From NCLEX Failure to Confident Nurse
When I failed the NCLEX, I thought my nursing career was over before it started. Fortunately this failure was a gift that taught me five important lessons.
I sat staring blankly at the computer screen. Failed. How did I let this happen? I had failed my nursing boards. I blinked back tears as I tried to look normal. I was already working as a graduate nurse on an intense pediatric oncology floor. I looked around the unit to make sure no one else could see my computer. Could they already tell that I was a failure?
I made the long walk down to my manager’s office to give him the news. He seemed unphased, told me it happens to a lot of good nurses. Oh, he also reminded me that my salary would now be dropping from a nurse to a nurse intern level. Great, not only am I a loser, but now I’m making half as much money.When I arrived at my apartment later that night, I didn’t know where to start. Several questions ran through my mind:
- Should I register to take the NCLEX again right away?
- What did I do wrong?
- How on earth am I going to pass this thing?
As my mind began to churn out thoughts of failing as a nurse and having to work at the local coffee shop, an inner fire began to burn. No, I am not a failure. I have worked way too hard to give up this easily. I will do whatever it takes this time.
I immediately logged into my computer, scheduled my date for the NCLEX, and registered for an online class.
There was no turning back.
Get Out of Your Head
According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, in 2016, 83.6 percent of nurses passed the NCLEX the first time they took it. Interestingly, though, of those who failed, only 42.9% passed the NCLEX when they retook it. That statistic confused me. For those of us who failed the first time, if we’ve already seen the NCLEX and know what to expect, why is it so hard to pass it on the second go around?
I believe it’s because this is now a mental game. Any professional basketball player knows how to shoot a free throw, so why do they miss at the end of the game? It’s not about the skill or the practice; it’s about your own inner struggle. Failing the boards knocks you down, and it takes a strong person to get back up. Fortunately, you already have all the tools you need to pass. Now it’s time to brush yourself off and get to work.
Here are five gifts that retaking the NCLEX gave me.
There was no denying it. I had failed the biggest test of my life, and I had no one to blame but myself. There was no curve like in college, no teacher to ask for extra help. If I was going to do things differently this second time, I had to first accept that fact that I had allowed this to happen. Looking back, I didn’t prepare as well as I should have. I didn’t think I needed a review course, and I didn’t make the time to study. Accountability was a bitter pill to swallow, but it led to my next gift.
Once I accepted the fact that I failed the NCLEX purely because of the choices I had made, I felt empowered. Our day-to-day decisions are powerful. Skipping study time once is dangerous because it sets us up to skip again tomorrow. Once I realized this, I became much more disciplined with my preparation. I also did not want to go through that embarrassment again, so I allowed this new determination to drive me forward.
Humility is a gift, and I needed it. As a new nurse, there is so much to learn, and a little humility will keep you eager to keep learning. The most dangerous graduate nurse is the one who thinks he or she already knows it all. Failing the boards helped me see how much I still had to learn. To this day, I strive to have a beginner’s mind and am always ready to discover more.
Once I let my guard down and started telling my coworkers that I had failed the NCLEX, I found a new community and true friendships. By allowing myself to be vulnerable and share a struggle, I gave others permission to be vulnerable as well. Nurses started telling me stories of their own NCLEX or workday struggles. Coworkers offered to help me study, and I started to see that I was not alone.
Finally, compassion was my greatest gift of all. No one is perfect. We all struggle. I never thought I would fail the boards, but I did. Remembering that gives me patience when I see someone else not living up to his or her potential. I am much less judgmental because I know that we’ve all been there. We’ve all been knocked down, so I now have the opportunity to help lift others up.
You’ve Got This
If you have found yourself in the same situation I was in or in any unexpected struggle, don’t avoid those uncomfortable feelings. Dive in and look for the silver lining. Maybe it’s time to make yourself and your own success a top priority. Maybe this experience will help you to become an even better nurse than you were before. Failing the NCLEX will change you, but you get to decide if it’s for the better. Oh, and if you’re wondering, I passed the second time with the minimum 75 questions. Get back up. You’ve got this.
What is one small step you could take today to help move you forward?
Carrie Madormo is a health writer, nurse, and yoga instructor. Carrie is the founder of the Healthy Work at Home Mom where she teaches fellow mothers how to launch flexible careers from home. She lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and two young children.
caroline.madormo has '10' year(s) of experience. Joined Mar '17; Posts: 3; Likes: 9.May 12I am always impressed when someone is able to learn from the hard things they face in life. I really like the part about humility and having a little bit of it will help you keep motivated to learn. I think that applies in all areas of life, and it is something I needed to read today! Thank you Carrie!May 13I needed to read this today. 🙁 I failed my last semester this week and didnt get to graduate with my friends. More importantly I will have to wait to take the NCLEX. I have taken the last few days to reflect and made the decision that I need to do exactly what you said, manage my priorities! My education has to be a priority. And yes, I am humbled. I have taken my education for granted and breezed through my other semesters without any problems. I was so shocked at the end of this semester. The bottom line is that I will learn from this, I will continue on, and I hope to never lose my passion for learning - as it is ever present in nursing and the healthcare field. Thank you for you words! 💛May 16Thank you for responding @Chazzie_Made_It ! I know how hard that is in the moment. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and I know my delayed start led to me finding the perfect job. It will all turn out exactly as it's supposed to! You've got this!
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