What Nobody Told You About Graduate School

Providing insight on what the real graduate school experience is like. Nurses General Nursing Article

What Nobody Told You About Graduate School

As I finish my ACNP program (in literally days) I'm reflecting back in my journey. I realized that although I got want I needed and much more from grad school, the process to obtaining this degree was not what I expected so I wanted to give a little insight in what you may actually go through furthering you education. It's not to deter you from going, I just want to give you an honest idea of what you may go through so you can realize, you're not the only one.

You Will Be Overwhelmed

I know you probably already anticipate this because hey, your going back to school and you haven't written a paper or taken a test in how many years? This is already expected but I didn't realize just how overwhelmed I would get until I actually got into it. Class, clinical, papers, family work...shall I go on? Having to manage it all at once was rough. I considered myself an organized person before grad school but it took me awhile to get everything organized out. My advice to you would be to first, don't panic, you will get everything done. Then, figure out a system that works for you and stick with it. For me, taking it one week/assignment at a time allowed me to focus on what was due and put all my effort into it. Towards that end I was able to focus on multiple items and even work ahead, but it took me awhile to figure out what my instructors wanted and what worked for me.

You Write, A Lot

Going into grad school I knew that there would be writing but I just had no idea. The care plans in undergraduate nursing school are nothing compared to the progress notes, H&Ps, discussion boards, policy papers, synopses, and projects grad school has to offer. You feel like all you do is write. What I definitely realized was that the farther you take your education, the more you have to write and document. However this is for good reason. You're doing more, such as procedures, and therefore have more responsibility so you have to be able to provide proper and accurate documentation to cover yourself, should something go wrong.

You Will Second-Guess Your Decision to go Back

Ok, so you didn't do well on a test, had a bad day in clinical, or just can't quite get a concept and you think, "why don't I just quit and stay a bedside nurse." While there is nothing wrong with staying a bedside nurse, it may not be what you want to do long-term. Everyone at some point in their program, no matter what kind of program, has had this thought come across their mind, possibly more than once. You want to go back to bedside nursing because you are good at it, its familiar and less stressful than what your doing, BUT, you wouldn't be doing grad school in the first place if that was truly what you would want to be doing, right? My advice to you would be to stick it out. You're a student, your going into depth about concepts you know, but only know the "surface" of. You're in unfamiliar environments assuming a role that you haven't done before, so you can't expect to feel confident at every point of your program. I will assure you that it gets better though, and by the end if your program you'll be glad that you continued.

You Will Cry

Whether it be from sleep deprivation, stress, or the feeling of not knowing anything, there will be a time that you will break down and cry. Don't worry, you won't be the only one chances are, your classmates are too, they're just letting you know. Grad school is tough. You're put in situations where your supposed to learn, and you do, but you also feel like the least intelligent one in the room. If your doing inpatient, rounds can definitely make you feel this way. Don't take it personally, the attending doesn't hate you (usually), they're just trying to teach you how to do it they way they want it done. They do it to everybody, residents, fellows, interns...everybody. I will never forget, one tough attending told me that rounds were there to "teach and put hair on your chest." After surviving rounds in grad school, you feel like you've accomplished something and will be a better advanced practice nurse because of it

You Will Learn A Lot

This one is pretty obvious but I don't think I realized just how much I needed to know to be a competent ACNP in the ICU. In my program we do a lot if simulation and I remember going home after the first day of the clinical year crying because I did so horrible telling my husband "they expect us to be doctors!" Don't get me wrong I knew my stuff (you need to, to get in) but I didn't know it to the depth that they are preparing us for. During simulation they would ask us what our differential diagnoses were, specific drugs used, doses, tests, why we were ordering a certain test, the contradictions for certain treatments or tests, gram positive vs. gram negative antibiotic coverage etc. They didn't expect us to know all of this at the beginning, but have prepared us to know it by now (the end). Remember, advanced practice nurses are there to offset the physician shortage and fill the gaps, so it would only make sense that we know just about the same depth of knowledge.

You'll Make Life-Long Friendships

Going through a stressful time such as grad school allows you to bond and form life long friendships with those that are going through it with you. Your classmates know what you're going through; they're experiencing it too. Lean on each other, encourage each other, and help each other. Believe it or not, those friendships can have an impact on your success in your program. They allow you to push each other to become even better advanced practice nurses.

My name is Brittany, I have been a registered nurse for 5+ years, am a recent graduate from an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program, and the author of Nurse's Guide to Graduate School. I currently run the blog #Nurselyfe (nurselyfe.wordpress.com) where I blend my knowledge graduate school, nursing and healthy living, to help nurses keep their sanity and care for themselves while caring for others.

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Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

What a great peek into the graduate student journey. I so agree that it's worth it. Once you have your degree, no one can take it away from you. What better to invest in than yourself and your own education.

Specializes in Critical Care.

I'm so excited for graduate school and to expand my learning. I love my role as an ICU nurse and I cannot wait to build on that knowledge base and be a provider.

It was worth it. When I did it it was with relatively low expectations - I would continue until either the money or brains ran out. I also was a single mom, working full-time, going to grad school, and during it just to add to the fun decided to build a house and move! And I finished. The only thing I would say is that if I had know in the beginning of my career that I would go on, I would have worked harder in my undergrad program (all of you RN students pay attention if you think you MIGHT go on to a graduate degree.)

Specializes in Emergency.

Great article! I start next month & plan on reading this again on the hard days. Thanks for all the advice.

How do you form those bonds with fellow students online? A lot of NP students say they passed only because they studied in groups and checked into hotels together. How do online students do that?

Specializes in Cardiothoracic Intensive Care.

Since the program I just finished was an Acute Care NP program, a majority of it was in class. We had class 1-2 times/wk and sometimes even clinical at the same time.

Interesting read, and very relevant for me at the moment. Thanks!

Specializes in ICU, LTACH, Internal Medicine.
How do you form those bonds with fellow students online? A lot of NP students say they passed only because they studied in groups and checked into hotels together. How do online students do that?

This is precisely why I chose online program. No more whining classmates with no study skills progress since kindergarten. No "study groups" and no "group projects". No social skills involved, altogether, so no cattiness and middle school level drama (maybe they still exist, but I have no Facebook account and so do not care to know). Some silly "duscussion board" assignments are still there but that's about it.

One needs to understand that there will be no "team work" as a provider. There will be talks, consults and negotiations, but no "team work" in a sense that there always be someone to, essentially, do your job for thank you very much. There will be you, your patient, and decisions, yours to make, and, maybe, some distant "support" in the form of the MD. The latter thing is not guaranteed, and addressing it frequently would not be seen as a good job done.

Those not ready for this should not go to grad school, IMHO.

Specializes in Pediatrics, Women's Health, Education.

I'm in grad school right now and all those subheads are true!

So true!! I am starting my 3rd semester next week AGACNP track. So many times I wanted to quit but I just try to keep in mind that I have a goal and quitting is not an option. I wanna learn, I am learning!

The only thing I would say is that if I had know in the beginning of my career that I would go on, I would have worked harder in my undergrad program (all of you RN students pay attention if you think you MIGHT go on to a graduate degree.)

I'm pretty sure every students wants an A, but nursing school just doesn't happen like that. I strove for an A in all my semesters, ending up with B's and B+'s. As the saying goes, always a bridesmaid, never a bride.