get a tremendous amount of work done and save our sanity with this simple tool.
Added Bonus:::: since school has ended the private group has been a way for us to stay in touch and share what we are doing since graduating.
I am a little obsessive about matching and organization, so when I learned of this color system, I thought it was the best thing ever!
Now you can change the colors around, but know that I chose the colors I did base on what the colors usually represent or mean. Red is a color that is associated with intensity. I use red here to call out due dates. These are important and you want to keep a close eye on red!
Use over the text:
- Pink: Vocabulary and important definitions. This is not for highlighting every word you don’t know this is for easily pulling out definitions later on for study purposes.
- Blue: Values. Keep track of the many important numbers you need to know by marking in blue.
- Green: Examples. Any time you find a good example or explanation of something highlight it in green. Keep track of difficult concepts and where they are explained.
Use in the margins:
- Yellow: Use this color to highlight or mark anything that you are sure is going to be on a test.
- Orange: This color will be used to highlight anything in notes or texts that you need more help with to understand.
- Red: use this color for noting due dates. If you are taking notes or writing in your planner in class, use red to write down what and when something is due.
Now in practice here is how you want to use this system. Let’s say you need to do a quick review before a test. First, you want to start with Orange. If there was anything that you need more time to learn make sure you find these sections and get some help!
Second review all your yellow highlighting. While you took notes or sat in class you spent the time to pick out things that you knew were important, or items the instructor specifically mentioned would be on a test. Now go back and make sure you really understand and have those areas committed to memory!
While you are reading material or creating your own notes, you will use your pink, blue, and green highlighters.
- Take the time to highlight any important values in blue. You will want to find these values later while you are studying.
- Find any important definitions and highlight them in pink.
- Then you will use the green highlighter for any examples or explanations. For example, if you are reading a section on the kidneys and there is a section on how urine is produced you could highlight that in green.
While you are in class or reviewing notes use your orange and yellow highlighters.
- If your teacher ever says this will be on the test or if you notice that a topic has come up in several different areas highlight those things yellow. If you do this well you will be able to browse through all the material before test days and re-read all notes and textbooks as if they were a study guide. Just follow the yellow.
- When there is a topic that is not clicking for you or you have more questions on how it works get out your orange highlighter. Now when you go to office hours with your teacher you can pull out your notes immediately and ask to go over anything highlighted in orange. Need a little help with this? We have an amazing guide on how to talk to nursing professors!
15. Sticky Arrows
Use matching sticky arrows to mark the page for specific things you need. The orange and yellow sticky arrows will be the most useful in this case. You can use them to mark the pages that have yellow or orange highlighter sections. This will make your test reviews very efficient and productive! This will also allow you to quickly access everything you want to discuss in a meeting with your professor. Once it has been cleared up you can remove the sticky arrow and know that you have addressed it!
16. Post-it Notes
Post-it notes can be used in so many ways. They can help mark specific pages. They can be used to write your notes on. Then you can go back later and pull out all those sticky notes and arrange them by color. If you created a yellow note for everything you expect will be on the test you could then collect all the notes stick up on a wall and review them daily for a week before the exam.
You can also use them to insert the information you want to add to your notes or text when there isn’t enough room to do so on the page. I used to like to pull out my textbook during lectures to the section we were reviewing. Instead of taking notes on a separate sheet of paper, I would create sticky notes and add them to the area in the textbook. I only took notes on things that weren’t already right there in the text, so it saved time and also put ALL of the material in one place.
Here are a handful of tools that I either used on the clinical floor or wish I had as a student nurse on the clinical floor.
17. Clicky Pens
There are two kinds of people in the world:
- Those that use ONLY clicky pens.
- And all the crazy people.
It sounds strange, but it really is that important. Try to spend one day in nursing school with a pen with a cap, and see how that goes. You will lose that cap. You will likely lose the pen because you can’t attach it to yourself. And, you are definitely likely to end up with ink stains and marks because you don’t have the pen’s lid.
Clicky pens are much easier to use. You can connect them to your scrubs, and you can stow them away without worrying about ink.
To say that nurses are slightly anal about their pens is a MASSIVE understatement . . . we are INSANELY possessive, anal, and obsessive about our pens. Do yourself a favor and buy clicky pens!
Yep, just basic Sharpie markers . . . these are useful during clinical when you need to write on medication stickers that will go on IV fluids, etc . . . . You can also get the fine point ones that help in note-taking etc . . .
To be honest, I generally had two Sharpies . . . one fine point and one larger one. The larger ones are great for writing on IV bags.
18. Nursing Cheat Sheets
Every Friday, we email out a brand new PDF document with condensed clinical information on it . . . we call them our Friday Freebies.
Along with the cheat sheet (or reference sheet if the word cheat offends you) I tell a clinical story from my experience on how the information provided applies in the “real world”.
We literally cover EVERYTHING (I think): labs, OB/Peds, Pharm, Cardiac, Mental Health . . . you get the picture.
Join over 100,000 nursing students, nurses, nursing educators, and other health professionals and get on board with the Friday Freebies. Sign up at NURSING.com/freebies
19. Nursing Report/Brain Sheets
Learning how to take and give reports as well as organize your time well in clinicals is something that nursing students, new nurses, and experienced nurses all struggle with.
In fact, as a new nurse my preceptor would make me practice giving her report over and over AND over again until she felt like I was correctly drawing out the information that was most important.
I always though she was being crazy until one day I realized . . . I was giving a damn good report.
And you know what else . . . I can only think of ONE shift where I got out late. And that was because a patient came in coding right at shift change.
What’s my secret?
A report and brain sheet that works!
To help you with time management we created an enormous database of nursing report and brain sheets by polling thousands of working nurses and asking for the report sheet that worked for them. The key here is that no two nurses are created equal. . . what worked for me might not work for you and vice versa. So we compiled the best brain sheets into a huge FREE resource.
I would suggest downloading this 46 page PDF and trying a few of the sheets out. . . this will be a tremendous tool for you during nursing school and I wouldn’t start without it.
The first two are mine so I am a bit partial. They are the ones I used in nursing school and as a newbie nurse.
20. A Good Stethoscope
You don’t have to get all of those other medical supplies you might one day need, but a good stethoscope is integral to nursing school. You may want to do your research or even ask other nurses you know what they recommend so that you can choose a stethoscope that will serve you well.
Be careful with this one because a lot of times those crappy ones they sell in scrub stores just aren’t gonna cut it. The best ones you can buy are going to be a Littman Cardiac stethoscope . . . they aren’t cheap, and can run over $300. If you are on a budget consider spending at least $70 or so for a decent one that will allow you to actually hear what you need to hear on the clinical floor.
I know that money is tight while in nursing school (I’ve talked about that here) but do yourself a favor and purchase a quality stethoscope before you start school . . . if you don’t you will just end up spending more money once you graduate and that first one will just be a waste of money.
I can’t tell you the number of times we would finish intubating a patient and ask for a stethoscope only to find that it was too weak even to hear lung sounds.
Whoever invented these are brilliant and I owe them at least a round of beers for all the sticky jams they have prevented for me. To define the use of a hemostat would be to limit the capabilities. Although they were created in the sense of helping in surgeries, they can be used for so many things:
- clamp IV lines
- clamp foley’s when changing tubing
- holding a needle for suturing
- clamping a bleeding artery
- unscrew IV tubing
- clamp chest tubing
The list goes on and sometimes it is just so creative and useful it’s absurd. Can you be a nurse without this item? Yes. But you cannot be an awesome nurse without them, so just grab a pair and save yourself from potential trouble.
22. Trauma Shears
These handy buggers are a must. You will need them in both non-emergent as well as emergent situations. But most importantly, when you need them, whether you have them on hand or not will make or break your time management.
They can be used for the child adult-proof medication packets you are trying to open for your patient’s medication pass. That painful weeping wound on your patient’s leg that is wrapped in gauze, you can cut off the gauze to minimize movement of the leg. A patient comes rolling into the ER after a major car accident, well you will be cutting off their lululemon leggings and their eco-friendly organic cotton ‘save the whales’ tee, no matter how expensive because a full visual of any hemorrhage could mean the difference between life or death.
Be prepared with these. Do not be the person who doesn’t have a pair. They are important and can mean life or death for a patient.
23. Foam Hand Sanitizer
This one doesn’t need an explanation. Just choose a small bottle that will fit easily in your pocket. Yes, hospitals will have it everywhere, but you can get a nice cheap bottle that isn’t so sticky and gooey. . .
Purell makes this really cool one that you can put in your pocket or locker and comes out as foam. The first time I saw this was when my son was a patient in the NICU. I thought it was so cool and much better on your hands.
Like we said above . . . you don’t need to buy one of those “fancy” all-in-one nursing school supply kits . . . I bought one . . . and NEVER USED it.
However, a penlight is a MUST HAVE . . . this helps in neuro assessments and oral assessments.
Sadly, it can be hard to find a great penlight (a problem we are looking to solve). I have seen physicians use the flashlight on the iPhone before and it actually works really well.
Here is a simple but in-depth video that shows how to assess pupil reaction . . . again . . . a complete must-have.
25. Good Nursing Clipboard
Nursing clinicals are crazy . . . you will be carrying a ton of paperwork and taking a ton of notes. Having a nice clipboard where you can store all of that is important. Check out this clipboard.
Here are some great books, podcasts, and courses to help you learn ALL that material you need to know to make a great nurse!!
26. Test Success
This is the MOST undervalued book in nursing education.
My entire nursing school experience changed when I discovered this book. I read the entire thing in one night.
The book really dives into NCLEX® style questions and the WAY you need to look at, read, and interpret the questions. If you have time, I would suggest buying the book before you start nursing school and glancing over it . . . then use it as a reference DURING school.
27. Nursing Podcasts
If you haven’t joined the podcast train yet don’t feel bad, I just started listening like 2 years ago.
I love podcasts for a couple of reasons:
- It’s easier than reading.
- I can learn while I drive or run.
Did you know you don’t need an iPhone or iPod to listen to podcasts? In fact, we have a ton of shows and you can listen on any phone or even on our website . . . how cool is that?
Some of our shows are just a couple of minutes long while others are up to an hour long. Oh . . . and they are all free.
Here is a list of some of our shows:
- NURSING Podcast for Nurses
- Nursing Mnemonics Podcast
- Lab Values Podcast
- NCLEX Question Podcast
- MedMaster Pharmacology Podcast
- Nursing School Struggles Podcast
28. Nurse Drug Reference Guide
I have yet to meet anyone who knows everything about every drug: nurse, physician, pharmacist, etc. There is too much to know and too much change to know it all. However, you will need access to as much information as possible and a good drug reference guide will likely be a part of your required texts. If, by chance, it is not you should consider getting one anyway.
Medscape is a free mobile app that has a TON of information. What I use it most for is the pharmacology portion. You can check drugs, interactions, and even view images of meds.
There isn’t a shift that I don’t pull this out and refer to it.
30. Practice NCLEX® Questions
Access to a solid bank of NCLEX® questions can take you a long way. This way you can take questions as you work your way through your program so that on test day . . . you know what to expect.
Here is a list of a couple of places to get practice questions:
- MedSurg Book
- School Library – try other nursing books
- Nursing Practice Questions by NURSING.com
I took so many practice questions while in nursing school. After a while, you start knowing exactly what the questions are going to ask before you even finish reading it.
To help you, we’ve created Nursing Practice Questions (NPQ), which is our bank of over 3,500 NCLEX style questions. Within NPQ you can sort the questions by category so you can take questions specifically on what you are studying in school at any given time.
Extras (the fun stuff)
31. A Sense of Humor
Most people think of the medical field as only serious, but it can be very stressful and if you don’t have a sense of humor, you won’t find it easy to survive. Be willing to laugh at yourself and at awkward situations. It will help.
Hmm . . . yes, it’s true “travel” isn’t really something you can HAVE before nursing school but it is something you should do before you start your program. Even if you don’t have the budget or the time to do a big fancy vacation before school starts you should take some time to be with good friends and family before your first day.
Create some memories . . . because once school starts you will be so busy that your “free time” will be greatly reduced and you won’t be able to spend time with loved ones.
If you have these things when you enter nursing school, then you will walk through those doors prepared for anything. And, you will definitely feel better than if you just had a pencil and notebook!
The site that my wife and I use for travel is Airbnb.com . . . we’ve found some awesome places in some incredible towns for a fraction of the cost that other booking sites charge!
33. A Good Coffee Maker
This is a no brainer . . . coffee is a major food group to nurses.
Investing in a good coffee maker with a timer is a good way to make sure your daily caffeine ratio is ready before you leave the house and it’s a lot cheaper than buying a cup each morning.
Here is a link to the Keurig coffee maker.
34. Meal Prep Containers
Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . not really NEEDED for nursing school, but trust me, you will run out of time as a nursing student, and not having to think about lunch while still being able to eat healthily will go a long way.
Taking a few minutes at the beginning of the week to prep all your meals ahead of time will save an enormous amount of stress and time later on in the week when “stuff” hits the fan.
35. N is for Nurse
Staying motivated and inspired is important when you JUST don’t want to keep going. N is for Nurse by best-selling nurse-author Jon Haws RN CCRN is a full-color ABC book for grown-up nurses, with a powerful message about what it means to “be a nurse”. N is for Nurse looks and feels like a classic picture book. But it’s not for kids, it’s for nurses and nursing students who are proud of being RN.