How to survive nursing school: Make time, collaborate… and get a mani/pedi or two

Between reference letters, admission interviews, entrance exams and prerequisites – and the initial reading list once you’re accepted – the grueling nature of nursing school bears down on your well-being before you even step foot in a classroom.  You almost have to think your instructors are sadists; or maybe they just think you’re superwoman (or superman for my male nurses-to-be out there). But making it through all that – what I call the nursing school “fit test” –  should tell you that you CAN do this.  You wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t.

Stories - Sign Nursing School SurvivalAs someone currently in nursing school, here are five  tips that have helped my fellow nursing students and I make it through our first semester.

1. Make Time

There is so much material to study over such a small amount of time that if you do not create a study pattern from the get-go, you could find yourself overwhelmed.  Create a schedule that will realistically work for your life and stick to it.  You can’t let nursing school consume you.  “Making time” means:

  1. Establish a study-free time to connect with friends and family. Even though your head can’t been seen out of a textbook unless its to eat, sleep, or excrete like some kind of textbook turtle, you still need a mental break to let the people in your life know you still appreciate them.  For me, this was dinner for an hour at least twice a week.
  2. Know your “hard stop”, or the time before bed when you are definitely closing your textbook.  You can’t study ALL the time and you do need to sleep right?  Right?  This may not be realistic every night, but try to stick to it, especially the night before tests.

2. Read and Reinforce 

While C’s get degrees,  the right kind of R & R can help you do more than just pass your classes.  Some people read before class, some read after, some don’t read at all but still pass – but for how long?  Read your textbook now while the material isn’t as intimidating so that you have established good study habits for your later semesters.  Reinforcing the material is more important. Here are some helpful resources:

1. Practice tests and quizzes – The textbook website or disc will help you realize where your weaknesses are and what material you need to spend more time studying.  They should have NCLEX style questions that will prepare you for your nursing tests which are unlike any other tests you’ve taken.

2. NCLEX books – If you don’t have any, go get some!  These books not only provide additional material (which helps reinforce what you have learned in your textbook), but also have questions to further gauge your knowledge and prepare you.

3. Apps – Yeah, there’s an app for that!  There are some free applications for smart devices that you can use to quiz yourself.  These were really helpful when preparing for tests and can allow you to study anywhere without a computer or bulky textbook.

4. ATI – If you have it at your disposal via your school or access to their website, use it.

3. Team-in-Training

We are all in training to become nurses and, therefore, members of a team working toward patient health and safety.  Getting to know your classmates and working together to do well in your classes is the most valuable tip I could pass on.  Your friends and family may not understand your severe time constraints, but your classmates do and you should all support each other.

1. Study groups –  Work with each other. You all have different perspectives and can help each better understand the material.

2. Share – Remind each other of deadlines and share new information or new study tools.  As a class, you are all invested in the success of one another.

3. Support –  Having someone pick you up on a bad day can give you that push to keep going.

4. Its Not About You

You sold yourself on going to nursing school with a desire to do something great for others.  Remembering that patient care is not about you goes a long way. Studying with this mindset helps you take the material more seriously – we are literally learning how to save lives.  In the clinical setting, you may initially be embarrassed seeing the “hoo-ha” of someone who could be your grandmother or find it emotionally difficult to care for certain patients, but put it in perspective.

Our job is to make the patient feel safe, comfortable and to work toward a better quality of life.  Keeping that mindset will help you get through situations that you may not have thought you could handle.

5. Rewards

Time is valuable and hard to come by during this period in your life.  Set up little rewards like your favorite dessert that you can earn after you take a big test to treat yourself and then a big reward for the end of each semester like a mani/pedi during your break (because you can’t have any colors on those nails during clinical!).  It’s important to have something to look forward to.

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