I think we can all relate to that exciting moment when we first receive our acceptance letters into nursing school (congratulations by the way!), but we also know how terrifying it is, too. This is usually because you do not know what to expect; even though most colleges really do try to explain it, it is just not the same as experiencing it for oneself.
My First Week Observation of Nursing School:
1. Be prepared to probably buy a bag with wheels, you are going to have a lot of books that are NOT worth breaking your back over! Hobby Lobby has some great deals on scrapbook bags that work perfectly for this kind of scenario.
2. The people around you will be your family for the next 2 years of your life-learn to trust them, like them despite your differences, value their opinion, and to ask them questions because they usually have a lot of valuable information they are willing to share. You might be surprised, but your classmates are probably just as nervous as you are!
3. Do not be alarmed when you are put outside your comfort zone by being asked to answer questions regarding your personal beliefs and values, give an opinion, work with new unfamiliar people, or when discussing topics that were previously not discussed in any other basic prerequisite classes.
4. You will feel like you know nothing. Seriously. Just remind yourself that this okay and that it will get better, because it does. Soon you will know more than 50 abbreviations and medical terms! I promise that is a good thing.
5. You can never ask to many questions, at least that is what my instructor said (until she met me).
I imagine that your next anxiety is related to test taking, and by the way if you are wondering if nursing classes are as hard as people say they are, they are. Just saying. It takes a LOT of studying and perseverance to succeed, but it is possible. You have probably already heard that questions on nursing exams are different from all other previously taken classes, and that is correct. The next five tips outline some great ways that I have found to take and study for exams.
6. Always, always do the review, vocabulary list, all primary readings, and whatever else that the instructor assigns. This is not the kind of class that can be studied for an hour prior to taking the exam. If you want to put forth your best effort, use the tools given to you to succeed. If you do not understand how to utilize these materials, the instructor is often the best person to ask.
7. Find out your learning style, whether that be verbally, audibly, kinesthetically, or visually. There are many online quizzes to determine your best learning style if you do not already know it. Using you best learning style, or a combination of several, you maximize your chance of retaining material and applying it.
8. The questions are almost all application based, especially after the first couple weeks are over. This is not about memorizing random facts and information any longer, you must apply what you have learned to best take care of your patient. When studying, try rehearsing scenarios in your mind of how the information could be applied. The following is an example of a basic application based question: "What will you do if your patience has a hypoglycemic blood sugar?" First of all this question is not asking what a hypoglycemic blood sugar is (
9. Most questions are multiple choice and you must select the best answer, not the most logical or textbook relevant answer. Although this may seem straight forward, it is never black and white. It takes time to get used to, and it is always a good idea to ask your instructor about questions you do not understand after completing the test.
10. Realistically, you will most likely fail at least one exam or quiz. It really cannot be helped because it takes time to adapt to the environment, the format of how the questions are asked, and what is expected of you. Overall, sometimes the questions just do not "make sense". Keep in mind something my instructor told our class: "I would rather take a 'C' nurse that knows what they are doing, verses an 'A' nurse that cannot act responsibly and quickly to certain situations."
This leads me to my next topic, clinicals. Typically clinicals do not begin right away during your first semester of nursing, but rather become more and more frequent as you progress throughout nursing school. Your first clinical is often times the very first time you truly think "I am actually in nursing school, this real!" As exciting and thrilling as this moment may be, keep in mind that it is real. You are now interacting with patients, nurses, and even doctors and interdisciplinary staff. Especially if you have never worked in a hospital before, it can be rather intimidating. I remember my non-clinical instructor asking how I felt after having completed my first two clinical days. My melodramatic response consisted of that fact that I felt uneasy and that somehow I was sure I would "mess everything up" and endanger my patient. My instructor, in an effort to console me, tried to make the funny statement "Don't worry, we will catch you before you kill anyone." This made me even more nervous about clinicals because I felt that this statement was untrue. In response I stated, "No! No, you wouldn't though. I could kill someone and then go get an ice cream cone and no one would still be looking for me." First of all let me say this, I was being dramatic. Very dramatic. Please do not ask me, if I were to murder someone, why my first thought would be to eat ice cream. I guess I found my coping mechanism. Okay, so here is my next list of advice for clinicals:
11. It is worth taking the time learn how to properly write and verbally state medical terms and military time. You will forever use them in documentation and when interacting with staff.
12. You will probably embarrass yourself more than once for various reasons while on the floor. For me, the most common embarrassing mistakes I made were from mispronouncing medical terms, writing the time in standard time, walking into a different patient's room, forgetting my patient's room number, and when I walked out of my patient's room with red ice cream on my white scrubs. Do not let mistakes define you.
13. Adhere to your school's code of conduct and dress. Instructors do not hesitate to send you home if you are missing your name badge or lab coat. Make a checklist and lay things out the previous morning if you find that helps you remember what you need for clinical. Remember, your attitude not only reflects you character, but also yours school's reputation and how well you give care to your patient. It is not about you at this point.
(Note: During a normal class day you can usually wear normal clothing.)
14. For both men and women, wear your hair out of your face and in place so that it cannot easily be dragged through whatever (or whomever) you are working with. Minimal make up is acceptable, but should not be distracting. Usually tattoos must be covered, no nail polish or fake nails are worn, and one set of piercings may or may not be allowed (differs per school and facility) and only in ones ears.
15. Clinicals usually begin before 6 am and end around midafternoon, if you are not tired already you will be.
16. Bring a snack, you cannot provide adequate patient care if you are worried about your own stomach growling or are becoming "Hangry". Usually there is a breakroom or waiting room to eat in on each floor that is accessible to students.
17. This is not a time to talk about yourself. You are here for your patient. Learn to use effective communication-express empathy, reflect questions back to patient, talk as little about yourself as possible, be friendly no matter your patient's background, use tools adaptive to people with certain disabilities, get an interpreter if needed, make sure you explain what you are about to do before you do it, and most importantly be therapeutic.
18. Do you assessment quickly, thoroughly, and document on time. Nurses usually want the current vital signs to administer medications, and the doctors use information in the computer to provide care and make rounds as well.
19. Ask for help. During clinicals you usually are assigned a "primary nurse" to oversee you and who acts as a guide and sometimes even as your "guardian angel" from mistakes. She is there for you to safely learn and to ask questions. Utilize her as a tool but not as a safeguard. There are times when you may not be able to find your instructor or your primary, so you must act on your own knowledge and critical thinking. Remember, never do anything that may endanger your patient. It is always best to wait and ask for help, than to be sorry later.
Last, but not least, is this tip to keep in mind while actively surviving nursing school: You will have bad days. You can never predict what will happen during your shift, to your patient, or how you will react. Do not be too hard on yourself. It all comes with time, patients (no pun intended), and perseverance. The important thing is that you try again and eventually you will succeed.
I wish you the best in your nursing career and survival during your first semester. Hopefully you will live to tell the tale like I did.