Pick Your Battles Wisely

I know that my words might not be what all people want to hear; however, I strongly feel that I must bring some issues into people's awareness. Nursing school is not always fair, but you will need to pick your battles very carefully if you actually want to walk across that stage and graduate.


Life is not fair, and neither is nursing school. After having dealt with various sticky situations while attending an LVN program, and later, an RN bridge program, here are my blunt two cents on this matter: suck it up, choose your battles very carefully, and focus on graduating. I know that my words might not sound therapeutic or convey the image of cyber hugs, but this issue is something that I feel I must bring forth into peoples' awareness.

I know of a middle-aged woman who once attended a practical nursing program and had a clinical instructor who was allegedly cutting clinical hours short without any good reason. For instance, he sent students home after five or six hours when the clinical shift for that day was supposed to be eight hours. The woman reported her instructor's actions to the dean of the practical nursing program because she rightfully felt that her learning opportunities were being shortchanged. Of course, the unethical clinical instructor denied shortening the length of any clinical shifts. Also, none of the other students backed up this woman's claims.

To keep a long story short, the instructor gave her a failing grade for that clinical rotation a few weeks prior to what would have been her graduation date. We all know that this woman's failure of the clinical portion was most likely a retaliatory act by the instructor instead of a true failing grade. It is also a cautionary tale to pick one's battles carefully and exercise the utmost tact when handling unfair situations. While it was certainly not fair for the instructor to cut the clinical shifts short without good cause, this woman may or may not have gotten more effective results by following the chain of command and privately approaching her instructor about the issue.

However, she royally incited the instructor's wrath by going above his head and reporting him to his superior, and she paid for her actions dearly by receiving a bogus clinical failure. She was right and her instructor was wrong. However, the dishonest person has moved on with his life while the honest, ethical person must pick up the pieces of her life and start over. This woman was figuratively kicked in the teeth. Life was not fair to her, for she would almost certainly be licensed as a nurse by now if only she had selected a different course of action. It really stinks to do the right thing and be punished for it.

Another common situation arises when students have inside knowledge and solid proof that one or more of their classmates are cheating. "That's so wrong!" they exclaim. "I have to report it!"

All instances of academic dishonesty must be reported. However, after the students in question have been reported for cheating, no action seems to have openly been taken against them. My controversial advice is to stop pressing the issue any further. You followed through on your ethical obligation to report the academic dishonesty. Now it is time to worry about your own studies and focus on the prize, which is graduation. Remember that life is not fair, and you might end up with a target on your back if you keep bringing up the issue, even if you have done absolutely nothing wrong.

Favoritism, which happens when one person is lavished with unjust favorable treatment at the expense of others, is another usual complaint in nursing school. Favoritism is going to be found virtually everywhere you go: at school, work, and even in some hiring practices. I know that my words might not be what people want to hear, but my advice is to suck it up and deal with it. No matter how good your performance is, people select their favorites based on features such as personality and other attributes not related to the work you do. Choose your battles carefully and focus your energies on things that are within your control. Do not get caught up in petty politics.

Always think before you speak, especially when interacting with superiors who can make decisions that affect your future. Always use the utmost tact with every interpersonal encounter that you make. And most importantly, do not waste excessive time and energy fighting every battle that crosses your path. Pick your battles very carefully because nursing school is not always fair, and neither is life. If you learn to walk the political tightrope, you will prevail.

TheCommuter, BSN, RN, CRRN is a longtime physical rehabilitation nurse who has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a Registered Nurse.

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80 Posts

I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I reported my CI because she was clearly ignoring the fact that several of my classmates went out drinking during lunch at clinical. They were talking about it openly, and while they were not "drunk" they were too impaired to be in clinical. I went above her head and reported her. She ended up waiting until the last day of the class to fail me so that I would have no time to dispute the grade. That was a few years ago and I am now set to start nursing school in another school this spring. If it happens that I encounter a situation this time around I know to ONLY report anonymously, but for the most part I just plan to ignore everyone, focus on myself, and stay under the radar.


219 Posts

Two thumbs up. If it does not hold me back or hinder me from graduating, it is none of my business IMO. I have enough to worry about in my own bookbag. I don't have time to be inspecting my classmates and instructors, or trying to get anyone into any trouble at the risk of jeopardizing what I have worked so hard to achieve. It isn't right, but it is how it is. Putting my neck on the line, and essentially the necks of my children and family, is not something I have any desire to do. Grin, bear it and get to the NCLEX with your head down.


2,723 Posts

Specializes in Forensic Psych. Has 2 years experience.

You know, I really needed to read this today. I've been struggling with a few things that I consider to be unfair, and as time goes on and stress builds I find myself wanting to fight everything. But the reality is, the repercussions of angering someone might be a heck of a lot worse than that B on a careplan or an undesirable schedule change.

I shall choose my battle wisely :)


425 Posts

Ahhhh this is one lesson I learned the hard way, especially when I worked in a large corporate environment. It's like fighting an uphill battle. Best solution, just learn to pick my battles wisely and move on.

CheesePotato, BSN, RN

22 Articles; 254 Posts

Specializes in Sleep medicine,Floor nursing, OR, Trauma.

Ma'am, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to ask you to stop writing such perfect articles this instant. You are corrupting my brain with your brilliance.

My goodness, don't ever stop.

::gestures at article:: Just this....Yes to all of this.


Editorial Team / Admin

Rose_Queen, BSN, MSN, RN

6 Articles; 11,345 Posts

Specializes in OR, Nursing Professional Development. Has 18 years experience.

TheCommuter, I agree with the majority of your post, but I do take issue with not reporting ending clinicals early. My reasoning for this is that if the state BON finds out that clinical hour requirements were not met by the students, they can be denied nursing licenses. While going about it alone and not addressing it with the instructor first may have been mistakes, this is something that should be taken to the next level if not remedied by speaking to the instructor, and the person willing to report it should have support from at least part of the clinical group or do so anonymously.

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

226 Articles; 27,608 Posts

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych. Has 17 years experience.
TheCommuter, I agree with the majority of your post, but I do take issue with not reporting ending clinicals early.
I never once said to not report ending clinical shifts early.

I simply said the student could have handled it differently by properly following the chain of command, which would have involved privately discussing her displeasure regarding the issue with her clinical instructor. Whenever possible, always follow the chain of command.

However, the student failed to properly follow the chain of command. She went over her clinical instructor's head, and as a result, angered him to the point that he made sure she failed out of the program. You will never make anyone happy by going over his/her head. Ever.

The student did the right thing. The clinical instructor was in the wrong. However, look at the outcome and see if it was worth it. The student would have been better off submitting an anonymous report to the director or dean of the nursing program, or by discussing the matter one-on-one with the clinical instructor. Instead, she handled the issue in a manner that turned her into a target. Was it worth it?


36 Posts

Specializes in Oncology. Has 7 years experience.



several of my classmates went out drinking during lunch at clinical. They were talking about it openly, and while they were not "drunk" they were too impaired to be in clinical.

is terrifying.

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Rose_Queen, BSN, MSN, RN

6 Articles; 11,345 Posts

Specializes in OR, Nursing Professional Development. Has 18 years experience.
Was it worth it?

In that situation, no. But because of the ramifications of what could have happened (denial of licensure-but thankfully didn't) this would be one battle that I personally would not have been able to let go. It's a school cheating students out of what they have paid for- an adequate education. I would have gone above even the dean's head if necessary (although anonymously).


7,735 Posts

Specializes in retired LTC.

Commuter - again you speak the truth so well.

I do have some concerns. Firstly, reporting something anonymously may be a useless exercise in futility. Like a big case of 'he said, she said' and most likely, difficult to investiagtively follow if specific details are needed by administration.

And secondly, is there not any type of 'whistleblower' protection against retaliatory actions available??? After all, we are talking about institutions that may be Civil Service, and/or those who are probably receiving some federal-type funding, be they grants, scholarships, work programs, student loans, etc.

I agree that chain-of-command should have been the first and best approach. After that, caution and discretion wuold then be the next way to go to keep targeting at a minimum.

I have a hard time seeing much of a chance for a winning outcome in the type of situations.


1 Post

Sounds like my school..failed a friend in final clinicals. Looks like nursing school is just a nightmare everywhere and they're complaining of nurse shortage. very unprofessional