My Semester in Review
This article is a reflective look back on my first semester in nursing school, and highlights some of the challenges and successes that I faced and how I overcame them. It is my hope that this article might inspire and help other nursing students to find ways of achieving their goals.I started out this semester with a lot of confidence. After all, I was pretty much a straight A student up until now. I had heard how nursing school is totally different from other classes but I don't think that really sunk in until I started. The first exam really rocked my confidence. I had seen those kind of questions before, but they had not really "mattered" until the grade mattered. Lab was also a brand new experience for me. I had to get over the feeling of "It's only a dummy" and see the dummy as a potential real person.
I have found that I struggle in particular with being nervous prior to a check-off. My first one was on completing a head to toe, which went fine, but my second one I failed the first time around due to many factors, and that really shook my self-confidence to the point where I came within a hair of failing my second attempt. I realized after that I was psyching myself out by concentrating too much on the importance of being successful rather than being confident in my own ability to succeed. Also, knowing that my every move was being judged and critiqued unnerved me. As the semester progressed, I changed thing up as I went along and I discovered some ways of studyin that worked for me and others that didn't.
I think the best purchase I made is my voice recorder. I have heard a lot of people say that they don't feel like going back to listen to x amount of hours of lecture, but for my part I found that if I can combine listening to the lecture with something that I enjoy then it's not so boring and redundant. My husband and I play World of Warcraft, and as crazy as it may sound, I would listen while playing WoW. I wouldn't be paying attention to every word, but things would grab my attention and those things stuck in my head better. Other people might find that listening while they are exercising or driving might work for them.
Another thing that worked well for me is to skim the chapters before class and then highlight the important material in the book during the lecture. My professors would teach on material that was almost always guaranteed to be on the exam, so by highlighting in class it was easier to go back through the chapter and identify those important parts. Although lab and the practical aspect of things was a bit harder for me than the strictly academic part, I did better when I was able to spend a lot of time practicing in the lab. Repetition really does help and just because I got it right the first time, did not mean that I would have it down pat a few days later, therefore practice.. practice.. practice.
Careplans are time consuming and not easy to do. I have a bad habit of procrastinating and I think I could have done much better on my careplans, had I not put it off till the last minute. They all passed, but I think that was more due to my clinical instructor. The further I got in the semester the more I learned to pay attention to details in my patients, and to ask questions both to my patient and their family, and to the nurses that were caring for them. I know that it was much easier to get my careplan done with a complete assessment and also that it was important to make sure that I would input all my data as soon as possible before I would forget anything. Another time consuming task of doing the careplan is the lists of lab data and medications. I would input all the medication information that we are required to have, and if another patient is on the same medication, such as Lovenox, I can copy paste the information into the new careplan and change the details to fit the patient I am doing the careplan on, such as dose. The same is true for lab values. A lot of the normal ranges are the same for both male and female, so I just copy pasted that information into the new careplan as well.
I must say that clinicals are my favorite part about nursing school. It's where you get to put knowledge and skills to use and actually work with a living, breathing patient or patients. To me, every patient in the hospital that I came into contact with in the hospital, became my patient too for the short duration I was there. Granted, my assigned patient I would spend more time with, but anytime that I was asked to help with any other patient, I treated that person like he/she was my only patient. Call me idealistic, but I feel that as a nursing student I have the luxury of being able to that. Every aspect of what I experienced, I treated as an opportunity to learn. If there was down-time, I asked questions.
As previously stated, nursing exams ARE hard. I found that cramming is not good. It works better to bring knowledge forward. What I mean is, if I could set aside just one hour at the end of each week to look through notes and skim the text (here is where the highlighting comes in handy)for the entire unit, the better off I was when time came to study for the exam. I didn't do this consistently, but when I did, I noticed that it helped and it was reflected in a higher exam grade. I would wait to listen to the lectures until the weekend before the exams. Our exams always fell on a Tuesday. In my head I would also try to identify potential questions that could be asked. I paid attention to the parts of the text that spoke directly to nursing interventions and priorities. I also looked at the potential nursing diagnoses associated with whatever topic that was discussed. During the exam, I would take small breaks every so often; put my pencil down, take a few deep breaths, move around a little bit on my chair, or go to the bathroom. It refreshes me, and clears my head.
All in all, this has been a successful first semester for me. I have discovered things about myself and the way I study, and what works and doesn't work for me. I think that it's important for every student, regardless of what they are studying, to identify early how best to study. People can give all the best-intentioned advice in the world, but ultimately the student is the one doing it, and there are no right or wrong ways as long as one is achieving the goal one has set. For me, my foundational goal is to pass every test, and my ultimate goal is to get the best grade possible. I reached my foundational goal, and didn't always reach my ultimate goal but now I know what works and what doesn't and with that knowledge I can move forward with a renewed determination, and I hope that maybe seeing what helped me might help another student as well.Last edit by Joe V on Dec 17, '12
I am a mother of 3, and in my first year of an ADN program.
Joined: Feb '09; Posts: 168; Likes: 204Dec 9, '12Thank you OP, for taking the time to write this article. After the coming semester I will no longer be a pre-req student and will start taking my first NURS classes. I will save this to reread as necessary when that time comes. I believe that it will be a big help for me. Thanks again.Dec 9, '12Thank you for writing this and sharing your unique experience. Hopefully your recollections will help other students out there who are contending with the culture shock that is commonly known as nursing school.Dec 9, '12You are very welcome. I feel that if it helped just one person, it was worthwhile Nursing classes are so rewarding and challenging all at the same time. Good Luck!!!Dec 10, '12Thanks for the article. I too am finishing up my 1st semester of nursing school and it was really hard! Nursing exams were not a walk in the park for me either. I was a good student making A's and B's occasionally prior to nursing school and I could not have been more shocked at the exams and grades I received this semester. I also reassessed what I was doing wrong regarding studying and began to see improvement in my grades. I also (like you) started to record lectures on my iphone and listen to them while washing dishes or laundry. It helped.
I swear check-offs in lab gave me high blood pressure...my heart raced each time and I would get the worst headache but I have not failed or had to redo a skill yet so that's good. Practice makes perfect.
I love clinical too except for the fact that I have to get up an hour earlier than any other day of the week!!
Again thanks! It's always good to know that I am not alone in my 1st semester struggles!!Dec 10, '12OP, Thank you so much for your post. I am new to this site and am starting my first semester of nursing in the spring. Your post was so helpful and gave me a lot of insight. Best of luck to you!Dec 10, '12Thanks for writing this article. I am waiting to hear from the ABSN program I applied to and hopefully will start in May 2013. I was a horrible student my freshman year in college, because I didn't know how to study. Over the years I found techniques that worked for me, and my grades improved from mostly C's to mostly A's. I will use your advice and do the same when I start nursing school.Last edit by Melissa1986 on Dec 10, '12 : Reason: typoDec 10, '12Thank you for this wonderful article! I start my nursing program in January and am nervous as heck!Dec 10, '12Thank you taking the time to write the article. I start my ADN program in January 2013 and will remember all your very helpful suggestions/advice. I recorded all biology and micro lectures for my pre-req courses and would listen to them while driving or cooking, and found them very helpful. Listening to the lectures again reinforced the topic and was like a quick review. Thanks againDec 11, '12Thank you for sharing your experience. I will start my ADN program in January and am excited. Good luck in your journey!!Dec 12, '12Great post!! I hope to use your tips when I finally get into nursing program. Study tips are always helpful, and yours are very clear and concise!Dec 14, '12Thanks for writing this!
I am now a Year 2 student. Reviewing all your notes frequently helps so much. Our instructors provide power points of lectures. I find it helpful to use these and my course objectives and go through the text for what I need and I type my own set of full notes for each topic. I think of it as preparing study material for the test- it helps me get through the sometimes overwhelming amount of material. I have had a lot of trial and error experience with how to study. My problem is that I try to learn everything about everything. It is just isn't conceivable when your exams covers cardiac, metabolism, and immunity. Just get through everything once and it gives you so much direction. Not EVERYTHING- just the basics, then go from there.
Reading about test-taking strategies helped me a great deal, too. Along with any practice tests that provide rationales.
In my first semester I had hand-written paperwork- now I do everything on a computer. It helps a lot when it's 2:30 AM and you have clinical at 6:15 to be able to go back and reference the last total hip replacement PT you had. Especially if you are working a particular floor- the same meds and standing orders are likely to come back for each PT.
Don't waste time on study groups if they are not FOCUSED. If you aren't coming to the study group with an understanding of the material, expecting to learn the material by attending the group is a huge mistake. I fell into that trap once and it cost me a whole semester. The student conducting the group got a lot out of it- but I was not prepared.
Don't let yourself get overwhelmed. Ask for help!
These books have helped immensely- I hope it's okay to post them here:
Med-Surg Success (the Mat/Child version is good, too)
Saunders Strategies for Test Success (helpful info for those of us who read too much into the questions)Last edit by doomsayer on Dec 14, '12 : Reason: Add some reading!
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