Failing in nursing school

Our profession needs great nurses. If it takes you an extra semester or two to join us, we'll be here, waiting to greet you!

It is one of those ugly truths that no one wants to think about. Sometimes, students fail a course in nursing school. This is a big deal! It feels terrible emotionally and maybe even physically. To add insult to injury there is time, money, and embarrassment involved. Most schools have strict rules about returning to school or repeating courses, too.

Most nursing courses base their grade on 4 exams and 1 final exam with other assignments sprinkled in to make up a tiny percentage of the overall grade. Many nursing schools require a minimum grade of roughly 80% to actually pass, as well. By the time you realize you aren't doing well enough to be successful in the course, the choices can be pretty limited.

Failure happens all the time. It happens every day... What makes you better is how you react to it.

Mia Hamm

First, do not panic.

What can you do if you were not able to be successful in a course?

  1. I have personally come unglued in the face of failure and have also witnessed students completely lose their grip on the world when they fail a course. It is totally understandable, but do not do this (at least limit the outbursts and who witnesses them!). Looking mentally unstable is not helpful. Just sayin'!
  2. Most teachers actually understand. Some of us teach because we want to make nursing school a better place than we came from. We may not be able to help once failure of the course is inevitable, but we do care about you.
  3. Grieve what you need to grieve and keep moving forward. You have more work to do!

A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.

B. F. Skinner

Second, determine your next step.

There is always a next step.

  1. Was there a truly unjust situation within the course that qualifies you for an appeal?
    • This is rarely true and even more rarely successful, but it is something to consider. If you need to take the appeal route, keep in mind that humility and accepting responsibility are key to the success of an appeal.
  2. Is there an option to repeat the course?
    • If so, just do it. There is always more to learn that you missed the first time around. Appreciate the learning experience and let the anger go. Harboring anger only serves to poison your efforts and is toxic to the people around you.
    • In some schools, this means you will be out for one year. This really stinks, but it is what it is. Many people repeat courses, achieve their goal, and barely reflect on the experience once they are taking care of patients and raking in that steady money.
  3. Do you need to apply to a different school?
    • Occasionally, a new school is the best option. This is a tough route to pursue. No school wants to accept a nursing student from another program because it is complex. Credits rarely transfer, so you will be essentially starting over. On the other hand, if being a nurse is your goal, this is just another part of the journey.
  4. Can you just take time off?
    • Many students have faced seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Immaturity, financial strain, unaddressed learning disability, death of a loved one, loss of a home, and the list goes on.
    • Sometimes, the best thing you can do is take some time off from school and pursue another job while you fully address the issues that interfered. Come back later. Nursing school is not going anywhere!

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford

Third, just own it.

Do not blame anyone. What's done is done. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Anyone who has never failed at anything has never tried very much, either.

  1. Elvis drove trucks after a a few years and a few failed attempts to secure a recording contract. They told him he couldn't sing.
  2. Henry Ford spent about 20 years trying to bring us the automobile!
  3. JK Rowling's Harry Potter barely got published. 12 publishers rejected the book!
  4. Steven King's first book was rejected by 30 publishers before finding its home.
  5. Lady Gaga was tortured by classmates, demeaned by boyfriends, and rejected by record companies. Do we need to tell you how that turned out???

There's a discipline for passion, and it's not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down, or you're beaten up. It's about how many times you stand up, and are brave, and you keep going.

Lady Gaga

Honestly, the list of people who are successful only because they did not give up, choosing instead to change course or strategy when needed, is astounding. That might mean you choose a different career, and that is fine!

However, our profession needs great nurses. If it takes you an extra semester or two to join us, we'll be here, waiting to greet you!

P.S. If you want help with that new strategy, Nursing and NCLEX Mastery has got you, fam! Hit us up.