Tips for nursing school success

  1. hey everyone,

    i am bringing this post over from another area of the board from when someone asked me some tips for success while working through a nursing program. i thought that this post might be useful to nursing students frequenting this section of the forum so i copied it here. for background, i recently completed my bachelors level studies and am graduating this weekend. in the next few months i will be taking my boards and starting masters level studies.

    i did the best i could with this list is by no means meant to be the definitive guide to success, just some useful tips and tricks that can help you when you are just starting out. some of this stuff would have been useful to me when i started out had someone told me. the least i can do is share my experiences and hope that it makes someone elses journey through nursing school a little bit easier.

    as others come through i encourage you to add to this topic and share your experiences, together we can make a pretty nice starters guide and help to better equip current and future nursing students for greater success.


    the value of keeping your eye on the prize can not be underestimated. while you're going through it [color=firebrick]never forget why you are doing this to yourself (because you will at some point ask yourself "what theh*ll was i thinking?"). by default, because it is a healthcare profession there is lots of regulation and red tape. as such the standards for passing and progressing in your degree are higher than it is in many other college programs, which in turn adds to the pressure as if trying to learn from 20 textbooks (some texts look like 3 textbooks in one) and learn another language (medical jargon) wasn't enough.

    to ice the cake, failing a key course often sets a student back 1 year because of how it is structured (some courses are only offered in either fall or spring).to help manage the pressure remember that a house wasn't built in a day. [color=firebrick]focus each day on what is most important and strike a balance between personal and nursing school.

    additional tips:

    - effective studying is paramount! set up an area where you can focus free from distractions.

    - actually study, don't just say you did (because if you didn't it will show both on your tests and in clinical)

    - prioritize your life- be prepared to say no to friends and stand your ground if you have things that really need to be done. if you are at a university where many programs are offered and you live on campus, some of your friends may not understand it when you say you cant do whatever or go with them to <insert activity here>. not attending class, blowing off tests, taking tests without studying and showing up for clinical late or unprepared to provide safe, effective, evidence based care is incompatible with successfully progressing through the program. when you know what you have to do, stand your ground (it will be tempting to take some time for yourself, but sometimes you cant afford to).

    - decide which class needs the most attention, some will be harder than others. if it means giving up a solid "a" in one course to devote a little more time to just pass another class with the "c+" then so be it. don't get me wrong, "a"s are great but passing all classes is key! don't fall into the trap of trying to get an "a" in all your classes. i suppose it is possible (and if you can do it great) but i have seen this strategy swallow other students whole and add them to the programs attrition rate.

    - pace yourself, this isn't history class, we are learning about a fantastically complex device call the human body. it is not nearly possible to try and learn what you need to know the night before the test. plan ahead, study and keep up with the content and you will be in a much better position to do well. reading ahead a little on the content that will be covered in the next days lecture makes comprehension and knowledge retention alot easier.

    - set aside ample time for care plans, they take at least twice as long as you think. many a night have i been up till 2 am working on care plans for patients that i would start taking care of in the next few hours.

    - study in small blocks of time (a few hours) and remember that your brain needs time to process all you just learned. breaks between study blocks (of time) are absolutely essential (30 minutes to several hours). find what works for you and stick to that.

    - flash cards are great, not the ones you buy, the ones you make. having to write it all down again on a flash card that you will use to study is just one more opportunity to commit that knowledge to memory. save a buck and do it yourself.

    - realize that you are the master of your own destiny, know this and you will come to understand that along your journey to becoming a professional nurse, you are ultimately responsible for your success (or failure).

    - group studying helps, bouncing ideas and questions off of each other in group study sessions is a great way to reach mastery level on new content. one person cant think of everything, your classmates may be able to help each other out by sharing new strategies, acronyms or ways to remember something. it doesnt matter how you learn the new content as long as you learn it and remember it, use everything to your advantage.

    - don't give up on yourself, it's not over till its over. if you are having a rough semester, stop, evaluate and take action early on. why withdrawl from a semester when you can finish it proper? in my last semester for my bsn when i thought all was lost because my average in one of my nursing classes was not high enough i decided that failure was not an option and made it happen! i didn't get alot of sleep due to studying, but that was a sacrifice i was willing to make and it paid off. the key is to recognise that you have a problem early on and do some damage control to bring it back while you still can. when things start to go bad, knuckle up and finish strong!

    disclaimer to the above: many nursing programs only allow you to repeat one class in the entire program, if you really have allowed things to get too far out of hand that you would need close to 100% on every last graded assignment/test in the class, it might be the better option to bow out and take the w rather than use your "retake". this did not happen to me but i have read stories where people have failed 2 classes and were not allowed to finish thier program. you must keep track of your grades and do your own assessment, when in doubt, talk to the instructor and see what they think.

    extensions and exceptions are available. now i am not saying that you should procrastinate and ask for an extension every time but occasionally it seems like everything is due at once and making a due date adjustment would really help you out. if you have a reasonable professor, are professional in your request and dont make a habit of it, you have a very good chance of having your request for a few extra days approved.

    it cant hurt to ask. if you have a special request, need some help or have an unusual curcumstance that may warrant accomadations in one form or another let your professor or clinical instructor early on. the worst they can say is no.

    don't be a problem child. i am not trying to be mean here. when making it through nursing school it is best to try and fly under the radar, just blend in. you definitely do not want to be the one student that every professor knows about. news flash, they have faculty meetings and share the progress of the students with the other professors. if you really p*ss one of them off, pretty soon they are all going to know about it. if you let this become you then every action you take (or fail to take) will be scrutinized (probably overly so) and it may eventually end up in your failing a course or being removed from the program alltogether. i have seen this happen to someone, it's not pretty. just remember, "when in rome do as the romans do" and you should be fine.


    - if you have a smartphone, a snazzy electronic drug guide can make you look godlike in clinical as you will be able to retrieve information on drugs 10 times faster than a book. you can pay for the davis or use free ones like epocrates. personally i had and used both, they were great.

    in closing, believe in yourself, you can do this! it won't be a handout at anypoint, you will work d*mn hard for it but i promise you this, for every hour of sleep you lose, for every tear you shed or stressed-out day you have, when you do finally make it, it will feel that much better knowing how far you have come. you will have made it through a program that not all people have the dedication and/or perseverance to endure. you will also have a newfound respect for your fellow nurses and the profession as a whole. there are plenty of people that discount nursing and what we have to know. to them i say "try it sometime". the types of people that discount the profession usually are the ones that couldn't hack it for a typical day in our shoes. don't let it get to you, just move on and git er dun.

    p.s. - when the going gets tough (and it will), find your inspiration. i found mine on a campus poster. it reads:

    a person who wants something will find a way; a person who doesn't will find an excuse
    -steffan dolley jr.

    when i needed a little extra motivation i saw this quote and it reminded me that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. when it gets hard just remember that life is simply testing you to see if you want it bad enough.

    work hard and stay on track and you will be don't sooner that you think, just take it one step at a time.

    please like this topic if you learned something that will help you make it through nursing school and remember you can do this!
    Last edit by Joe N635DC on May 7, '12
  2. Visit Joe N635DC profile page

    About Joe N635DC

    Joined: Jul '09; Posts: 119; Likes: 138
    from US
    Specialty: 7 year(s) of experience in High Acuity / Emergency / Trauma


  3. by   mitral
    Excellent advice! I believe I'm at the point where I can apply your 'what the heck was I thinking' tip, and it will soon pay off ^_^
  4. by   dbabklyn
    Awesome advice! I can see myself re-reading this later on and finding the inspiration to continue. I'm starting Fall 2012~!
    Congrats on finishing nursing school
  5. by   futureRNMena
    Especially the "problem child". People comment on these blogs like schools dont look at them. They're public BTW. Starting this fall as well. Huge thank you
  6. by   Jennybrie
    Great advice. I agree with everything that you mentioned especially the first topic. Here's a little something to add:

    When The Tough Get Going
    When our lives seem to take a rough or wrong turning,
    It's good to remember that we just might be earning
    A higher reward for the lesson we're learning

    So instead of complaining or quitting and crying
    Blaming ourselves or moaning and sighing
    We should trust in the Lord and just keep on trying

    For the hard times are only a way to start growing
    And if God's testing us it's our one chance of showing
    That when the going gets tough, the tough get going

    Jill Wolf
  7. by   Mintyfreshness23
    I have printed this and placed it on my school folder because I know I will need it soon enough. I start this Fall 2012 semester also. Congratulations for finishing school!
  8. by   mssjez
    Great list! I've saved it and will print it out as my mantra! Here's another good list that also hits some of these points...

    30 things I
  9. by   buytheshoes11
    Great tips! I stupidly thought I could fly through nursing school with no issue like I did in my first two years of college. My first fundamentals test proved me wrong, hah!
  10. by   PetsToPeople
    Excellent advice!
  11. by   ddmad
    Great read...I'm starting this summer and will take your advice to heart...
  12. by   sandanrnstudent
    Thank you Joe, and others, for the guidance! I guess being ahead of us on the journey serves as great relief to our anxieties about beginning the journey of nursing school!

    Hopefully, now we will have a head start on how to approach it for success!

  13. by   BrittRN2B14
    Awesome list. I did the same thing in my blog a while back, I wish I had seen your list beforehand. Congrats on graduating. I can't wait to start this fall.
  14. by   Joe N635DC
    I was glad to hear back from other members of allnurses on thier journey through nursing school. My thought the whole time I was writing this was that, even if this only helped one person then it would be worth it. I am delighted to see it helping as many people as it has so far. I want to thank everyone who took the time to post feedback and comments. It's the only way I know that my message got out there and did some good.

    Hang in there guys (and gals), you day will be here soon enough, till then learn all you can and stay strong!