FNP school is overwhelming, help

by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist) Educator Columnist Innovator Expert Nurse

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Dear Nurse Beth,

I've been a bedside nurse for 11 years and decided to go back to grad school for my FNP. Although I knew it would be hard work it was incredibly overwhelming and was causing me an immense amount of stress and anxiety. I decided to drop my classes halfway thru the first semester and reevaluate.

I can't help but feel like a failure for not pushing through and part of me feels like I gave up too easily. I'm wondering if I should give it another try perhaps with a part-time program that follows a more traditional semester. The program I was enrolled in was accelerated and 100% online and between my family responsibilities and work there just weren't enough hours in a day for me to meet the deadlines. Do you think I should give it another try or just resign to the fact that grad school just isn't for me? Thank you.

Dear Overwhelmed,

I don't think you gave up too easily, I think you got out of an untenable situation. Accelerated programs can be brutal depending on your other life responsibilities. But...don't give up! You can do this smartly and with grace by planning and preparing.

Research and enroll in a flexible FNP program that fits around your work and family life. This is what most adult learners do to make grad school work. Spread out your coursework as needed to fit your life. For example, take 3 years instead of 2 years. Don't compare yourself to anyone else.

Evaluate  because some things need to go. Evaluate where you spend your time. Work? Housecleaning? Chauffeuring others? Shopping, driving?

Prioritize. When you are taking on graduate school, something else has to give. For example, if you prioritize family, school and essential work during this time, you may need to drop other responsibilities, such as volunteering at church. Learn to say No. If you are highly engaged at work, such as serving on committees, you need to put these activities on the back burner.

Communication. Family support is critical. Tell your family upfront you need their support to reach your goal. Your friends and family need to understand that for the duration of your graduate study, you will be less available. Establish a homework time/space to set visual boundaries for those around you.

Lower your standards and expectations of yourself. Actively strive to not do things perfectly and learn to be OK with that. It can actually be fun and liberating, and you can start today. Don't stress over spelling mistakes, laugh if the cake you bake comes out lopsided. Call yourself a "frustrated perfectionist" if it helps.

Let go and give up some things.  For example, if you love spending lots of time shopping for the perfect gift for your loved ones on birthdays and holidays, just get gift cards for now while you're in school. So easy.

Become more efficient. There are always ways to streamline cooking and meal prep. Get very organized around planning what to eat weekly. This might mean cooking soups on your days off for the week ahead, or cooking and prepping chicken to toss in salads. There's also meal delivery services but they can be pricey. Grocery delivery and grocery online ordering and pick-up are both very convenient.

Prioritize getting a housekeeper if at all possible. It's immensely freeing to know your kitchen, bathroom and floors will be cleaned and you don't have to clean on your days off. It doesn't have to be every week, it can be every two weeks or whatever you can manage. It is life-changing.

What shift are you working? Is a quieter shift a possibility? Use downtime at work to study.

Do you have any PTO/vacation time built up? Use it here and there judiciously. You will need to complete clinical hours with a preceptor later on in your program. Take vacation days as needed to free up the time.

Call in sick when you need a mental health day to reduce stress. Don't feel guilty. It's self-care. On the same note, stick to an exercise routine and make healthy choices.

Keep your eye on the goal to get through the tough spots. You will be an FNP and realize your dream. There will be moments of high stress when a paper is due or performance anxiety during clinicals but persevere, it is worth it! Believe it or not, the time in school will go by quickly.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth