Starting nursing school equipped with all of the necessary supplies can help you feel confident and prepared when you begin your program. But for many new nursing school students, it can be tricky to know what kind of medical and organizational tools would be the most useful to bring along with you.
That’s why we’ve put together this helpful nursing school survival kit to get you ready. As one of the largest nursing colleges in Utah, Joyce University has extensive experience preparing students for successful nursing school experiences that lead to thriving healthcare careers.
Our nursing school survival kit will help you determine how to spend your money wisely—recommending only the most vital items you’ll need to succeed in your program and your future career as a nurse. Check out our list of 21 essential items below.
First, the basics. Every nursing student needs a good pair of scrubs. Your nursing school might have specific rules about the color or type of scrubs you can wear, so make sure you check your school’s guidelines. When you’re ready to buy, look for high quality brands—you’ll need something durable to last through long shifts. If you’re an Joyce University student, you can get a helpful 10% discount on your scrubs purchase at a local Dubs Scrubs store. Finally, we recommend that you buy scrubs with pockets. Once you check out the rest of this list, you’ll quickly see why pockets can come in handy!
When your clinicals start, you may find yourself spending long shifts on your feet, often on concrete floors. That’s why most nurses will tell you that investing in a good pair of shoes can make a huge difference—and help you avoid the pitfalls of back and leg pain. You can buy shoes specifically branded as “nursing shoes,” but many nurses simply choose well-made athletic shoes or clogs. The most important thing is that the shoes you choose are comfortable for your feet and provide the support you need. As with scrubs, your nursing school may have specifications about what types of shoes you can wear, so be sure to check their guidelines before you pick up a new pair.
Trust us on this one—compression socks can make a huge difference when it comes to your comfort and quality of life. Remember what we said about being on your feet for up to 12 hours a day? Compression socks or stockings help prevent varicose veins, improve circulation, and keep you from being in pain at the end of an already long day. You can choose from different styles and lengths, including knee high and thigh high socks.
Our nursing school survival kit also includes a good analog watch. The administration of many medications requires that you measure time precisely, so look for a watch with a second hand. Find one that fits securely on your wrist—since you’ll be taking gloves on and off all day, you don’t want your watch to slip off. Also, since you’re going to be washing your hands throughout the day, we recommend getting a watch that doesn’t have a fabric band. Instead, look for a more water-resistant option like a watch with a plastic, silicone, or rubber band.
A good stethoscope is essential for every nursing student. In fact, it’s one of the most vital tools on this list as it’s invaluable for helping you assess a patient’s health. While you’re likely operating under a tight budget as a nursing student, this is one item that’s well worth spending a little extra money on to get a quality model. If you skimp and buy a cheaper stethoscope, you likely won’t be able to hear well enough to accurately assess lung sounds, and you’ll eventually have to buy a more expensive one before starting your nursing career. Many nurses choose Littmann or Prestige brand stethoscopes, so we’d recommend starting there. You may be able to save money on these brands by considering an alternate color, or looking for sales or discount codes online.
A pen light is a critical item to keep in the pocket of your scrubs. Pen lights play a vital role in conducting neuro exams and in assessing your patient’s mucus membranes. They are inexpensive and we think you’ll find them incredibly convenient to have within reach.
Having a pair of scissors or shears will come in handy in all kinds of ways you couldn’t anticipate. Scissors are great for cutting medical gauze, removing dressings, opening medication or IV bag packaging, cutting off clothing in emergency situations, and in many other applications. Just make sure you label your scissors with your initials or a piece of colored tape, so that someone else doesn’t accidentally pocket them.
A hemostat is another great tool to have in your nursing school survival kit. It can be used to clamp IV lines, hold a needle for suturing, clamp a bleeding artery, and for many other applications. Its many uses make it a valuable item to keep in your nursing bag.
If you’re preparing to start nursing school, it’s important to come equipped with solid organizational tools in place. An organizer or calendar is essential for keeping track of your classes and clinicals. You may prefer to get a daily or weekly planner that you can carry with you—or you can opt to go digital. If you go with the latter, Google Calendar can be a valuable resource, as can Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Luckily, if you already have a Gmail account, you can use these other tools for free.
Once you’ve decided on the type of organizer you’ll use, develop an organizational system that works for you. You could try color coding your different classes and activities, planning out your week every Sunday—anything that helps you stay on top of your studies and schedule. Once you’ve found a method that works for you, stick with it. That way, you won’t spend your valuable time trying to learn different organizational methods.
A heavy-duty clipboard can be super helpful for organizing and storing all of the paperwork that you have to carry with you as a nursing student. You can buy a clipboard that’s specifically designed for nurses, which often includes a medical reference sheet, but you don’t have to. As long as the one you choose is durable and includes storage compartments for papers, reference sheets, and other essentials, you should be good to go.
You may be wondering, “does it really matter what kind of pen I buy?” In our experience, when it comes to retractable pens, it absolutely does. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you can lose standard pen lids in nursing school, which can lead to pens drying out or ink leaking onto your bag and important papers. That’s why we suggest you buy inexpensive, retractable pens with black ink that don’t require a lid.
In nursing school, you will find infinite uses for permanent markers—labeling meds, marking your initials and dates on dressings, writing on stickers, etc. You may find it most helpful to purchase one regular point marker and one fine point marker for different applications.
Be sure to include some highlighters in your nursing school survival kit—and consider developing a highlighting system. Highlighters are especially useful for visual learners, and can help you focus on critical concepts. If you develop a color coding system, it will enable you to organize the type of information you highlight. For example, one color may be used to highlight important values, one to highlight definitions, and another to highlight examples or explanations. You can also use a color coding system for your class notes: try using one color to highlight something you don’t understand and need to return to later, and another to highlight something your teacher has said will be on an upcoming exam. Again, just find the system that works best for you and stick with it!
You’re going to be taking a lot of notes in nursing school, and you’ll need a system for organizing and using those notes. Memo pads can be useful tools to have available, and notecards are handy if you like to create flashcards. There are also apps available that you can use to create and share flashcards if you prefer a digital option.
Many nursing students find it helpful to carry pocket nursing guides with them. These tiny booklets contain tons of vital information, including lab values and medication guides. A popular alternative to a guidebook is ScrubCheats—a collection of 4×6 nursing reference cards on a ring, designed to fit into your scrub pockets. They include vital information on Cardiac, Respiratory, Neuro, Labs, Pharmacology, OB/Peds, and Fundamentals. ScrubCheats also offers an app if you prefer a digital format to something you keep in your pocket.
A small, but important item for your nursing school survival kit is a lanyard or badge clip that will keep your name badge secure. A plastic badge holder can help protect your name badge, and many holders even offer a retractable cord, which can be handy when you’re scanning your badge to access secured areas.
Remember when we talked about those long shifts? Many nurses find it helpful to keep a personal supply of items on-hand to help them stay healthy and comfortable in school and on-the-job. These can include: Band-Aids, hand sanitizer, pain relievers, eye drops, facial tissues, dental floss, a toothbrush, hand cream, lip balm—whatever you need to make those long shifts more manageable! Just remember to only pack the items that you’ll actually use, so you’re not too overloaded with stuff.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but many nursing students find it’s essential to carry a water bottle to help them stay hydrated through the day. Choose one with a leak-proof, easy-to-open lid.
You may find it helpful to have a snack bar or some small chocolates in your survival kit. They may be just the thing to help you and your fellow students get through the long stretches where you can’t take a break.
Once you have all of your nursing school survival essentials, you’ll need somewhere to put everything, including your textbooks. Every nurse has their favorite type of bag, so choose the one that’s right for you. There are totes made especially for nurses, which come equipped with many different storage options. You could also choose a standard backpack, or a rolling backpack to reduce shoulder and back pain. Whatever you choose, find something durable and easy to transport, and dedicate that bag solely to your nursing school needs.
Finally, you’ll need one indispensable thing that won’t fit into your backpack—a support network. Many nursing students find that the support of their friends and family is vital to their success during nursing school. Keep the phone numbers of your loved ones handy and don’t forget to reach out if you need a pep talk, support, or just to decompress. Joyce University’s small class sizes make it easy to build relationships with your teachers and fellow nursing students, so you can also turn to them if you need a helping hand or supportive boost.
No matter what nursing school you choose, it’s essential to arrive with the right tools and supplies. Just remember—with every item you choose, it’s important to select what will work best for your unique preferences, learning style, and organizational habits, while following any specific guidelines required by your nursing program. By using our suggestions, you’ll be well-equipped to succeed in your program and your future career.