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From One Student To Another - Student Tips

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How can a nurse be a successful student?

This isn't your typical "study tip list" - but sure, you might get a little bit of that too. This is a compilation of stories, suggestions, passed-down advice, failures and inspiration that just may help you make it one more day through nursing school. In hopes of comforting someone feeling broken down, I share thoughts about common challenges including motivation, assigned readings, lecture, and clinical rotation.

From One Student To Another - Student Tips

I put this list together in hopes that it will provide comfort to someone experiencing uncertainty or difficulty along their pathway to learning and reaching their goals. I applaud your persistent determination.

Some of these tips were passed on to me from others, while many are those I have picked up through careful observation on my own. I am in my 5th of 6th semesters into an ABSN program. The topics I will discuss include challenges regarding the following: Motivation, Assigned Readings, Lecture, and Clinical Rotation.

Motivation

Take a deep breath and briefly focus on what initially inspired you to enter nursing school. In the simplest terms, we all aspire to help others but there are often very deep-rooted, personal explanations for what specifically moved each of us to enter the profession.

For example, one of my classmates was a long time caretaker for her grandmother who decided in her last days to leave the hospital and receive only comfort care at home; she was by her side when she passed away. Another student, impressed by the nurses who compassionately cared for her mother during breast chemotherapy treatment; she was at the time a history major, but these interactions so moved her that she could not see any other profession for herself, except to be a nurse. Others advancing their education, strive to provide for their children or families better than they are able to do now.

If you are just entering or newly entering nursing school I suggest putting together a motivation board, Pinterest board or other like illustration, representative of your inspirations. You can look at this when you feel like you are broken down, taking crazy pills or about to lose it. These can be inspirational quotes, pictures of loved ones, cartoons, aspirations for where or who you want to be, or just a bunch of funny memes that mirror your sense of humor.

This idea came to me based on my experiences with my 2nd semester physical assessment professor. Each class, she began with quotes from a little book she carried around discoursing the feats, values and accomplishments of past nurses. Sometimes it would be audio of a thankful patient experience or a video that made me tear up (such as this gem about empathy from the Cleveland Clinic entitled Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care. I highly recommend watching it if you have not already seen it).

I loved her approach because she really taught me how to forget about the grades, the tests, piles of readings and assignments, the pressure and expectations and just remember (even for a minute) why I applied to the school of nursing to begin with. Without recognizing and taking the time to focus on your inspirations, you will be utterly buried in an avalanche of "to-do" with no end in sight.

Assigned Readings

This advice came to me from a seasoned nursing professional the week before I entered nursing school. I enthusiastically sat with my first semester syllabuses and a heap of rented books in front of me at my local coffee shop, opened to page one and just started reading and reading...and reading. A man approached me and started to open his wallet and I thought to myself, 'Great, he is going to try and sell me something". What he pulled out was his California Board of Registered Nursing License. He said, "It looks to me like you are a nursing student. I am a nursing instructor at [the local community college] and I wanted to give you a tip about reading for nursing school that I wish someone would have given me". As it turns out, he was just 'paying-it forward'.

He went on to suggest the following: Do not read all of your assigned reading!

  1. Start by reading the 'Learning Outcomes' or 'Learning Objectives' section that is located at the beginning of each assigned chapter (e.g., most objectives start with words such as describe, discuss, recognize or list),
  2. Skip to the back of the chapter and read the entire 'Summary' section,
  3. Next, skim the chapter and read all of the headings, subheadings and bolded vocabulary words,
  4. Prioritize what was unfamiliar to you or weak areas that were discussed in the summary and go back into the chapter to find out that information,
  5. Once you have done this, evaluate your knowledge by taking any available chapter quiz questions,
  6. If you did not do well with those, go back to that topic.

The Goal

If you comprehend and have completed the Learning Outcomes/Objectives at the beginning of the chapter you have accomplished much of what you need to know about that topic.

What more, if you can teach what you learned to another student, you are even better off. So, if you are able to create a study group, I highly suggest it. In doing so, you could potentially split up the required material so that each person follows the 6 previously mentioned reading tips for their assigned reading; in essence, becomes an 'expert' on that topic and is responsible for ensuring the group understands the objectives when they meet as a group.

Lecture

Sometimes you have instructions that you love and a lot of what they say makes sense. Other times you have instructors who just do not present the information effectively. In any case, do your best overall to understand CONCEPTS. I have seen too often, many of us (myself included) try to get through nursing school by doing the following: feverishly type down every note or comment mentioned throughout a lecture, print out a 142-pg PowerPoint presentations and try to scribble down notes in the margins, memorize big fat stacks of flashcards - No. As hard as it may be, just don't do this.

A lot of lectures include the 'Learning Outcomes/objectives' section on the first slide of the PowerPoint but I've noticed that this particular slide is usually rushed through or skipped completely. Utilize these as a guide. These should be the purpose or focus of what will be discussed, what knowledge you are responsible for, and key words you should be listening for. If you have anything printed out in front of you, it should probably be those objectives. Then, when the lecture ends, ask questions geared to getting any of those listed objectives clarified which you missed or were unclear of.

In a discussion of issues in nursing education and practice-based competency outcomes, DiVito-Thomas (2005) made this statement about the preceding predicament, "The outcomes approach requires a mental shift from trying to memorize voluminous readings and class notes (resulting in frustration and the attitude of "just tell me what I need to know") to actually learning to think like a nurse, to integrate information in problem solving and decision making and providing competent patient care" (as cited by Cherry & Jacob, 2011). This 'mental shift' is not easy; I personally still struggle with this all the time! It is something you will need to acknowledge and face if you want to be even remotely confident and competent when you finally enter the workforce.

Clinical rotation

Just a quick note about skills lab before I discuss clinical rotation. Usually, you have a couple days or weeks of skills lab on campus before you actually get to orient and go to your actual clinical site. Generally speaking, you practice nursing skills (e.g. bed bath, tracheostomy suctioning, foley catheter insertion, sterile field set- up, etc.) in the lab with a partner or group of classmates and then your competency must be first signed off by your instructor before you are able to go to the clinic site for the semester (sometimes this requires a remediation if you do not pass the skills test or mock medication administration tests). This process can be intimidating for some students. Similarly, to the aforementioned tip of a study group, I suggest finding a reliable partner or group to get together and mock-practice your skills with. Practicing with a peer or family member can help you feel a little better about the whole testing stress. Yes, I admit I mitered the corner of my bed with a classmate in it, I don't know how many times the first semester, because I was afraid I would fail out of nursing school for not being able to make an occupied bed. The goal is to feel comfortable and confident when someone is breathing down your neck or watching you perform these skills through two-way glass.

At the clinical site, you should use up all of your time to the fullest - it's all valuable even when it doesn't feel like it sometimes. Some placements will provide you with a lot more opportunities than others. You really have to advocate for yourself and be assertive. If you have down-time, find out who is in charge (Charge Nurse, Nursing Manager, anyone really) and ask for things to do. When you are assigned to a nurse for the day, after introducing yourself, let them know what you already know, what you hope to accomplish that day and any skills you are looking to perform. If your patient is taken care of at the time, you can even talk to other nurses for opportunities. Unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP), such as nursing assistants or CNA's are wonderful resources too - they can assign you tasks to keep you busy and if you help them out, they will usually be open to showing or teaching you new things. You can even use these opportunities to network. If there is a unit or facility you are interested in working at, talk to the nursing manager about your intentions to apply there after graduation and make yourself available and noticed on the floor as a dedicated and hard worker.

Another suggestion, sometime towards the beginning of the semester, let your clinical instructors know that you appreciate constructive criticism. So hopefully they provide you with as much valuable feedback as possible. Throughout each day, keep a running list of potential nursing diagnoses in your head that could apply to your patient. Run these past the nurses that you are working with to see if they think you are on the right track or ask for suggestions. This will help you later on when you are at home writing your nursing care plans.

I really tried to make these study tip suggestions (and other recommendations) thoughtful and I hope that they serve someone during a time when they need it most.

References

Cherry, B., & Jacob, S. R. (2011). Contemporary Nursing: Issues, Trends, & Management (5th ed.). St. Louis: MO, Mosby, Inc.
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29 Comment(s)

EMauriceDavy

Has 2 years experience.

Quick question.... I am a nursing student. Any suggestions on stay awake tips? Whether it's medication, supplements, yoga, tai-chi, chi-gong... whatever. Please let me know

To be honest, I don't have many great stay awake tips. I have never been one to stay awake late hours trying to study or cram. If it's late and I notice I'm reading the same information over and over, or nodding off, I have come to realize for me this means I'm not retaining anything anymore. At that point, being rested for the following day is more important in my opinion. I feel like the study quality is more important than study quantity.

What does work for me is always eating a balanced breakfast and having healthy snacks available (which requires preparation and getting things ready the night before, if you have to be up early for clinical or class). I haven't made enough of an effort to get up early and exercise recently, but of everything, when I do this I notice I am more energized and alert throughout the day when compared to skipping it. I try to get up and look away from the screen or books for 5-10 min q hr and take an 1 hr break midday. Sometimes I'll take a 30 min 'power nap' if necessary. I think your suggestions for complementary alternative exercise and medicine would be helpful in the morning to get your mind 'prepared' for the task ahead.

Hello! I want to start by saying Thank you for all the tips and advice you provided and more the motivation! I will be starting my first semester of nursing school. I have all of my books and have began to read most of them, but I am a visual learner. Do you recommend any websites that have videos, quizzes, games, etc to better learn the material?

Wow, this is a big help. I admit to being one of those who would do a boat load of flash cards, killing trees with printing just about the whole lecture, and I was still failing. I would forget those key words because I somehow think I can retain a chapter in my head. I will be frequenting this page and I love the having quotes and pics for motivation. I have a few projects to do tonight :)

rkarla, I'm really glad you enjoyed the article and congrats on starting nursing school! I am a combination auditory-visual learner. I have really found the youtube channel "Simple Nursing" by Micheal Linares helpful. He's kinda cheesy sometimes, but he does an amazing job in making concepts easier to understand. Here is the link https://www.youtube.com/user/SimpleNursing/playlists There is a small search bar at the top and he has videos on almost every topic. He even has videos called "NCLEX Question of the Week" and then he goes over the rational behind the answer.

I also downloaded the free ATI app called 'ATI RN Mentor Lite NCLEX Prep' to use whenever I'm out an about and have a couple minutes to spare (available on googleplay for androids or on iTunes for iPhones). It has a limited number of questions though so soon I will probably be paying the $19.99 to get the full version app called 'ATI RN Mentor - NCLEX Prep' once I think I've tapped out of the free app's use.

I don't personally use it, but a few of the other students in my cohort seem to like Quizlet. https://quizlet.com/

rkarla said:
Hello! I want to start by saying Thank you for all the tips and advice you provided and more the motivation! I will be starting my first semester of nursing school. I have all of my books and have began to read most of them, but I am a visual learner. Do you recommend any websites that have videos, quizzes, games, etc to better learn the material?

Also, since you are a visual learner, have you ever tried using a personal white board to write down information?...then you can erase it and repeat until you feel confident. So when the test comes, you can almost picture in your head what you had practiced writing down.

That is awesome AllSmilez216, here are some motivation images to help get you started with your inspiration projects!

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b68d143ffcca02c69a78b8e64473344e.jpg.62aa86dde5e2a5520f2d87ab3adfe8d1.jpg

Inspirational-Quotes-for-Nurses-students.jpg.5b0e34eb8f2b2ad4aabbcbbef59ca86f.jpg

Will-it-be-Easy.jpg.d902d2d751ae234e47c939939ecacd27.jpg

ab87840b51cb9ad5286aabaa23cea007.jpg.31f63d2f12d464569dd6ae50f6f8fc19.jpg

sacrifice.jpg.31cfe0a2a541b6bdca82bf02a6458a99.jpg

achurley said:
To be honest, I don't have many great stay awake tips. I have never been one to stay awake late hours trying to study or cram. If it's late and I notice I'm reading the same information over and over, or nodding off, I have come to realize for me this means I'm not retaining anything anymore. At that point, being rested for the following day is more important in my opinion. I feel like the study quality is more important than study quantity.

What does work for me is always eating a balanced breakfast and having healthy snacks available (which requires preparation and getting things ready the night before, if you have to be up early for clinical or class). I haven't made enough of an effort to get up early and exercise recently, but of everything, when I do this I notice I am more energized and alert throughout the day when compared to skipping it. I try to get up and look away from the screen or books for 5-10 min q hr and take an 1 hr break midday. Sometimes I'll take a 30 min 'power nap' if necessary. I think your suggestions for complementary alternative exercise and medicine would be helpful in the morning to get your mind 'prepared' for the task ahead.

Awesome article. I'll be sure to frequent this page once I start Nursing school. Few questions..

1) What kind of snacks would you bring along? Dry nuts?

2) What kind of things would you prepare the night before to have a smooth running morning? What did your breakfast consists of?

3) What are some methods/techniques you used to help you relax from studying? Did you go for walks, or maybe call a friend for 10 minutes?

Waiting4ivpush, to address your questions:

#1) Snacks- Dry nuts are defiantly one of my go-to items; I like making my own trail mix from different dry nuts, dried fruits and high-fiber cereals. I also cannot live without my greek yogurt. Hummus and pita chips/or carrots are also a fave. Also, since staying hydrated is important, invest in a nice insulated container, one for hot and cold liquids (i.e., Contingo is a great brand). I also enjoy having flavored sparkling waters around that don't contain artificial or added sugars (e.g., La Croix, Arrowhead Mountain Spring Sparkling, Crystal Geyser Sparkling Mineral water). Try if you can to hydrate in the morning and save the Coffee/Tea until mid-morning when you will really need the boost.

#2) Preparation- I like to choose a day of the week that isn't too overloaded and prepare items for the week on this day. {I am going to share the links to some of my favorite Pinterest recipes at the end of the post} Investing in some 8 oz Mason jars and a few small snack size reusable plastic Tupperware's has been helpful. In the mason jars, I often make 'Overnight Oats' or 'Slow cooker oats' that are soaked in almond milk or make fruit/yogurt parfaits with Chia seed. If I have time, I will also make a big batch of dense breakfast cookies or muffins (these can be frozen and last awhile). I love having eggs in the morning but this can be time consuming, so I will either make a batch or hard-boiled eggs or crustless mini quiches in cupcake tins in advance for the week (also freezable). Additionally, I like to freeze overripe bananas for making my favorite smoothie in the morning; whenever bananas look too over ripe, I peel and slice them a put them in the freezer bag for later. My fav blend is: Handful of raw baby spinach, frozen bananas, chocolate almond milk, and tbsp. nut butter of choice (e.g., peanut butter or almond butter).

#3) Break/relaxation- Exactly, I would usually call a family member (or friend)! Maybe listen to a few songs I really like or watch a funny youtube video to make me laugh. A short walk is a wonderful suggestion. I would at least get up and walk around. Practicing gratitude is also something I try to practice; thinking about the good things I have in life in making sure I say thank you to those around me. Writing in a journal every night before bed may be a good practice, even if it's just one sentence, one thing you are grateful for.

achurley said:
Waiting4ivpush, to address your questions:

#1) Snacks- Dry nuts are defiantly one of my go-to items; I like making my own trail mix from different dry nuts, dried fruits and high-fiber cereals. I also cannot live without my greek yogurt. Hummus and pita chips/or carrots are also a fave. Also, since staying hydrated is important, invest in a nice insulated container, one for hot and cold liquids (i.e., Contingo is a great brand). I also enjoy having flavored sparkling waters around that don't contain artificial or added sugars (e.g., La Croix, Arrowhead Mountain Spring Sparkling, Crystal Geyser Sparkling Mineral water). Try if you can to hydrate in the morning and save the Coffee/Tea until mid-morning when you will really need the boost.

#2) Preparation- I like to choose a day of the week that isn't too overloaded and prepare items for the week on this day. {I am going to share the links to some of my favorite Pinterest recipes at the end of the post} Investing in some 8 oz Mason jars and a few small snack size reusable plastic Tupperware's has been helpful. In the mason jars, I often make 'Overnight Oats' or 'Slow cooker oats' that are soaked in almond milk or make fruit/yogurt parfaits with Chia seed. If I have time, I will also make a big batch of dense breakfast cookies or muffins (these can be frozen and last awhile). I love having eggs in the morning but this can be time consuming, so I will either make a batch or hard-boiled eggs or crustless mini quiches in cupcake tins in advance for the week (also freezable). Additionally, I like to freeze overripe bananas for making my favorite smoothie in the morning; whenever bananas look too over ripe, I peel and slice them a put them in the freezer bag for later. My fav blend is: Handful of raw baby spinach, frozen bananas, chocolate almond milk, and tbsp. nut butter of choice (e.g., peanut butter or almond butter).

#3) Break/relaxation- Exactly, I would usually call a family member (or friend)! Maybe listen to a few songs I really like or watch a funny youtube video to make me laugh. A short walk is a wonderful suggestion. I would at least get up and walk around. Practicing gratitude is also something I try to practice; thinking about the good things I have in life in making sure I say thank you to those around me. Writing in a journal every night before bed may be a good practice, even if it's just one sentence, one thing you are grateful for.

I like your suggestions, especially the overnight oats. I wish I had a dog (always wanted one) where I could spend time with on my study breaks. Thanks for the detailed answers! WHen I'm on my fitness grind, I love making shakes. My favorite combo is: 1 scoop whey, 8-12oz whole milk (or 1% milk / almond milk if im on a cutting phase), 1 whole banana, 2 tbsp peanut butter, and 1/2 cup of dry oats. Has a good balance of carbs, protein, and measurable fats.

If you like eggs, a great way to save time is to buy egg whites that come in a container. I hate having to separate the yolk and thus wasting an entire egg. Another good source of protein is ground turkey 93-99% lean. I would mix that with some eggwhites+spinach in a skillet, and a bagel or 2-3 slices of toast for carbs. Quick and easy meal in less than 15 minutes.

Good luck! See you in the workforce

Thank you! I hope to one day be able to use your tips and help future nursing students! I have heard of Mike Linares and his program! I didn't think he had so many videos on you tube,but i will for sure use them. His program is pricey! Yes! I recently bought a large whiteboard and I plan to do what you suggested. That would really help me remember! thank you!

I SO recommend the reading method discussed. I'm now a nursing instructor and I teach pediatrics and community nursing. Our mat/peds textbook, in particular, contains FAR more information than students ever need to know. On the advice of a colleague I started advising students NOT to read the whole thing cover-to-cover, but to focus on the SLOs.

Thank you angelnurseinstructor, it's great to have another confirmation that this is an effective method from the advice of a 2nd instructor. The assigned readings in nursing school are utterly unattainable and tips for prioritizing isn't something we get a lot of help with...just good ol' trial and errror. This semester was the first that I had a Leadership teacher point out on the syllubus the important pages & boxes to pay attention to in each chapter.

I work full time at a hospital and have just completed nursing school (also full time). There is no staying awake tips other than learning to train your body to do more on less. Presently, I operate on about 4 hrs of sleep for any given period of time, sometimes 12 hrs, and sometime +40hrs. You do what you have to do, and learn and accept your limits. After driving off the road on my way home from work after a 48hr stint of no sleep, I realized that that was my limit. Invest in some black out curtains, sleep mask and white noise machine ( I have found Quizlet and my electronic textbook make excellent white noise...).

This was so helpful! Thank you!

Thank you so MUCH! This will definitely be helpful as I begin my nursing studies this semester!

Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou! Those study tips are such a great help to me i had to write down a few for future reference. I generally skip the learning outcomes/objectives and is forgotten by the time I reach the end of the chapter. Now I will review it at every chapter and make sure I answer them as best i can.

Another thing to test your memory besides doing quizzes is getting a blank piece of paper and writing down what you remember, using the least amount of words, especially keywords. It does not have to be sentences, because your brain remembers keywords. This way of memorization not only helps keep the textbook reading in you mind, but helps with what you don't know. After writing down everything you can possibly remember, get another pen and write whatever you forgot that was in the learning outcomes/objectives section. This will remind you of your weaker points. Review the next day. Then the next day after. Before you know it, you will blast your way in confidence, knowing you are getting somewhere, instead of spinning round and round not knowing when to stop.