Books to Read Before Nursing School

books to read before nursing school

Which are the best books to read before nursing school? Read on for the top recommendations.

If you are about to start your first semester of nursing school, you may be wondering which books to read to get a head start.

Are there any books that will help you get familiar with what you will be taught in school or what you should know about nursing in general?

Do you happen to have a weakness in math and are worried about the calculations you will have to know for the program? If so, you may be looking for recommendations for “math for nurses” books.

If any of the above apply to you, keep reading this article.

List of Books to Read Before Nursing School

The best books for you to read before nursing school will mainly depend on your strengths and weakness. In this list, we have compiled the common books that will give you a head start before your first year semester begins.

#1. Calculate With Confidence

Calculate with Confidence

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First off, math for nurses is not really that difficult. It’s mainly basic algebra. Therefore, there shouldn’t be anything to worry too much about ahead of time.

However, if you still want a math book to read, get the Calculate with Confidence for practice over the summer. In some schools, students are required to pass a calculation test 100%. This is a great introductory math for nurses book.

#2. Human Anatomy – The Definitive Guide

Human Anatomy The Definitive Guide

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Make sure you know your anatomy and physiology not only for the first semester but all your years in nursing school. Word of advice from a nurse: keep all your materials from the anatomy and physiology course, including the notes, lab manual, and textbook.

Spend at least an hour a day studying A&P when you finish your prerequisites.

When you get to Pathophysiology, you will find things easier when you are familiar with anatomy. When the professor will be discussing arrhythmia and cardiac failure, he isn’t going to go over the anatomy of the heart or how the blood flows. He will assume you know.

Pathophysiology Made Incredibly Easy

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Spending a few minutes every day brushing up on anatomy and physiology is worthwhile. When you are drifting off to sleep, you can review A&P in your head, tracing the blood flow through the heart, naming the valves, etc.

#3. Potter & Perry Fundamentals of Nursing

Study Guide for Fundamentals of Nursing

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This book is used in many schools and we recommend it for learning the vital signs (normal ranges) and how/where to take them. You should memorize the pulse sites so that all you will have to practice in school is finding them. The same applies for injections sites, respiratory rates, blood pressure, pulses, etc.

#4. Mosby’s Medical Dictionary

mosbys medical dictionary

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This is your one-stop reference guide in the complex work of health care. The Mosby’s Medical Dictionary has detailed entries that will help you communicate effectively in nursing school. There are over 56,000 definitions, supporting reference appendices, and 2.450 photographs and line drawings that will aid your understanding.

#5. Nursing Diagnosing

nursing diagnosis handbook

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This book may be a recommendation, or perhaps not, because it adds a layer of care-providing. Moreover, it is comprehensive and, hence, time-consuming to read.

#6. Handbook of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests

Davis's Comprehensive Handbook of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests

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If you are super eager, you should learn your lab value for Chem panels and CBC. Also, learn the signs and symptoms of hyper/hyponatremia.

However, don’t study your brains out yet. Instead, we recommend putting the information on some index cards and referring to them as you wait for appointments. This is not the time to start crazy study sessions.

#7. Fluids and Electrolytes Made Incredibly Easy

Fluids & Electrolytes Made Incredibly Easy

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You should know your electrolyte imbalances, calcium, potassium, etc.

These are things you will need throughout your career as a nurse. Many nursing students find themselves struggling to retain this information, especially the electrolytes, because they did not start learning them early.

You should also poke around Lab Tests Online

#8. Test Success: Test Taking Techniques for Beginning Nursing Students

Test Success

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We also recommend you check the Test Success: Test Taking Techniques for Beginning Nursing Students and Fundamentals Success both that are written by Patricia Nugen.

fundamentals success

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These two books will help you know how to prepare for tests.

#9. BRS Physiology

BRS PhysiologyBuy on Amazon

You will have trouble in nursing school if you can’t grasp physiology. Therefore, get some physiology books. We recommend the BRS Physiology. When you learn this science, the rest will fall into place easily.

#10. Confessionals of a Surgeon on Amazon

The Confessions of a Surgeon by Dr. Paul Ruggieri focuses on the brutal reality of being a surgeon. However, it contains a great deal of insight on the personal and professional relationship between doctors and nurses. You will get a sense of pride from reading the book as Dr. Ruggieri gives a node of respect to the nursing profession.

#11. Anatomy & Physiology Coloring Books

You should get the anatomy coloring book and the physiology coloring book. These are great resources and real textbooks that you will use for your Anatomy & Physiology classes.

Do not start obsessing over learning it all before taking the class. Just look at them and get a feel of what you will be learning. When you start nursing school, you can use them for studying. We recommend the Anatomy & Physiology Coloring Book.

anatomy and physiology coloring book

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#12. NCLEX Books

You should also read some NCLEX books as you wait for school to begin. You wouldn’t know the material but will get familiar with how test questions are asked.

We recommend the Saunders Comprehensive Review.

Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN

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#13. Pharmacology Made Incredibly Easy

Pharmacology Made Incredibly Easy

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If you are taking up Pharmacology, you should brush up on basic math. You can read the Pharmacology made Incredibly Easy to get a head start. Also, if you can get your hands on your class texts early, try to do so and read them!

#14. How to Survive and Maybe Even Love Nursing School

How to Survive and Maybe Even Love Nursing SchoolBuy on Amazon

This book written by nursing students is fun, light-hearted, and easy-to-read with a lot of practical information that will help you cope and get the most out of nursing school.

#15. Tending Lives

tending lives

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This is one of the books you are likely to read in your first nursing classes. The book is written by Echo Heron and is about patient and nurse experiences. This is a good book that we highly recommend.

You will also enjoy Intensive Care by the same author.

intensive care

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#16. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

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Available in both Kindle and paperback edition, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down reads like a page-turner novel. The book is non-fiction and raises plenty of ethical questions that nurses have to consider.

#17. I Knew a Woman: The Experience of the Female Body

I Knew a Woman The Experience of the Female BodyBuy on Amazon

This books specifically deals with being a woman and treating “the female condition”. It is well written and insightful. The author, Courtney Davies, handles delicate topics with grace and ease. She also explains the science as well as emotional components of being a woman and helping women patients.

#18. The Making of a Nurse 

The Making of a Nurse Buy on Amazon

Here, you will read some good stories from an ICU nurse in Toronto. The author, Tilda Shalof, has also written “A Nurse Story”, which you may also want to check out.

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#19. I’m a Stranger Here Myself

I'm A Stranger Here Myself

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Order Bill Bryson’s I’m A Stranger Here Myself. This is a fun book that you should read. Caution: not nursing related.


Reading ahead will help you get ahead in nursing school. Life happens during nursing school and if you do not read ahead, you can end up being left behind.

If you can get hold of a syllabus of pharmacology or nursing fundamentals class, check the reading assignments. You can contact your instructors in advance to find out whether the reading for the previous semester would change.

Also, try to read some non-nursing stuff as well as it’s going to be a long time before you read anything not related to nursing. Try reading something unrelated, like some 3D printing books, if you are the creative type!

Congrats on your acceptance to nursing school. A great experience and adventure awaits you!


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