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What is supposed to be the hardest year?


I was just wondering because my aunt is a nurse, and she got her degree in the 80s.

She says that the first year is the hardest because the whole anatomy and physiology thing and nursing language is new when you start...

My mum says that subsequent years get easier and the information just gets built on from what you know.. because you get used to the jargon etc... Is that true?

Some people say that the work gets harder as you move up.

I thought that 2nd year would be the hardest, because we have to do medical-surgical and squeeze in clinicals.

SopranoKris, BSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 6 years experience.

It depends on your program and how it's structured.

I would have to say, so far, that our very first semester was the hardest. Learning to "think like a nurse", getting used to NCLEX-style exam questions, juggling clinicals, skills lab, physical assessment lab, learning documentation, etc. all crammed in to 16 weeks was very overwhelming at first. While the work is now more "difficult" intellectually, I don't feel as though I'm overwhelmed with it. It's certainly NOT easy, but it's manageable. Does that make sense? Speaking with students in semesters ahead of us, they all say the very last semester is the 2nd hardest. Then we have NCLEX in May :D :eek: :up:

In our program, the first 6 weeks are just extremely taxing and overwhelming with the amount of info you're trying to absorb in such a short time period. I remember the 2nd week of nursing school thinking "what did I just get myself in to?", but I'm glad I stuck with it. I really love it!

akulahawkRN, ADN, RN, EMT-P

Specializes in Emergency Department. Has 6 years experience.

At the program I attended, historically the 3rd Semester was the hardest of the 4 semesters. It still, for the most part, is. They used to cram m/s, psych, and peds in that one semester. They ended up moving peds to 2nd, so there's a better flow from maternity and peds, and therefore better retention. They then added a LOT of m/s to 3rd, which is a very good thing and left psych there. It's not an easy semester. Truth be told, if you can make it through 3rd, you'll do just fine in 4th.

First Semester is hard just because it's all new. Second semester is not quite as difficult, even though you're having to learn maternity, peds, and adult m/s. You get hammered quite hard in 3rd as it's a significant step up in scope of practice and content, and 4th is basically a refining process to help transition you out of your student role.

MissMoo25, BSN, MSN, RN, APRN, NP

Specializes in Pediatrics, Long Term Care.

Of the 5 semesters of my nursing practice the last was the easiest and the 3rd&4th semesters were the most difficult due to having Med Surg 1&2 and Peds at that time. It's all hard but for each student it will be different.

Kuriin, BSN, RN

Specializes in Emergency. Has 5 years experience.

Generally speaking, MedSurg is the hardest rotation because everything you have learned must now come together.

I think it is a little different for each person. For me, so far, second quarter (first med-surg) was toughest. For some in my class, the first quarter was the hardest, because it was hard for some to get used the differences from other types of classes. I am just entering my second year, and have talked to some students who are ahead of me, and some say first year was harder, but some really struggled with Mother/Baby and Peds, which are second year. I think it really depends on each student's strengths and weaknesses, and also depends on the structure of the program.


Specializes in public health, women's health, reproductive health.

Our third semester was the one where a lot of people struggled and some did not make it. That semester made fundamentals look like a cakewalk.

In my area the first semester was the worst. That's not to say all of the others were a cake walk though!

Can I suggest a different way to look at the "difficulty"... Whichever semester you find yourself in...recognize you are preparing and training to take care of lives. I embrace this thought to the fullest. So when I have 6 chapters of patho assigned to me which we will be tested on the following week, it doesn't stress me out... I will be better for it... Have you ever heard the expression the more you sweat in piece the less you will bleed in war... Makes sense huh?

Sorry everyone... I was talking about peace... Not a piece if pie or cake, which actually sounds really good right now as I write this

The whole thing. Good luck

Some of us take Microbiology, anatomy and physiology as part of the requirements before starting nursing school. I even took medical terminology. Then take 5 terms in Nursing school.

I still would think that the first term would be the hardest. Learning the rules for the program. Meeting classmates and setting up study groups. Learning how to study and think like a nurse.

In regular school, the first term was the hardest. I was a returning student of 20years. Learning how to study, the lay of the land, the expectations, etc.. And that doesn't include the actually learning the material. And that was only 12 hrs. A year later I took 17 hrs including Micro and A&P2 and I Aced all my classes. I think nursing school will be like that. Ruff until you get a grip at it. And if your always running behind, they will all be tough.

Some of us will struggle getting our personal life to fall in with the new expectations. Family that truly don't understand the amount of time needed out side of classroom hrs that will be needed. The zero tolerance that is REAL on many things. Like the recent post from a new student who was 4 minutes late to class and wasn't allowed in. All because her boyfriend made her late. Those are real issues that people have to adjust and accept during the first term.

CT Pixie, BSN, RN

Has 10 years experience.

During my LPN schooling, the 1st semester was the one that people dropped like flies.

During my RN (ADN) schooling, again the 1st semester (from what i was told, b/c I started in the 3 of 4 semesters) was where a lot of people failed out. Then it seemed that the 3rd semester was the killer again.


Specializes in L&D, infusion, urology. Has 2 years experience.

I found that the last semester was hardest, if only for the time it took. That was the semester that finally took down my running. Probably the first semester was the hardest, academically, though, because of all of the adjustment. You're learning how to take NCLEX-style exams, manage reading 4300 chapters a week while managing a group paper and other assignments, AND trying to not kill yourself in the process.

I would agree that it depends on how your program is set up.

my ADN program, med surg was the second semester and I found it the most difficult because the transition from Fundamentals (relatively easy) into M/S was like night and day. I kinda wished my program prepared us better for it because just when you thought you got that "think like a nurse" thing down pat in Fundamentals, M/S turns it upside down. The NCLEX-style questions are way harder, and now that SATA is becoming more prevalent in the real NCLEX, it was reflected in our exams as well, so scores across the board went down. People found themselves one grade lower consistently on the exams vs Fundamentals. A lot of my class didn't make it, unfortunately. I feel like that harsh transition from a relatively easy first semester into a way harder second semester was a disservice to the students.

I'd say that your aunt's recollection from 30 years ago is probably not terribly accurate. The passage of years has a way of tempering some experiences while amplifying others.

Personally, I found 2nd (of 5) semester to be the hardest because we were expected to have the basics under control and that's when the care plans started full force.

We lost students each of the 5 semesters so I don't know if any one of them was really any harder than any of the others. To a degree, it was a 'war of attrition' in which some students just got worn down by the system.