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'I will forever be grateful for the experience of failing nursing school'


How does nurse training in the US compare to the UK? Jennifer Bell, a student at Baptist College of Health Sciences in Memphis, Tennessee, gives us an insight

Jennifer Bell

Nursing school is one of the hardest things I have ever endured.

I started my journey two years ago in a nursing class called Basic Skills. Basic Skills for me felt a lot like basic training in the military, it’s where you learn the foundations of nursing practice. You learn how to make beds, give bed baths, administer medication, Foley catheter insertion, and other skills like dressing wounds.

Don’t let the word ‘basic’ fool you: this class was not easy.

At the beginning of the course our professor told us to look to our right and then to our left. She said to remember that the person sitting on either side may or may not be at our graduation.

I survived somehow (thankfully) and I’m currently a senior nursing student in the United States. But I have had a few set backs and disappointments.

“In the United States most nursing programs only allow you to retake one nursing course”

In the United States most nursing programmes only allow you to retake one part of the course. If you are unsuccessful in your retake, you fail the programme. I passed basic skills but the next trimester I failed Adult One (medical-surgical nursing).

It was disappointing to be set back but I was relieved when I passed my retake. I then passed every class until my pediatric course. I failed by 0.43, which meant that I had failed nursing school.

“I failed by 0.43, which meant that I had failed nursing school”

I never thought in a million years this would happen.

Although the odds were against me I remembered what Florence Nightingale once said: “I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took an accuse”. 

I was able to appeal my grade with the dean of nursing and was told I needed just two points added back to any of my exams. So I got my books out.

Any nursing student can attest to the fact that it is infuriating when you get a test question and every answer available is correct. However, there is always one that is “most correct”.

Those pesky priority questions and ‘select all that apply’ will always be the death of me. In this particular course there were three exam questions that I knew were reasonably debatable and I was going to find the evidence.

As baccalaureate nursing students we were taught about evidence-based practice from the very beginning, we even had a class in nursing research. So I searched in my text books, online research databases, and other sources available to find the evidence for these three exam questions that could be my saving grace.

I researched nursing school appeals to see if there were ever any students to fail who were able to win an appeal. To my dismay, I didn’t find any successful nursing school appeals even ones that went to court.

“Even though this was a devastating failure I would not give up on my career as a nurse”

But I had nothing to lose and even though this was a devastating failure I would not give up on my career as a nurse. 

After preparing and searching high and low I typed out my appeal letter with the evidence that these test questions were reasonably, especially since they were not consistent among the other courses.

I can’t describe how much anxiety I had over those few weeks having to wait for a letter that would determine my future.

I finally received my letter and to add to my anxiety I had to go to the post office because the school got my address wrong. 

I remember getting the letter and opening it.They’d accepted my appeal - I could continue on the programme!

I will forever be grateful for this devastating failure because I learned very valuable lessons.

The first was that I never knew the value of my education until it was taken from me.

And the second was that maybe this happened because God wanted to test me, he wanted me to fight for my career.

As a nurse I will have to advocate for patients that have way bigger battles and fears than I have ever had to face. He wanted to know that I would not give up even if it seemed impossible, even if I was scared or doubtful.

He wanted me to attribute my success to this: “I never gave or took an accuse”.

Jennifer Bell is a senior nursing student at Baptist College of Health Sciences in Memphis, TN


Readers' comments (2)

  • Well done for fighting Jennifer! Having spent two weeks in America on an exchange programme during my training I saw how hard the nursing course was and admire every nurse and student for ploughing on in the face of the pressure and through adversity. It takes so much commitment. I hope the remainder of your journey goes well and that you soon will be sitting your NCLEX and qualifying.

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  • Don't bring God into it. Everything was down to you. God either does not exist or does not care.

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