Is the first semester really the hardest?

  1. I'm nearing the end of a very rough first semester mentally, emotionally and physically drained (literally sick with pneumonia from trying to push myself when I got bronchitis). I've lost 20+ pounds from stress since this semester began which NEVER happens (I can diet for weeks and drop 1 lb!) My kids are resentful and acting up because I haven't been there to help like I used to. My husband is whining that I'm never around, and my boss is complaining that I'm falling behind on work. Obviously, I knew I was taking on a lot, but I cut my hours way back and explained to the family that I needed to focus on school right now.

    Clinicals have been horrible - drill sargeant clinical instructor, indifferent nurses, and I literally didn't learn anything since I only washed feet, changed briefs and scoured bedpans the entire semester. Lectures have been hard (my grades dropped when I caught pneumonia), and my lab instructor has been showing us incorrectly and I've nearly failed several test outs. (Yes, several of us have complained about the instructor but we're told that we can always read the book for the correct method. However, we're at a big disadvantage in that we don't get to SEE how it's done correctly like other classes.) So much lab practice seems fruitless such as being required to insert and reinsert an enema in a mannequin for 2 straight hours. Not that I mind the lab time, but why can't we spend some of that time practicing the skill areas we're weakest in?

    I've gotten the "threat of expulsion" letter for missing two classes (although I have a doctor's excuse and annoyed all my classmates by coughing my way through 3 classes sick as a dog anyway), and I feel like I have no more to give. Does this mean I'm not cut out for this? Is this just the "weeding out" semester? Will the next semesters be easier or should I just expect the next few years to be horrible too? I've put in a hard 3 years just to get to this point and, I must say, I'm feeling very disillusioned. I've spent many hours wiping up C Diff diarrhea and giving foot rubs to some nasty looking feet with a smile and cheery talk. I've changed beds and emptied bedpans in rooms that weren't even assigned to me. I'm not afraid of hard, dirty work. But I do want to use my brain at clinicals, and I do want some recognition for literally busting my a** rather than being yelled at in front of everyone for not responding quick enough to a call bell because I was wiping feces off another pt at the time.

    Just wondering if this is the normal experience for 1st semester or if I have a bad attitude?
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    About leekaye

    Joined: Mar '11; Posts: 79; Likes: 106


  3. by   virgo,student nurse
    I am going to admit, I am not in my core nursing courses. BUT, I did go to LPN school and for the first half of the year, we did a lot of direct care. I don't think you have a bad attitude, nursing school has high standards, and it has always been that way. Having "drill" sergeant clinical instructors is common. I believe that they challenge you to take everything a step further. I think you can learn a lot from other students, and teachers. I get that you want to be recognized that you have been busting your !!!, but don't look for the teacher to tell you good job, look to the patients that you have had. Taking two minutes to explain something goes a long way! sometimes an instructor may not tell you "good job", it isn't right but it happens. Know that if this is what you want to do, understand that nursing sometimes is a very Thankless job.Best Wishes,Virgo
  4. by   kaydensmom01
    I am in my third semester and it honestly has gotten harder and harder. The first semester we were in a nursing home and only did CNA care besides passing meds 2 x's. Some people may not be good at CNA care like you, so they may need this experience because it is an essential part of being a nurse. After that we did more and more nursing skills.

    From my experience, getting yelled at is part of the experience. They are tough b/c you are going to be dealing with peoples lives. I had a new instructor for one semester and she was the nicest woman that never yelled at anyone, I learned the least in that semester. My instructor now has been instructing for 30 years and still does things wrong sometimes b/c of the ever changing times, she has us ask a nurse the new correct way to do it. You are scared to talk to her b/c she drills you, and it is often things that you didn't know that you needed to know, but you sure won't forget it. I have learned more this semester than any other.

    For our labs we have designated lab time but then we also come in on our free time to practice what we need more practice on. If we fail 3 skills tests we fail out of the program. We read the book to ensure that we are doing it correctly.
  5. by   BostonFNP
    First semester is a culture shock and that makes it difficult: you learn a new language, a new way of thinking, new skills, and a new style of exams. It's stressful but it is also your foundation. Subsequent semesters may be more challenging academically, but the groundwork has been established.

    As far as clinic, its great you want to use your head! The reason why you are doing tasks and not using your head is that your head isn't ready yet, as you learn you will progress. Remember that each task is also a learning and assessment opportunity: while cleaning someone up you have the best opportunity for a thorough assessment, including skin and functional assessments. Make the best of each moment you are with a patient.

    Best of luck, hope break refocuses you!
  6. by   Compassion_x
    I haven't ever heard of the first semester being hardest, I was always told it was the easiest. I am in my first semester and if this is the hardest it gets it'll be easy! Which I don't think next semester will be. But, we have had very different experiences I think.

    Good luck with the rest of the semester and the next few!
  7. by   leekaye
    I understand the serious responsibility we're undertaking and expected to be yelled at, but guess I wasn't prepared for feeling so overwhelmed and incapable.

    I'm the oldest, by far, in my clinicals and expected that if I put my head down and worked hard and did the dirty jobs without being told that I'd get credit for being the mature, reliable, hardworking one. When that didn't happen, it was a good learning experience, and I realized I wasn't doing it for the kudos anyway. (Being a straight A student, I also thought I was smart. Ha!)

    What's getting me, I guess, is that I expected a learning experience akin to my first college degree, but instead this is more like boot camp. I really feel like they're trying to "break us" some days. Just when we feel that we're able to grasp the material and feeling good about our progress, they jerk the rug out from under us. Is it supposed to be this stressful or am I making this harder than it needs to be?

    Just wondering if this type of "abusive" teaching style is normal (or even necessary) for nursing students. Does everyone go through this to become a nurse?
  8. by   Stephalump
    I agree with the person who posted that its harder in some ways and easier in others. This summer when I took my first classes I was having mental breakdowns every other day. It wasn't that the material was hard, just different. I wast used to the long hours and adding 29 balls to keep up in the air with the other 50 things in juggling just from running a was mentally and physically exhausting.

    Now, I'm not finished with ND yet so I can't speak much from experience but I slowly but surely find myself getting into my groove. The stress is less because I'm more used to it. The material is only going to get harder, but it's easier to cope with hard when you're in a calm place.

    If you're really struggling with the material, I'm not sure there's a bright shiny light at the end of the tunnel. You can get used to thinking like a nurse and NCLEX questioning and multitasking, but odds are the material won't get an easier.
  9. by   Cherry02
    This is my first semester too...and my clinical instructor is definitely NOT abusive. So far, none of my instructors have been. They have high standards, but they are kind, understanding, and supportive. Qualities you would expect from good nurses. I think it is really inappropriate to yell at students. How is that constructive at all? I understand there may be circumstances where students need to be pulled aside and talked to...maybe even scolded...but yelled at, degraded, humiliated in front of peers and staff? I think that is terrible. I am sorry you are dealing with that. That is certainly not the norm in every nursing program!

    Still, this semester has been incredibly challenging and stressful for me...looking at my schedule for next semester, it appears it only gets harder. Sigh. Good luck to everyone!
  10. by   PghRN30
    It depends how your program is set up. I know if it is set up how ours was, in some ways it was the hardest, and others the easiest. Hardest in that it is completely new, new way of learning, new way of doing, new way of testing. Plus if your program is like ours, the first semester is a lot of the more theoretical, less concrete concepts, so it is harder on tests. But like I said, every program is different. Some programs do not even touch clinical the first semester. Some do not start NCLEX style questions until later, to easy you in (then the hard testing is when you start)
    For my program I think the last semester of basic adult med/surg nursing was the hardest. It was very patho intense on the classroom end, and the instructors seemed very hard on us, because at the end of that semester they did expect us to safely fuction on the level of a med/surg nurse. (Not full pt load, but providing full care for our pt with minimal assistance).
  11. by   Witty3RN
    First semester has been the hardest for me not so much the content but the time management. All the reading, studying, clincial paperwork - care plans, and just overall adjusting. As you progress the content becomes more difficult but you learn how and what to study and things be a easier.
  12. by   DawnJ
    You obviously do NOT have a bad attitude. You are in a challenging situation and have added pressure while at the same time your body is busy fighting an infection.

    Nursing school gets harder as time goes on, but you will also adapt. You'll find ways to balance home/work/school so that you can get through the school years.
  13. by   hodgieRN
    All time goes on, the information b/c more involved and expectations are higher with clinicals. However, you start finding you niche, so time management will take over. First semester was hard for me b/c it was the first time I was introduced to medical terms, critical thinking, and rationalization. I was used to math and science classes. Nursing school just took up so much time. I had no life for a couple years, but that's what I had to do. Other people had an easier time, but I discovered that I needed to study more than the average person. You will find your niche.
  14. by   turnforthenurse
    It gets harder, but that "awkwardness" associated with your first clinical goes away so that aspect becomes easier.