Failing Fundamentals?

Did you finally start nursing school, only to find that you’re having trouble with one of your very first nursing classes…Fundamentals of Nursing?

There are a lot of reasons why nursing students can have difficulty in school, but I often find that it relates to the way that you study.  Studying for nursing school is very different than any other classes you may have taken before.  Even if you were a great student in the past, that doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll get perfect grades now.

That’s because the classes you’re taking now, including Fundamentals, is not just about memorizing a bunch of facts: it’s about learning how to think like a nurse! Obviously, when you’re only in your first semester of nursing school, that’s going to be incredibly hard to accomplish because you’ve barely gotten a chance to gain any real nursing knowledge yet.

Make sure that you get started on the right path with your nursing school career.  As you’re studying, make sure that you ask yourself a lot of “why” questions.  For example, why do we put a patient in semi-fowler’s position when they have trouble breathing?  If you understand the why behind the nursing action, then you will have an easier time remembering.  Asking yourself “why” will also help to prevent you from simply trying to memorize facts.  It also might help keep you awake while you’re reading those dry textbooks!

Another difficulty that I often see in students who are in Fundamentals is their vocabulary.  If you’ve never worked in healthcare before, then it can sometimes be tough to know what a test question is asking if you’re not sure what all the medical jargon means!  So when you are studying, make sure that you take the time to look up any words that you don’t know.  Even if you feel like you have to look up the same words over and over, eventually you will start to recognize them and remember what they mean.  In particular, try to notice root words that keep popping up.  For example, “poly” means many or a lot, and “uria” means urine.  So “polyuria” would mean a lot of urine!  But “polydipsia” means a lot of something else.

Until you get really familiar with the vocabulary, just do your best to critically think about what an unfamiliar word might mean when you run into them on exams.  For example, you might not yet know what it means for eyes to look “cobblestoned.”  But even if you don’t know what that means in the context of the eyes, you might know what cobblestone streets look like on the road!  So you might take a wild guess that bloodshot eyes might be described as “cobblestoned.”  You won’t be 100% confident, and you’ll still be wrong sometimes, but taking an educated guess is still better then just skipping the question.

As time goes on, you’ll get better with the vocabulary part.  And if you are using the right kind of study strategies, then you’ll also start getting better at learning to think like a nurse!  (By the way, if you want some help identifying the right kind of study strategies, check out my PASS Program)

For the time being, make sure you look up unfamiliar vocabulary as you run across, especially when doing practice NCLEX questions.  Don’t worry about trying to memorize them all, just look them up, think about it for a minute, then move on with your studying.  The goal is that the most common vocabulary will keep popping up in your studies, so you will start to remember the most common vocabulary without wasting too much time trying to memorize jargon that you’ll only see once.  Plus, it will be good practice to help you start “guessing” what unfamiliar vocabulary words might mean (the way I did in the above example).

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13 Comments

  1. Hi! Im a 45yr old nursing student. I have two adult children and wanted to gp to school for Nursing. I just finished my Fundamentals class and had to make an 80 to pass, or at least 79.5. My final grade was 79.2. Needless to say, Im devastated. My instructor would not give me an extra credit assignment, and said that I had to wait until the class comes around again, which will be in August. It is an accelerated 18 month program, and I drove1.5 hrs to attend this school. When/if I start back in August, I have only 1 chance left to finish school without going below an 80 again, or I will done for good. Do you have any advice for me? Should I go back and try again and risk failure?

  2. Bre

    I really need help in both fundamentals and health assessment. I have failed two test in both classes and I really don’t want to drop those classes, I can’t afford too. Is there any way that you can help me, Please

  3. Saundra Brown

    I just started nursing school here in tulsa ok . I have been doing well but I have noticed my grades are dropping in fundamentals of nursing. what can i do to understand th questions

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