A mantra that many students have as they go through nursing school is that “C’s get degrees!” And yes, this is absolutely true. But what rarely gets discussed is the intent behind it…and this is what makes all the difference.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with brushing yourself off after a less-than-stellar performance and getting right back up on that horse. 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 performance is endless.

But here’s the thing. When you aim for a C, you risk missing the mark. And that, my friend, is not a luxury you have in nursing school. And that’s because anything below a C is failing. In fact, in many programs, anything below a 75% is failing. Which is why I always encourage my students to aim for the bullseye every single time. That way, if you do miss the mark you’re not at risk for failing.

I have always said that “Straight A Nursing” 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. This is a broad generalization and completely untrue. All students, regardless of their GPA, are capable of being excellent clinicians.

So rather than focus on the grade you earn, focus instead on 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 if graduate school is in your future, they also open doors.

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