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A Guide to Acing Fundamentals

This is a long overdue post! If you just finished your 8-week rotation of NSC 232, congratulations! If you are about to begin, this post is for you! I am so excited that my roommates are starting fundamentals this week!

Fundamentals is a hard, but practical and fun course. If you haven't already, be sure to read the first part to this blog post (A Practical Guide to Nursing Fundamentals), where you find out what topics you'll likely be learning.

I've come up with a few FAQ's for starting this course, and answered them to the best of my ability. Of course, every student has different ways of learning, so do what is best for you. The methods I used for this class don't work for everyone. As a whole, as long as you study and put time/effort into this class, you will succeed.

What school supplies should I buy?

You don't need any special school supplies for this class. I recommend loose-leaf paper (or a notebook) to copy notes onto and a binder to keep everything together. Of course, you'll need pens, highlighters, etc--but you most likely already have these supplies from your other courses.

For the Lab portion, some people suggest buying a stethoscope, so you can practice skills on your own. Having my own stethoscope allowed me to practice blood pressure, heart sounds, lung sounds, belly sounds, and assessment techniques on friends -- AKA giving me more practice! Buying a stethoscope this semester is a good idea, but not necessary. If you've got the resources, go ahead a get a stethoscope. If not, no big deal!

How should I take notes in class?

Again, each student learns differently. In my experience, printing out my PowerPoints ahead of time benefitted me. I printed them out 6 slides per page, and then front and back (because ink's expensive).

In class, I took notes directly on the slides I printed out. This saves time, because you don't have to worry about writing every single thing down. This helps you learn better versus typing on a computer. It also keeps you focused (no computer equals fewer distractions)!

During lecture, I tried to write down everything the instructor said that wasn't already mentioned on the Powerpoint. Typically, professors tend to read off the simplified statement, then elaborate on the topic, giving you the important information and/or examples. Try to write everything down, even though it goes incredibly fast. Don't worry about nice handwriting!

How can I prioritize information?

This is a tough one, because it's a skill that must be learned. Nursing courses tend to give you an abundance of material, and it's your job to decide what to study.

For the majority of material, you can prioritize by: Topic -- Patient Safety -- Nursing interventions. I suggest writing this out on the side of your notes or on a post-it.

Topic: What's the concept? What are the details? Why and how does this occur?
Patient Safety: What are complications, side effects, or possible safety concerns?
Nursing: How can I (as the nurse) best take care of my patient? What do I need to do to keep them safe and give them the best care?

I still use this little "Topic--Patient Safety--Nursing Interventions" in my classes today, because it really helps me prioritize information. It basically gives me an idea of what I need to learn.

This can be used for just about every topic. I'll use blood pressure for an example.

Blood pressure: measures the pressure in the arteries. Systolic BP is the top number and is the pressure in the arteries when the heart pumps. Diastolic BP is the bottom number and is the pressure when the heart rests/fills. BP gives us a lot of information about the patient's condition as well as their history. Here's how to take BP, etc.

Patient safety: BP is a pretty non-invasive procedure, but it can cause harm if they have tissue damage or other medical devices on the area. Do not take blood pressure if they have paralysis, fistula for dialysis, IV on the site, etc. because it can cause pain and occlusion. ETC.

Nursing interventions: explain the procedure to the client. Ask a thorough history and ask permission before performing. Review patient history, etc.

I know this is a simple and quick example, but using this method of information gathering helps me understand what I need to learn. Try it and see if it works for you!

How much time should I spend in the lab?

At my school, we had a mandatory 1 hour per week practice time in the lab. This was on our own time and schedule, and we could break it up into two 30-minute sessions if we needed. At first, I was so annoyed with the fact that we had to practice in the lab for a whole hour.

But actually, one hour of practice is NOT enough. Skills take a ton of practice, memorization, and time.

I suggest spending at least one hour in the lab a week, up to 3 or 4. Skills like IV/NG/Med administration take a bit more practice, and I probably had over 5 hours of practice those weeks. Ultimately, stay in the lab until you can perform the skill like it's second nature. Or else, you might not pass check-offs.

How should I study?

Studying for fundamentals is very similar to studying for other nursing courses. Be sure to read My 8 Steps for Studying Nursing (which I wrote RIGHT after completing fundamentals!) and also 5 Study Methods for Finals.


If you put time and effort into this course, you will succeed as well as have fun! Use these techniques in and outside of class, and let me know how they work for you. Fundamentals is a hard class for many people, but persevere and you will make a great nurse!

Good luck in this amazing course!

Much Love,


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