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Yes, You CAN Do This!

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Specializes in Cardiac, COVID-19, Telemetry. Has 2 years experience.

Is nursing school an impossible task?

Often, nursing school is shaped as an impossible task unless you have no other responsibilities or priorities. There are ways to support yourself both academically and professionally, to transform you into a Registered Nurse. This article highlights four tips used by the writer to keep her head above water and meet her professional goals.

Yes, You CAN Do This!

Congratulations. You’ve embarked on a journey so many of us have trekked before you, yet in a crazy whirlwind of a pandemic. Obviously, you must have dreams and goals that pushed your desire to enter into the world of healthcare and conquer the beast that is nursing school. Remember why you chose this journey: you will refer back to it many, many times.

I decided to go to nursing school as a second career student. Having received a Bachelor's in Political Science just 4 years prior to mustering up the courage to attend nursing school; I knew I had to buckle my seatbelt, grit my teeth, and just bear it. Oh, did I mention that I also now had two children, a husband, a dog, and a full-time job? I had none of those when I experienced college the first time. I learned so many things in those two (seemingly never-ending) years before I could officially call myself a Registered Nurse. Let me share some things nobody told me—or that I just didn’t listen to or find important until I was neck-deep in chum water.

1. YOU are your top priority. Period.

The number one thing I hope you take from this is that you are important. After all, how can you be a good student, mom, wife, nurse, employee, etc. etc., if you’re running on fumes constantly? Believe me, it is hard to balance everything on your plate when the food is running over.

I spent 6 hours in an ED with a stress-induced migraine the night before psych clinical during my fourth semester. I thought that my sleep came after everything else until my body shut me down. I was working two jobs, one full-time night shift, one PRN second shift, classes and clinical during the days, and somehow squeaking in about 2-3 hours of sleep a day. DON’T DO THAT TO YOURSELF! I missed an entire night of good sleep and was irritable in clinical until I was able to get the rest my body was screaming at me to have.

Once I started prioritizing myself, I had more quality sleep, performed better at work, and studied better. It doesn’t take much to prioritize yourself:

  • Make a routine and stick to it
  • Eat more than once a day for the sake of your sanity
  • Take a hot shower
  • Listen to a podcast
  • Make it a point to do something even if it is just an hour to appreciate yourself and recharge

It’s the most important piece of advice I can give you. Then, carry that over to your first nursing job! Your career is going to feel like it is sucking the life out of you and you will be burned out very quickly if you don’t take care of yourself! It is perfectly FINE to let that discharge paperwork wait for 20 minutes while you eat something for lunch so you’re not laying next to your patient’s bed passed out while trying to pass medicine because you didn’t eat. It’s okay to tell your family, friends, and loved ones that you need some space when you get home to recollect yourself. You can’t be YOU when you don’t take care of yourself.

2. YES, you CAN work in nursing school (and be a parent, spouse, etc.).

We have ALL heard the horror stories and the threats prior to starting school. “You can’t work in nursing school.” “You will have to sacrifice everything for this program.” “You can’t have a life when you’re in nursing school.” Granted, this little point depends on how well you are able to balance, but so often you hear that it is not possible and it is discouraging for those wanting a career change, but their budget doesn’t allow it.

Let me tell you a good tip: try to find a job working where you may want to work as a nurse! This worked fabulously for me. It helps you build connections and may also open the door to scholarship opportunities. I started with my place of employment as a night shift nurse tech. I worked every weekend (SSM) through nursing school; my job paid for the remainder of my ADN, and again for my BSN. I learned a lot about the nurses that I would potentially be working with. I gained critical thinking skills for the department that I would join as a nurse.

Once I graduated, I became a nurse on the unit I had been a tech in for two years. I already knew where the supplies were. I knew the codes to doors throughout the unit. I knew my colleagues and some of the physicians. This gave me a huge leg-up for those first few months of nursing that were some of the most stressful months of my life. Nursing school did NOT prepare me to be a nurse. It prepared me to take the NCLEX. The unit I worked on shaped me initially and continues to shape me today. Also, because I was seen as a future asset to the unit, my manager was much more willing to work with me if I needed to make changes with my schedule. I honestly don’t think I would have survived working during nursing school without my colleagues' support. Some of them became my biggest cheerleaders in nursing school. I did not have the option to not work, and this ended up being one of the best decisions I made. I’m now a charge nurse on that very same unit that I started as a tech in my first semester of nursing school. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

3. Reach out to faculty in your program.

Is there an instructor in your program with whom you feel comfortable asking questions? I formed a relationship with some of my instructors that have carried over well after school. The former director of our program wrote my recommendation letter for graduate school. I’ve been asked to be a reference for instructors applying at other positions. These people have been invaluable to me during my education at their institution and also in shaping my career after graduation. A former instructor has served as an adviser for me during projects while obtaining my BSN. It is nice to know that they support me not only as a student but as a professional in the career field.

Reach out to your teachers, show that you’re making an effort. Attend office hours if you’re struggling, and ask for assistance or guidance on how you can improve going forward. You won’t regret these connections that you’re forming early on. They could be writing you recommendation letters for future job endeavors.

4. Find a SMALL group of students to help hold you accountable and also encourage you.

Nursing school is hard. It is cutthroat and competitive. Find some students that you can journey through this with. I didn’t really find my niche of friends until about half-way through my program. However, these two girls became my closest companions, and to be together at the pinning ceremony was very special. We laughed together. We cried together. We cussed together. We each taught the other something, whether it be class-related or personal. We encouraged each other when NCLEX was around the corner, and we pushed each other when a test was coming up. If one of us didn’t understand something, we worked together until we were all on the same page. Sometimes when the work was too heavy, we split it up and then taught it to each other. You can’t read everything assigned — you just can’t. It's far too much. We would divide reading and sections and then we would make outlines and review. Prior to tests, we would spend days in the study rooms in the nursing department writing on whiteboards quizzing each other. Once, we took a 5 hour day trip to the beach on a weekday to give our brains a break. We are still friends now. Even though each of us works in totally different places, we keep in touch. It’s a bond that will last a lifetime.

In conclusion

I hope these four tips help you to thrive during nursing school. It isn’t always going to be easy. I had times that I laid on my living room floor sobbing to my husband, asking, “why did I do this” losing all hope in myself to push forward. However, here I am…a year and a half later…workin’ it in a pandemic and pursuing a Doctorate. Not exactly what I had pictured my first year to look like, but I am so grateful that I never gave up.

Remember your reasons, take care of yourself, network, make connections…then go be the nurse you knew you would be the day you applied to your program.

TropsnegRN is a Charge Nurse for a Cardiac/Telemetry Medical-Surgical Unit, turned COVID-19 Unit over the course of the last 6 months. She tackled nursing school while holding down a full-time job, supporting her spouse and taking care of her two girls. She is currently pursuing a DNP with the intentions to become a Family Nurse Practitioner and work with low-income populations to improve their health and outcomes.

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2 Comment(s)

tnbutterfly - Mary, BSN, RN

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

Thanks for your tips and words of encouragement for students.  There is light at the end of the dark tunnel.

I almost lost my home multiple times because "You have to make time for school."  Unfortunately, my jobs didn't agree with that, and the last minute rescheduling of clinicals actually cost me jobs, which is a HUGE deal when you have to pay rent.

Now, yeah, it's easy when you're married and have another person to help pay all your bills for you so that you can free up time.  But for those of us who are single and live alone, the expectation in nursing school was that we put having a home on the line to fit THEIR schedule.

But that's the view that these types of articles tend to ignore.  It's an entirely different world when you don't have a husband or wife at home to pick up the slack for you.  But a lot of us don't have that luxury, which unfortunately means our jobs come first.

The time commitment is a serious problem with nursing schools, that should be addressed.  Rather than "here's how to do with help from other people," we should be focused on "here's what we can do to fix the problem for future classes."

Right now, anyone who doesn't just have 40 hours a week of free time, I wouldn't recommend going to school.  The time commitment is just too much for someone who has to handle it alone.

Edited by TheDudeWithTheBigDog