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It’s All About the Patient: An Open Letter to Nursing Students

By August 31, 2017June 2nd, 2023No Comments

Looking over a new group of students in orientation as a new educator was stressful for both myself as well as the students who were now in my class.

Orientation sets the tone for what students can expect and what is required for them to be successful.

As I look back, there are things I wish had said that would have helped them focus on what is most important about the nursing profession.

One of the struggles that I faced as a new educator and is not unique to me is student entitlement. The essence of entitled behavior is that nursing education revolves around the student and needs to focus on their needs and success.

What follows is my heart that I hope other educators will use to communicate to the next generation of nurses across the country what it will take to be the few, the proud, the professional nurse!

An Open Letter to New Nursing Students

The most important thing about this program is not your success and making it through this program. 

Though you are needed, nursing education is not about you and ensuring your success.

It is about the patient and the outcomes of each patient that you will soon be caring for after graduation.

Classroom Expectations

If the nurse is unable to use and apply the knowledge and information that they were taught to the bedside, it will ultimately impact that patient and can result in an adverse outcome and even patient death.

Because the stakes are so high, to be successful in this program will require much more than memorization of content to pass each test. This may have worked for you in high school or and other college programs but not any longer.

You will need to apply your learning to the bedside where it matters most. You must make it a priority not just to know the content but to understand what was taught. This will develop the critical thinking that is required for practice and will help you to think more like a nurse.      

The classroom will no longer be a place of lecture and spoon feeding the content that needs to be known to pass a test.

Instead, you will be expected to come to class prepared, ready to apply what you have read from the textbook readings and utilize the active learning strategies including case studies that our program uses to prepare you for real world practice.

Remember that the grade that you received in this program does not define you or the nurse that you will ultimately become. It is merely a letter.

Pursue Excellence

What matters is did you do your best and apply yourself and make nursing school a priority so you would be the best nurse you can be.

Did you pursue excellence?

If so you have passed the mirror test and can hold your head high even if the letter grade was not what you had been accustomed to in the past.

Nursing is a demanding major, and it is challenging for a reason because it is not just a degree, but it is preparing you to care for patients of infinite value and worth.

Why You Must Care

How you do your job and the spirit in which you approach it matters. Engaging with your patient, communicating caring and empathy and being available and present is just as important as the knowledge that you will acquire in this program.

Think of it as a teeter totter and being equally weighted. That is your goal, and if this is a weakness for you personally, over this program, your goal is to make it a needed strength.

The degree of caring that a nurse possesses has been shown to improve patient outcomes. Therefore it is not optional but needs to be cultivated from within you.

Think of it as a teeter totter being equally weighted with knowledge on one side and a caring spirit on the other. That is your goal and if this is a weakness for you personally, your goal is to make it a needed strength before you graduate.

Final Thoughts

The motivation that is represented by the SPIRIT to become a nurse matters.

At the dawn of the modern era in 1900, influential nurse educator Isabel Hampton Robb (founder of the ANA, NLN, and AJN) wrote in her student text Nursing Ethics:

“The SPIRIT in which she does her work makes all the difference. Invested…with the cloak of love for suffering humanity, she can enoble anything her hand may be called upon to do. For work done in this SPIRIT there will ever come to her a recompense far outweighing that of silver and gold.”

Nursing is a challenging major that requires not only mastery of difficult content, but just as important is the inner character and aptitudes that the student needs to possess to embody the values and virtues becoming of a healthcare professional.

This quote, though written over 100 years ago remains relevant today and needs to be shared with the next generation of nursing students.

In Closing

Students (as well as the rest of humanity) are by nature inherently self-centered.

This is exacerbated by students who have grown up with Facebook, YouTube, and a whole host of social media that makes it all about them.

When students are admitted into the nursing program, this mindset needs to change.

Make it a priority as a nurse educator to help your students recognize that though their success is important, everything that is done in nursing education is to prepare them for patient care and improving patient outcomes of those that they will soon care for.

Make it a priority to guide your new students in this journey of personal growth so that when they graduate they not only have the ability to think like a nurse, but they will also care like a nurse by being patient centered in all they do.

Comment Question:
What have you done to help students become patient centered as a nursing student?
Comment below and let the conversation begin!


  • Hampton Robb, E. (1900). Nursing ethics. Cleveland, OH: E.C. Koeckert.

Keith Rischer – Ph.D., RN, CCRN, CEN

As a nurse with over 35 years of experience who remained in practice as an educator, I’ve witnessed the gap between how nursing is taught and how it is practiced, and I decided to do something about it! Read more…

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