Nursing Student
New Grad

What Your Nursing Professor Won’t Tell You About Critical Thinking (Nursing School Struggles)

critical thinking in nursing school

ashley adkinsThis article is another in a series by Ashely Adkins RN BSN entitled “Nursing School Struggles” where she answers your questions about nursing school.  To learn more about Ashley visit View all articles HERE.

Lisa R . . . asks:

How can I develop this critical thinking as there does not seem to be one book on the topic when it pertains to nursing? Do I need to have to go back to school and do another nursing program to obtain this thought process?

I am at such a loss and a disadvantage and simply do not know where to begin… can anyone help me?

Critical thinking and nursing go hand and hand, like peanut butter and jelly, or should I say…like coffee and night shift. It is the glue to nursing. To be quite honest, a nurse’s ability to critical think can be the difference between LIFE or DEATH.

No pressure, right?

When I started nursing school, I remember thinking, “how in the world am I going to remember all of this information, let alone be able to apply it and critically think?” You are not alone if you feel like your critical thinking skills need a little bit of polishing.

Let’s step back for a moment, and take a walk down memory lane. It was my first semester of nursing school and I was sitting in my Fundamentals of Nursing course. We were learning about vital signs, assessments, labs, etc. Feeling overwhelmed with all of this new information (when are you not overwhelmed in nursing school?), I let my mind wonder to a low place…

Am I really cut out for this? Can I really do this? How can I possibly retain all of this information?  Do they really expect me to remember everything AND critically think at the same time?

One of my first semester nursing professors said something to me that has stuck with me throughout my nursing years. It went a little something like this:

“Critical thinking does not develop over night. It takes time. You don’t learn to talk over night, or walk over night. You don’t learn to critically think over night.”

My professor was absolutely right.

As my journey throughout nursing school, and eventually on to being a “real nurse” continued, my critical thinking skills began to BLOSSOM. With every class, lecture, clinical shift, lab, and simulation, my critical thinking skills grew.

You may ask…how?

Well, let me tell…

  • Time
  • Exposure
  • Questioning
  • Confidence

These are the key ingredients to growing your critical thinking skills.

Time. Critical thinking takes time. As I mentioned before, you do not learn how to critically think over night. It is important to set realistic expectations for yourself both in nursing school, and in other aspects of your life.

Exposure. It is next to impossible to critically think if you have never been exposed to something. How would you ever learn to talk if no one ever talked to you? Same thing applies to nursing and critical thinking.

Overtime, your exposure to new materials and situations will cause you to think and ask yourself, “why?”

This leads me to my next point. Questioning. Do not be afraid to ask yourself…

“Why is this happening?”

“Why do I take a blood pressure and heart rate before I give a beta-blocker?”

“Why is it important to listen to a patient’s lung sounds before and after they receive a blood transfusion?”

It is important to constantly question yourself. Let your mind process through your questions, and discover answers.

nurse bass nursing school study tips

Nurse Bass, a nursing YouTuber, actually did a podcast with and touched on critically thinking. Nurse Bass is currently a nursing student, who is developing his critical thinking skills daily. You can listen to his podcast here:

Confidence. We always hear the phrase, “confidence is key!” And as cheesy as that phrase may be, it really holds true. So many times, we often times sell ourselves short.


In case you did not catch it the first time…


Be confident in your knowledge, because trust me, it is there. It may be hiding in one single neuron in the back of your brain, but it is there.

It is impossible to know everything. Even experienced nurses do not know everything.

And if they tell you that they do…they are wrong!

The key to critical thinking is not about knowing everything; It is about how you respond when you do not know something.

How do you reason through a problem you do not know the answer to? Do you give up? Or do you persevere until you discover the answer?

If you are a nursing student preparing for the NCLEX, you know that the NCLEX loves critical thinking questions. NRSNG has some great tips and advice on critical thinking when it comes to taking the NCLEX.

There are so many pieces to the puzzle when it comes to nursing, and it is normal to feel overwhelmed. The beauty of nursing is when all of those puzzle pieces come together to form a beautiful picture.

That is critical thinking.

Amazon also sells a book called, Critical Thinking for Dummies . This books goes over the differences between regular thinking vs. critical thinking, which is essentially the whole reason behind this article.

So, if you are struggling with critical thinking, know that you are NOT alone.

Work hard. Be proactive. Be patient with yourself, and forever keep learning and growing. Your future patients will thank you.

Ashley Adkins, BSN, RN

Share this post:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

270,000+ Nursing Students Use