7 Ways to Sabotage Your Own Success in Nursing School

  1. It is difficult to imagine a student self-sabotaging their academic journey. I don’t think any student intentionally tries to prevent themselves from progressing in a nursing program. However, in my experience as a nurse faculty, I picked up on patterns of behavior that self limited student success. This article will provide insight on these behaviors and how to avoid them.

    7 Ways to Sabotage Your Own Success in Nursing School

    You can easily find an article, book or tipsheet on how to succeed in nursing school. Most nursing programs offer an "orientation" to the program and dedicate time on the agenda to discuss student success. I would like to use my experience as a nursing instructor and take a different approach by exploring how students sabotage their own success. I have never met a nursing student that came to class thinking "what is the best way I can derail this train?". However, there are common pitfalls you can encounter on your nursing journey.

    Brush off the warnings

    Prior to entering the nursing program, you probably knew nurses or students who told you "nursing school is not like your other college courses". The first week of nursing school, the nurse faculty introduce students to the academic intensity of the program. Throughout the first few modules, students are encouraged to study everyday, participate in lab and stay current on assignments. Unfortunately, there will be students who decide to prepare for exams the same way as previously and carry on poor study habits.

    Don't leave room on your plate

    I have been a nurse for 23 years and I still admire nursing students. With increasing numbers of nontraditional students, juggling "life" with coursework is a challenge. It is not uncommon for students to work, raise children, care for family and fill many other roles along with the rigorous demands of nursing school. In order to be successful, there must be room on your plate of responsibilities for class, study time, clinicals and assignments. It is easy to become over-extended and overwhelmed trying to keep everything on your plate. There will come a time when something needs to be moved off your plate for nursing school.

    Play the blame game

    I made it a priority to meet with each student with a non-passing grade at midterm. This was a great opportunity for students to reflect on what has worked well for them and what areas need to be improved moving forward. There were students who took accountability and formulated a plan for improvement. There were also students who were stuck in the "blame game". The blame game is background noise that prevents students from taking personal responsibility for their learning. The blame game often resembles the following:

    • "The instructor is trying to weed many of us out."
    • "If I had just been given a study guide for the test."
    • "I studied for so long but couldn't remember anything because the room was too cold."
    • "I spent all my time preparing for clinical and had no time left to study."
    • "How am I supposed to know all the material in 4 chapters of the textbook."

    Decide you don't need to go to class

    When you miss class in nursing school, you are missing hours of information. You cheat yourself from the opportunity to be exposed to the information and ask questions. It is very difficult in nursing school to depend on the "notes" taken by another student. Skipping classes is the fastest and most effective way to derail your success train.

    Get caught up in the drama

    It is impossible for a group to spend so much time together and not have pockets of drama. Drama in nursing school can play out in many ways. When I taught, examples of student drama included:

    • Student romances
    • Cliques
    • Interpersonal problems between students
    • Students providing unsolicited critiques of other students
    • Rumors of students cheating
    • Others

    Here is my advice on student drama...... it is very loud "noise" that will distract you if you let it. Focus on your success and leave all the drama noise in the distant background.

    Wait on bonus points

    You will not "pull out" a passing grade with bonus points. It is very rare bonus points are available in nursing programs and if they are... most likely not enough to significantly impact your overall grade.

    Beat yourself up with negative self-talk

    Be aware of your self dialogue and have a strategy to refocus. Examples of negative self-talk include:

    • "I am never going to pass this class".
    • "The instructor thinks I am an idiot".
    • "I am not as smart as everyone else".

    A good strategy to counter negative thinking: don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else. When a negative thought enters you mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with positive self-affirmations.

    Remember to focus on your personal success and keep background noise just that.....in the far background. What are pitfalls to success you have encountered in nursing school?

    For student tips for success, check this out.
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    13 Comments

  3. by   Adelinna
    Thank you!
    I'm in my first semester of a 4 year BSN RN program and midterms are next week...this is very helpful and encouraging.
    Thanks again!
  4. by   osceteacher
    Student romances
    My wife and I are happily married for 10 years!
  5. by   Meow278
    I am getting a job as a CNA again. I feel like they are going to make me work more than 16 hours. I want to make them understand even though I'm taking online classes for my prereqs I want most of my time to be studying D:
  6. by   student_B
    Don't Overstudy

    I found that increasing my study times beyond a certain point resulted in increased mental fatigue and confusion. The more I studied beyond that point the worse I did on exams. So this time I reduced my studying time two days before the exam and took the day before the exam to clear my obligations early and relax in the evening. I don't know the exam results yet, but I felt my critical thinking skills were much improved compared to being "burnt out" from overstudying.

    I also went through the exam quickly at first without spending much time on any question, then went back through slowly and analyzed each question. I ended up changing almost 10% of my answers, all the while my professor was periodically reminding us "DON'T ERASE!" Really hoping this experiment has good results!
  7. by   brownbook
    I can't love enough the phrase "don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else". Thanks, I'm way past being a student, you never know where you're going to find valuable life lessons.
  8. by   tonyl1234
    I don't agree with the first point. Brushing off the warnings is probably the best thing you can do.

    You don't know that other person's situation. Maybe they're not taking school seriously at all. Maybe they're bad at studying. Maybe they have a learning disability that they've never had diagnosed.

    All you're doing by listening to the horror stories and the claims about having to spend your entire life studying for your classes is accomplishing is stressing you out before you even start.

    Every one of us here learns differently. Some people have to study a lot, some people are working as amazing nurses and never opened a single textbook. Don't assume that the horror stories are going to be your experience, because they're not.

    It's only college. Learn. Study enough to know it without burning yourself out. It's not that hard, yet people love to make it hard.
  9. by   J.Adderton
    this will be a fun year for you with a lot of "firsts".
    Quote from Adelinna
    Thank you!
    I'm in my first semester of a 4 year BSN RN program and midterms are next week...this is very helpful and encouraging.
    Thanks again!
  10. by   J.Adderton
    I think if you survived nursing school together, your compatibility is off the charts!

    Quote from osceteacher
    My wife and I are happily married for 10 years!
  11. by   J.Adderton
    Thanks for adding a different perspective.

    Quote from tonyl1234
    I don't agree with the first point. Brushing off the warnings is probably the best thing you can do.

    You don't know that other person's situation. Maybe they're not taking school seriously at all. Maybe they're bad at studying. Maybe they have a learning disability that they've never had diagnosed.

    All you're doing by listening to the horror stories and the claims about having to spend your entire life studying for your classes is accomplishing is stressing you out before you even start.

    Every one of us here learns differently. Some people have to study a lot, some people are working as amazing nurses and never opened a single textbook. Don't assume that the horror stories are going to be your experience, because they're not.

    It's only college. Learn. Study enough to know it without burning yourself out. It's not that hard, yet people love to make it hard.
  12. by   femto
    Thanks for sharing these! I'm finishing my last 2 months of nursing school and thought they were great points. 2 things I wish I'd known years back: first, verbalize positives. Even if you think your program/instructor/clinical site is less-than-the-best, find something good to say. When a preceptor asks what you want to do after nursing school, find something true and positive the current assignment. Maybe you say "I started school because I was interested in Women's Health, but I am really enjoying learning about therapeutic communication here on psych." Nothing shuts down conversation faster than telling the other person you don't want to be where they work.

    Second, try to get hospital work experience. I'm a second career nurse. Looking back, I wish I'd taken a tech job, even if it was full-time and meant I had to delay graduation. If you're in a busy metropolis with plenty of nurses, you need those connections for your first nursing job.

    Thanks for supporting us student nurses!
  13. by   JBMmom
    I totally agree with tonyl1234. Some people like to make anything in life out to be a monumental challenge. Nursing is a challenging degree, but so are many other degrees in college. I've been through a few degrees myself, and the students I heard complaining most about all the other stuff they must be missing because they were working so hard, were the nursing students. Yes, you're going to miss some stuff because of school, but you don't have to live like a hermit and be miserable. I was in school while working full time and raising three young kids. I missed some time with them, but I still had plenty of time to coach soccer, teach swim lessons and Sunday school and spend quality time with family and friends.

    The only other point I would add that in addition to going to class, be engaged. My first degrees were way back before the days of powerpoint so we had to listen and take all of our notes on blank paper. When I returned years later for nursing school I found that they would give out a powerpoint, and then some professors would just read it. Students were texting, playing angry birds (I obviously went a while back), and every now and then look at the powerpoint. I took my notes on a blank sheet of paper and then used the powerpoint as a study guide. I think it cut my study time in half because I was engaged the first time around. Other students thought I was crazy, but it worked for me.

    Good luck to current nursing students, you can do this.
  14. by   J.Adderton
    Great suggestions. I enjoy psych too... it is interesting how are interests change and that is the good thing about nursing!


    Quote from femto
    Thanks for sharing these! I'm finishing my last 2 months of nursing school and thought they were great points. 2 things I wish I'd known years back: first, verbalize positives. Even if you think your program/instructor/clinical site is less-than-the-best, find something good to say. When a preceptor asks what you want to do after nursing school, find something true and positive the current assignment. Maybe you say "I started school because I was interested in Women's Health, but I am really enjoying learning about therapeutic communication here on psych." Nothing shuts down conversation faster than telling the other person you don't want to be where they work.

    Second, try to get hospital work experience. I'm a second career nurse. Looking back, I wish I'd taken a tech job, even if it was full-time and meant I had to delay graduation. If you're in a busy metropolis with plenty of nurses, you need those connections for your first nursing job.

    Thanks for supporting us student nurses!

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