Top 10 School Supplies for Nursing Students

I asked my pal and graduate student, Brad, what school supplies he felt were essential for nursing students. He replied “books, a binder and a pen”. Clearly he doesn’t have the love for office supplies and organization that I do, so we’re going to leave him out of this conversation for now.

The list I am about to lay down just happens to be the stuff I use(d) to keep me organized throughout the semester. Students get piles of outlines, handouts, articles and other papers week after week. I kept all my class materials and notes very organized, and then used them later to prep for finals and boards. None of the following supplies are for clinicals, just classroom settings. The clinical list is very different and, in my opinion, way more fun to shop. You can also listen to this content in the episode found here.

As a reminder, these are just one nurses’ favorites. Take the things that you think work for you and toss the rest aside. Not all things on all lists are perfect for everyone.

With that in mind, here are my

Top 10 School Supplies for Nursing Students

in no particular order

  1. Three ring binders: This may seem obvious but I have some requirements. I like one for each class with clear front and back windows and inside pockets. To be fair, I drove to class, had access to parking, and had only one or two classes per day. If I was on campus on foot, I would leave each of my class binders at home and carry a smaller binder with only current papers for each class. *Beware, if you do this, you gotta’ make sure the current one is actually current for every class.

    The clear windows in the front and back covers of binders are key for me. The front window is where I kept my class assignment schedule, and the back window is for either a reading list or perhaps an associated lab schedule. The point is, if I pick up the binder, I can easily see what’s coming due soon and I can cross off the things I’ve completed.

    Avery Economy Showcase View Binder with 1 Inch Round Ring, White, 1 Binder (19601)

  2. Tabbed dividers with pockets: I like to spring for the nice heavy duty ones so that I don’t have to replace them as often. I can reuse them if I end up not keeping the content in the binder after the semester is over. I have a set that is water resistant and bright colors. I don’t remember where I got them, but after graduation I pulled them from my med-surg binder and now use them for my CEU paperwork and job materials.

    In my school binders, I almost always had one section for the syllabus and schedule, one for week-to-week content, one for any projects or longer term assignments, and a final section for blank paper or relevant sheets (brainstorm sheets, other templates provided in class). I don’t go overboard with these but a few can be helpful in finding information quickly. 

    Avery Big Tab Insertable Plastic Dividers, Two-Tone Colors, Two Pockets, 5-Tab Set (11982)

  3. Small stapler with staples. I had one too many situations where I printed a paper that was due at the last minute only do discover that every stapler in the school library was broken or empty and no librarians were to be found. I started keeping a small stapler in my pencil case and i wish i had a dollar for every time a classmate asked me to use it. I keep one in my work bag because no group of adults can maintain functioning staplers long term, apparently.
    Swingline Mini Stapler, Tot, 12 Sheet Capacity, includes Built-In Staple Remover & 1000 Standard Staples, Blue - S7079172

  4. Portable 3 ring punch. Some people may say this is excessive. Perhaps it is, but I started carrying one because of all the times my teachers (many of whom were also working nurses) came to class with handouts hot off the presses and no holes punched.

    If i punched them on the spot and stuck them in my binder life was good. When i didn’t it was just a matter of time before they ended up on the front passenger side floor of my car covered in taco bell residue. 

    Eagle Portable Ring Binder 3-Hole Punch with Chip Tray, Integrated Ruler-New Design-3 Colors for Chioce (Blue)

  5. Colored pens: Every nurse has their favorite style of pen. I am a sucker for inky, fine point clicker pens. I recall information better if i write in different colors or draw pictures. So one color ink doesn’t fly for me. Don’t eye roll; I wasn’t the girl who showed up to class with the $30 pencil case with 38 pens and 15 highlighters, so don’t come after me.

    Paper Mate Profile Retractable Ballpoint Pens, Bold (1.4mm), Assorted Colors, 12 Count

  6. Paper clips: I really like using both traditional ones and bigger, heavier binder clips. The reasons are pretty obvious, but my favorite reason is to use them to divide content, like PowerPoint printouts and worksheets, by chapter within my 3-ring binder. I use the tabbed dividers for big categories I mentioned in number 2, but if I had one of those for every chapter it’d get out of control quickly.

    So, if you wanna be a super nerd like me, you can group the chapters by paper-clipping on the paper’s long edge and then clipping units together on the top/short edge. This makes it easy for me to flip through content and find things as the clips are almost like bookmarks. For example, if I grab the second clip along the top edge, I am in unit 2, then the third paper clip on the long edge for the third chapter in that unit. No flipping through tons of pages in class. 

    Paper Clips, OUHL 450 Pieces Colored Paperclips, Medium 28mm and Jumbo Sizes 50mm, 6 Assorted Colors Office Clips for School Personal Document Organizing Professional Work

  7. Highlighters: Now, while I like to be extra with my office supplies, I’m pretty minimalist with highlighters. I designate one for key points and one for things that need follow up actions. I try to keep these colors consistent all semester across classes. For example, if I see orange highlights on a page I know that is something I need to look at again, complete, or follow-up with at some point. I check mark or cross these off when completed. This habit carried over to my report sheets at work.

    AmazonBasics Chisel Tip Highlighters - Pack of 12 Assorted Colors

  8. Correction tape: Just one is all you need with you. This is great for me because scribbles and cross outs make me crazy and no one has time for liquid white out. Correction tape is good for cleaning up notes and homework especially, since no instructor wants to see that you had to attempt to spell ‘auscultate’ multiple times before getting it right.

    Office Depot Side-Application Correction Tape, 1 Line x 394in, Pack Of 12, 63113

  9. Sticky notes: I don’t care if you need the traditional yellow squares or the arrow- shaped neon ones, they come in handy. Sticky notes are especially great to use as bookmarks for things you want to refer back to, and are better than traditional bookmarks because they don’t fall out if you drop your book. They’re also handy to leave notes in textbooks I couldn’t write inside.  I often would write notes for myself during class, then when I got home I'd take them out of the book or binder and put them on my bulletin board as visual reminders. 

    Post-it Super Sticky Notes, 2x Sticking Power, 2 in x 2 in, Rio de Janeiro Collection, 8 Pads (622-8SSAU)

  10. I saved this one for last because it’s the crowning glory of all office supplies in my mind: a planner. I have a secret archive of all my old day planners going back to my teenage years. I think they’re amazing records of my life, ones which i’ve used as both functional devices and artistic outlets for things like doodles and brainstorms. The old ones are more of a sentimental collection that serves no real purpose for me now, but whichever one is the most current is a vital part of my being a functioning adult. 

    RN: The Ultimate 2 Year Undated Nursing Student Weekly Academic Planner: Makes A Great Gift For Student RN's LPN's to Organize Assignments due, Prioritize Papers and Clinical Times.

    Nurses Get Shit Done 2019 - 2020 2 Year Planner: Schedule activities all year long with this daily,weekly,monthly calendar view planner plus note ... Practitioners,Paramedics,Health workers

    I’ve changed the style of planner often over the years, but when I’m in school, or now with a podcast and blog that takes up time like homework did, I prefer to have a full 8.5” x 11” planner with a month at a glance and then ample space for organizing each day. While I’m attracted to ones that are pretty and come with stickers, my current planner tells the honest truth...I never use the stickers. 

    Find a planner you like, and at the start of every class, open it up to that day and lay it on the desk. This makes it easy to write down deadlines, benchmarks, or goals without skipping a beat. When you get home, the planner comes out again and is open on the table to the current day - a visual reminder that you’ve got shit to do, sis.

    I also keep a digital planner via Google Calendar because I am a sucker for setting reminder alarms and sharing items with classmates digitally. At first it feels like work to duplicate a digital calendar, but the amount of times it saved me from overlooking an appointment or deadline made it worth the time to get used to it. Now i’m fast at it and it’s no bother at all.

Alright, alright. I think that’s enough for your backpacks and bankbooks.

I don’t think you need all of these things to be successful. But I do think that being organized and keeping good track of things are two powerful traits of good nursing students. These items just made the job a bit more efficient and colorful when used as I do.

If you can’t afford all the fancy, floral patterned supplies at Target, it’s ok. Check out thrift stores for supplies, use supplies from previous semesters or make your own (i.e. tabbed dividers, calendars, etc). 

The most important investment you can make is time and dedication. Good luck on your journey - whether your just getting started or well on your way.

Happy Nursing, folks


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