5 Valuable Skills They Didn’t Teach You in Nursing School

Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN
Updated February 3, 2022
    Have you ever thought, "They never taught me that in nursing school!" You're not alone. Here are five skills they didn't teach you in nursing school.
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    Nursing school is designed to teach you the fundamentals of nursing. You learn nursing history, how to safely care for patients, research and theory, and strategies on how to pass the nursing boards.

    Once you land your first job, after a few months or so, you may think to yourself, “Wait, they didn’t teach me that in nursing school!”

    Nursing school does not arm you with the knowledge to participate in policy making and nursing legislation. It doesn’t teach you how to negotiate better pay or the pros and cons of working at a nursing union facility. Lastly, nursing school doesn’t teach you how to use your nursing skills to become an entrepreneur.

    All nurses need to know this to be highly functioning, self-sufficient, and professional nurses.

    This article discusses five valuable skills you need to know as a nurse, none of which are included in the nursing school curriculum.

    The Benefits of Becoming a Nurse

    First, there are many reasons to choose a career in nursing. Nurses are:

    • Considered the most trusted profession
    • In high demand
    • Noted to be the fastest-growing profession according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
    • Known to have stable jobs and income

    After a few years, a nurse is considered an expert in their specialty. Nursing theorist Patricia Benner, RN, Ph.D., developed a theory that defines five stages nurses undergo to become proficient. The last stage is becoming an expert.

    According to Benner, an expert nurse:

    • Recognizes emergency situations
    • Can work outside a set of rules and continue to provide expert care
    • Is intuitive based on their experience
    • Knows how and where to pull resources

    Although expert nurses are equipped with these skills, many don’t recognize they can use them to change policies and procedures — something that isn’t taught in nursing school.

    According to Benner, the five stages aren’t linear but circular. Nurses can go back and forth between the stages, so new nurses can also take advantage of learning these skills. Nurses can apply them to solving problems they are passionate about.

    Here are five skills they didn’t teach you in nursing school and the steps to take to achieve them.

    Five Skills They Didn’t Teach You in Nursing School and Steps to Achieve Them

    1. How to Get Involved in Policy Making and Nursing Legislation

    As a nurse, being involved in policy making and nursing legislation is a power move. It isn’t taught in nursing school unless you choose an elective or you’re enrolled in a doctoral program.

    Being involved in policy making can create real change in a nurse’s life. Policy makers draft laws and regulations, but they need experts to help them create these laws.

    Steps to Getting Started in Nursing Policy and Legislation

    1. Get involved at your facility or community by helping with quality improvement.
    2. Join committees on your floor or facility.
    3. Get involved in your community health committees. With COVID-19, many meetings are virtual, which is more convenient than in-person meetings.
    4. Attend your state’s nursing association lobby day. Here you will learn how policies are passed and how processes are put into place.

    2. How to Serve on a Nursing Board

    Have you ever wondered how to serve on a nursing board? The lack of nurses on nursing boards sparked a campaign by the AARP foundation which focused on increasing the number of nurses serving on boards to 10,000. As of 2019, only 6,311 nurses were serving on a nursing board.

    The benefits of being on a nursing board are endless. Being on a board:

    • Is a great way to network in nursing
    • Can catapult your career into a nursing leadership role
    • Creates change for nurses
    • Helps advocate for health and wellness
    • Helps secure the organization’s mission and vision

    To get started, you must become board ready. This includes:

    • Carving out time to get involved
    • Beginning at a local level in your facility
    • Volunteering in your community or at a nonprofit organization

    Watch this presentation created by nurse leaders who served on boards to help you gain the skills you need to serve.

    Lastly, figure out what you are passionate about and where your expertise is needed.

    3. How to Negotiate Better Pay

    Nursing school doesn’t prepare you with the skills to negotiate your nursing salary, let alone how to negotiate better pay. Some nurses learn how to negotiate their salary from their parents or guardians. Others learn from experience.

    Negotiating better pay as a nurse teaches you:

    • To advocate for yourself
    • Not to leave money on the table
    • To have more control over your salary and/or benefits
    • To know what you are worth

    There are several steps to take before negotiating your pay or advocating for equal pay in nursing:

    • Do your research before negotiating.
    • Ask for more time before accepting a starting salary.
    • Practice negotiating for increased pay, sick days, vacation days, parental leave, tuition reimbursement, working remotely, and travel expenses.

    To give a counteroffer, you can start by telling the company why you value the company and how you contribute to the company’s growth. Make your counteroffer clear, and avoid giving ultimatums.

    4. How to Join and Be Active in Your Nursing Union

    Nurses may choose to work for a facility with a union or work for a facility without a union. If you work for a facility with a union, do your research. Many nursing schools don’t discuss the pros and cons of working as a union nurse.

    Unions were created to protect employees from problematic employers. Unions help fight for:

    • Better wages and pension plans
    • Safe working conditions
    • Job security and protection

    Get involved in your union by joining meetings. Ask questions like:

    • Why does the union collect dues?
    • What are the dues used for?
    • How will the union protect my nursing rights?
    • How do I become a union delegate?

    5. How to Use Your Nursing Knowledge to Become an Entrepreneur

    The nursing model is intended for nurses to work in hospitals, outpatient facilities, and community health settings. Nurses are not taught how to start their own businesses or the benefits of becoming entrepreneurs.

    The rise of social media and the nursing backlash against hospitals has led to nurses leaving due to poor working conditions and lack of support. Those nurses leaving are taking the leap to become entrepreneurs.

    As a nurse, you are an expert in the field. With a little bit of business knowledge, you can leverage your expertise to start lucrative businesses, allowing you to have:

    • Control over your schedules
    • Control over your salary

    Opening a business is no easy feat. It isn’t for the faint of heart. If you are a nurse determined to work for yourself, here are a few steps to take to become a nurse entrepreneur:

    Steps to Becoming a Nurse Entrepreneur

    1. Write down all the skills you have.
    2. Figure out a need in your market or field.
    3. Perform market research on that need.
    4. Create a business plan.
    5. Consult your local small business association.
    6. Pick a location.
    7. Find a marketing and sales team.
    8. Start your business.

    As a nurse, there are specific skills and knowledge you should know to change the future of nursing for the better. Now is the best time and opportunity to act. COVID-19 has revealed how important it is for nurses to effect real change and have a say in creating policies for nurses.

    You can’t become a nurse without nursing school. It may not occur to you because it wasn’t taught in school, but you can make measurable and lasting changes in nursing with your unique point of view and a few of these skills.

    Get involved. Because at the end of the day, if you aren’t in the room where decisions are made, they will be made for you.