When nursing school candidates are asked the “describe the case that defined you as a nurse” essay question, it can bring up a lot of different experiences. But the goal of the question, like nursing school behavioral interview questions, is to reveal how you dealt with a particularly challenging case and how it reaffirmed your commitment to being a nurse. You can talk about any case in your past that holds significance and structure your response in several ways, similar to how you craft your nursing school personal statement, but with a few changes. This article will describe the ways you can begin describing your case, what structure it should take and provide sample responses. 

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How to Answer “Describe the Case That Defined You as a Nurse” What Has Defined Your Career? Structure and Format Describe the Case That Defined You as a Nurse Essay Question Sample #1 Describe the Case That Defined You as a Nurse Essay Question Sample #2 Describe the Case That Defined You as a Nurse Essay Question Sample #3 Conclusion FAQs

The program you are applying to may not even ask you to describe the case that defined you as a nurse. The essay prompts they propose could be some variation of “tell me about yourself” or critical thinking nursing interview questions aimed at testing your response to a specific set of parameters.

However, the question is often asked, so it shouldn’t catch you off guard; it’s also an essay you can easily prepare for. If you’ve ever asked yourself what it's like to work with medical school admissions consulting services during application season, a great time to find out is when you’re preparing these components of your application. Crafting an excellent answer to this question will certainly make your nursing application stand out.

Check out this video to learn 10 nursing school interview questions & expert sample answers:

How to Answer “Describe the Case That Defined You as a Nurse”

The greatest challenge in answering the “describe the case that defined you as a nurse” essay question is picking one case out of hundreds. Nurses interact with an untold number of patients every day, each of them unique and memorable in their own way. But, despite the wave of patients that nurses, doctors, and health care professionals see every day, there are always cases that stand out.

The reasons they stand out can range from the mundane to the profound. Every health care journey is made of victories and defeats, and the case that stands out for you is not the one that stands out for someone else, which is part of the basis for asking the question: to see how you reacted personally to an incident in your career and why you remember it.

Anyone with experience in health care and interacting with patients will not have a hard time finding a defining case. It is often the one they still think about, even if it happened years ago. As with other aspects of nursing school interview preparation, it is the manner and format of your answer that matter most, not the content.

Nothing about your career as a nurse should be off-limits, so don’t be afraid to write about something embarrassing, stressful, scary, or funny. Again, the content of your story matters less than how you tell it and what connections you make to how it contributed to your professional and personal development.

What Has Defined Your Career?

If you are being asked the “describe the case that defined you as a nurse” essay question, it means you are either entering some specialized training program or pursuing an advanced nursing degree, so you should consider nursing essay writing services to help you. Nursing school acceptance rates vary between schools and programs, but the writing portion is always a feature of an application. However, accelerated nursing programs also ask for letters and supporting documentation as part of your application, but the questions will be more about your motivations to become a nurse and not about your previous experiences.

If you are advancing your career, you can use this time as an opportunity to reflect on recent years in your life and reassess your career goals. Have you reached the goals you set before you became a nurse? If so, what are your new ambitions? If not, what is keeping you from achieving them?

You should also look at the past as a whole and weigh the things you liked, didn’t like, or wished were different about being a nurse so that you can more easily navigate the challenges ahead. The midway point of your career is where you should think about whether you have what it takes to continue being a nurse. If you are unsure about whether you want to continue, there is no point in applying for a master’s program or an intensive training period that will last several years. There’s nothing wrong with seriously considering all options when preparing for the next stage of your life. 

Structure and Format

There are no set rules for the structure and format of your answer to the “describe the case that defined you as a nurse” essay question. It gives you a lot of freedom in what you talk about and how. You can use a standard essay format to craft an answer if giving structure to your story helps.


In the first part of your answer, you can introduce the circumstances and context of your case and fill in other background details. You can talk about yourself as well and describe what year it was in your career, what you had already done up to that point, and what you were doing professionally when it happened.

First Paragraph 

In your first body paragraph, you can go into further detail about the case, like the patient’s illness, their history, and what treatments, medications, or therapies you administered. You can incorporate technical details and medical terminology used in your field to demonstrate your expertise and experience, but don’t overdo it. While you are always expected to communicate at the level of your peers in any documentation, the point of this essay question is to reveal how a case affected you personally and professionally. Your audience is already aware of your skills and competencies, so you do not need to demonstrate the breadth of your knowledge in the essay. Describe your feelings going into the case; was there anything that stood out from the beginning? Did you know going in that this case would be different?

Second Paragraph 

In your central paragraph, you can reveal the case and what happened in detail regarding the patient, their outcome, and how it affected you. Did you learn something? What surprised, troubled, or made it unforgettable for you more so than other events? Was it your emotional state, or something unrelated to your career at the time that made this case stand out?

If you have page limits and word counts, don’t overload your writing with unnecessary details. But even if you have free rein to write as much as you want, try to follow a linear path through your story so that it makes sense to your audience. Focus on your actions and how you responded to setbacks in your patient’s treatment or what you did to improve their prognosis.

You can also talk about your colleagues and how you all collaborated to help the patient through. Whenever there is an opportunity to emphasize leadership and teamwork experiences in your nursing or med school essay, take advantage of it.


The last part of your essay should answer the “why?” question behind the “describe the case that defined you as a nurse” essay question. Why does this case matter to you still? You should also plainly state how it defined you as a nurse and as a person. Write in a summary style about the lessons learned from this case, regardless of whether the outcome was positive or negative.

Describe the Case That Defined You as a Nurse Essay Question Sample #1

I don’t think of this as one case but as a larger event. It was a catastrophic event, but it was during this time that I realized I was working with some of the most loyal, compassionate, and caring human beings I had ever met. It was then that it dawned on me that I wanted to be a nurse for the rest of my life.

I was three years into my position as a charge nurse at the downtown City Hospital. A massive crane had collapsed in the middle of the day, and they called everyone in. I had a day off, but I rushed into the hospital and started bringing in backup medical gear, checking our blood supplies, and doing triage. 

We expected mass casualties, and that’s what we got. We had everyone, from young children to the elderly, with all kinds of injuries. After a few hours, the emergency room looked like a war zone. But no one on staff lost it. All the nurses, doctors, and PAs had each other’s backs that day. It was non-stop and we all held it together as a team to help everyone who came in. We coordinated care on the fly for dozens of patients and made sure they all got the care they needed. We worked in unison to back each other up and never missed a step.

It was only after the chaos that I realized how fortunate I was to be working with these incredible people. We couldn’t save everyone that day, but we never lost sight of our goal to help everyone as much as we could.

Fortunately, I haven’t gone through something that complex since then, but to me, being a nurse means always being prepared. I never worry because I know that everyone, I work with loves their jobs as much as I do. I can always count on them, no matter what the world throws at us.

Describe the Case That Defined You as a Nurse Essay Question Sample #2

I was still a young nurse at the time, only two years out of nursing school. I was ambitious. I wanted to get into the Intensive Care Unit or even the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit one day and treat patients with the most serious illnesses. Knowing that I would need more training and experience, I happily threw myself into working in the gastroenterology ward at the Local Hospital.

However, one day, my wish turned sour. There had been a mass shooting, and multiple casualties flooded the emergency room and kept coming. It was the first time I had been exposed to that kind of carnage. I was more than a little overwhelmed and scared. I thought about my training and kept my mind on what I had to do to keep my patients alive.

My colleagues and I all pooled our resources and gave our patients everything. One of our patients was a little girl who had suffered multiple injuries. She was only twelve years old. She was still with us when she came in, and she was able to tell me her name, and I told her mine. But she was drifting in and out of consciousness. She needed surgery right away.

I told her I would come with her to the operating room and that I would see her afterward. I passed her off to the surgical team and went back downstairs. A couple of hours later, word came down that the surgery had been successful, but the girl was still in critical condition. I went to see her in the ICU when my shift ended and spoke with her parents.

When I was in the ICU, I couldn’t help but notice the level of care the ICU nurses gave their patients, especially the little girl who I met in the emergency room. I would go visit her regularly, even though she was still unconscious. It was during one of my visits that she took a turn for the worse.

Every nurse on that ward gave their all to save this little girl, but it wasn’t enough. That day, I realized how ignorant I was. I only saw the ICU as an achievement for me and not for what it really was: a place where tragedies happen every day. But losing that little girl does not define me as a nurse.

I want everything that comes after that moment to be what makes me a better nurse. Her memory pushes me, along with all the other memories I have from my short time as a nurse. I think I am still looking for the case that will define me, but for now I’m happy to focus on the present and be the best nurse I can be.

Describe the Case That Defined You as a Nurse Essay Question Sample #3

One case that will stay with me forever happened not long after I won a position at a prestigious cancer hospital in Cincinnati. I was only in my second year as a registered nurse, so I was still young, but I was a little arrogant too. I didn’t want my age to be a factor in how my colleagues and patients saw me, but I also thought being young meant I had a competitive edge.

I wanted to advance, and I thought I could do that by going harder and faster than anyone else. I had treated cancer patients only a few times before, but nothing had prepared me for what I saw. It was heartbreaking to see so many patients and their families suffer, but it was a pain I didn’t want to acknowledge because I thought it would hold me back. I kept my emotions in check and continued with my job, pretending that I wasn’t falling apart on the inside.

That’s when I met Martha (not her real name). Martha had stage 3 pancreatic cancer and had been in and out of our ward for the last three months. What attracted me to Martha was that she never got any visitors. It’s not uncommon to have patients who don’t receive any visitors, and we try to step in when we can to make them feel loved and wanted. But Martha was having none of it. She didn’t want any “pity” visits, she said. She would take her medicine and let us check her vitals, but that was it.

I understood her insecurity, but I knew that people like that are often the loneliest and are too proud to ask for companionship. So, I started taking my break with Martha. I would pull up a chair and just read my book or look at my phone, just to be with her. She tried to shoo me away a few times, but eventually relented and started talking to me.

She was divorced and estranged from her grown children. Most of her friends had either moved or passed away, so there wasn’t anybody left. I brought up the idea of reaching out to her children and letting them know the news, but she was reluctant. I kept insisting until she left us.

A few months later, a man came into the hospital asking about Martha. Because I had taken care of her, reception sent him to me. It was Martha’s son. Apparently, she had given in and contacted him at the last moment, but it was too late. After he left, I broke down thinking about the regret Martha must have had for not reaching out sooner.

What happened to Martha also made me realize I had lost touch with what being a nurse meant. I was holding onto grudges and trying to prove myself, putting my own career above the needs of my patients. That attitude affected my performance and made me see nursing as a competition. I needed to take a step back and refocus on my patients and not my own ambitions.


The “describe the case that defined you as a nurse” essay question can come up during an entrance exam for an advanced nursing program, and if you feel unprepared to answer it, you should look into nursing school admissions consulting to boost your confidence. The question is uncomplicated, but the answer should reflect your passion and commitment to nursing.

Before submitting your application or going in for an interview, take the time to think about how far you want to go in your nursing career and what in your background makes you want to pursue this goal. This reflection is part of why you are asked the “describe the case that defined you as a nurse” essay question. If you are at this point in your career, it means that you have some sense of what you want to do and where, and decision makers will want to know what that is.


1. Why is the “describe the case that defined you as a nurse” essay question asked?

Admissions officers ask this question because they are interested in your motivation to become a nurse, obtain another degree, or receive some specialized training. They want to see what motivates you, despite all the stress and hardship associated with being a nurse. 

2. How can I answer the “describe the case that defined you as a nurse” essay question?

You can answer this question by examining your past work as a nurse for the moments that stand out the most, and why. But if you need help answering this question, don’t be afraid to try using nursing essay writing services to guide you. 

3. What is the point of the “describe the case that defined you as a nurse” essay question?

The point is to reveal something about how you view your profession and what it is about being a nurse that motivates you to keep going. 

4. What should I include in my answer?

You can talk about anything related to nursing that stands out for you as a time when you realized you wanted to be a nurse. It can be a positive, or negative, experience with a patient, an inspiring colleague, a tragedy, or anything that had an impact on you. 

5. What should I NOT include in my answer?

You do NOT want to mention your professional or academic achievements (GPA, transcripts), or anything unrelated to nursing, like stories about your personal life, unless they have some connection to your response. 

6. Is there a wrong way to answer this question?

The only wrong way to answer this question is if you talk about superficial details like your degree or training. You want to talk about something personal that happened to you as a nurse and why it continues to motivate you. 

7. How long does my answer have to be?

The length of nursing school admissions essays will vary, so check the requirements of the specific school, program, or application system. Typically, such an essay will not be longer than a single page. You can create an interesting answer by leaving out unimportant details and focusing on the most important ones. 

8. How should I structure my answer?

You can start by introducing background details (where, why, when) and then put yourself in the story. Write about what you were doing at the time, what happened in the lead-up to your defining case, and then talk about the case. In the end, tell your audience why this case has meant so much to you. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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