One of the things that sends me over the edge is when I hear someone happily exclaim, “C’s get degrees!” in reference to their nursing school education. While it is factual and true, it is such a fundamentally wrong attitude that I shake my head every single time I hear it…and also hope the student who says it never works on my unit nor is ever my nurse.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with brushing yourself off after a poor performance and getting right back up on that horse.[bctt tweet=”There is nothing wrong with brushing yourself off after a poor performance.”] I’ve known plenty of smart-as-a-whip students who earned a C on a test or even in an entire course and still went on to become wonderful nurses. Maybe they had test anxiety and didn’t test well, maybe a migraine made an appearance, maybe their dog died that morning…the list of things that can muck up your grades is endless. Regardless, they didn’t have the cavalier attitude of one who aims to just be a C nursing student, and that makes all the difference. Everyone has an off day, or even an off week. Some people even have entire semesters when they’re not at the top of their game…life happens and you can’t always plan it out in advance. But the point is, earning a poor grade despite your best intentions and earning a poor grade out of laziness (and then bragging about it) are two entirely different things. Which nurse would you rather have taking care of your family member? The nurse who studied their tail off for the exam and had an “off day” is going to be far more prepared than the nurse who didn’t study at all, because (say it with me) “C’s get degrees!!”

I have always said that “Straight A Nursing Student” isn’t as much about making a 4.0 throughout your program as it is about learning the material and taking excellent care of your patients (and yourself!). And yes, I have sat through countless arguments about how “C” students make better nurses because they are more caring and better at clinical and how “A” students are great at earning the grade, but lack the know-how to excel in clinical. To me, this is just a bunch of poorly-performing students chiding away at those who have put in the time and effort while they sit back with their 2.0 knowing they’ll get their degree regardless. And when you take into account that a C is the lowest grade one can attain in nursing school and still pass, you have to realize that in most cases, a C is very close to failing…I can’t imagine being comfortable with that, especially knowing that someday I would be responsible for people’s LIVES. Let that sink in. Nurses hold people’s LIVES IN THEIR HANDS. What we do or don’t do during a shift can make the difference between life and death. Now, how hard are you going to study for your next exam?

As to who does better in clinical situations, I am not one to say that C students can’t do fantastic in clinical and that “book-smart” students can’t flail when it comes to actual patient care…but to generalize so broadly is just plain wrong. I have even seen people making the argument that students who perform poorly in the classroom make great nurses because they infuse their care with the human touch. In my humble opinion, you don’t need to go to school for five years to learn how to be nice and caring to people. You need to go to school for five years to understand pathophysiology, pharmacology, electrolytes, homeostasis, microbiology, the Krebs cycle, cardiac electrophysiology, hemodynamics, biochemistry, assessment, and so on and so forth.

As we come to what is the end of the semester for many of you, don’t focus so much on what grade you earned, but how you got there. Ask yourself “What did I learn? How will I use this information to take care of patients? What do I still need to learn? How can I apply this knowledge to what I already know to understand the big picture?” By reflecting on these important questions, it doesn’t matter what grade you receive…you WILL be a thoughtful, conscientious and caring nurse. Yes, C’s get degrees, so if you work hard and still get a C on that test or in that course, I am immensely proud of you. But please don’t sit back knowing you can just “get by” without studying. Your future patients are counting on you.

And guess what? A’s and B’s get degrees, too (and in a tough job market, they also get the job).

As always, be safe out there!