Okay, so maybe “without really trying” is a bit of a stretch. But there are some strategies to make your time in nursing school so much easier. Here’s my top 5 tips for nursing school success.
1. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Learn early what’s important and what’s not. Clean house? Nice, but not a priority. Keep a planner of your schedule, school and otherwise. Then, stop sweating your schedule. Learn to say no to commitments that aren’t important to you. Prioritize what you need to do and what you most want to do, and don’t tie yourself down for anything else. You’ll thank yourself later for not having every second of every day booked.
2. Study Early, Study Often
For my last exam, I began studying for the test almost as soon as the material was assigned. The test was Valentine’s weekend, so I studied rigorously in the two weeks leading up to the weekend in an attempt to lighten my study load for the holiday. I spent Fri-Sun enjoying time with my boyfriend, only studying for a few hours over three days. Went in Monday morning and got a 94 on the exam.
The takeaway: Begin studying and doing practice problems as soon as you begin to gain an understanding of the material, and try to have a more relaxed day before your test.
Also, reading the book is great (highly recommend), but be sure to focus on going over practice NCLEX-style questions with rationales as soon as you begin to understand the material. This is what will teach you to apply your knowledge, and also the best strategy to practice for your exam.
3. Befriend Your Fellow Students
Your fellow students are going to be the one’s loaning you a pen light for your clinical head-to-toe when you forgot yours at home and helping you bathe a 300-lb bed-bound patient, not to mention these are the people you are going to be around 3-5 days a week for the next two years. You can learn a lot by teaching and learning from each other. Each of you has a particular set of skills, past experiences, and strengths. Play off these and recognize the value of each of your fellow students.
4. Distance Yourself from Your Fellow Students (Remember Your Non-Nursing School Friends)
Take a clinical group of 8 students, mix well 4-8 hours a day, 3-5 days a week, for 5 months straight (and this is assuming you don’t join a study group, participate in the Student Nurse’s Association, or go out for drinks on the weekends). After a while, no matter how great the group, people are really going to get on your nerves. Don’t be afraid to get away!
It bothers me when people say “only other nursing students understand what I’m going through.” Sure, other friends/family might not know exactly what it’s like to watch a patient stop breathing, or the five different types of wound dressings and their specific uses. But I’ve found that most people can understand that taking care of difficult or dying patients is stressful, or that juggling reading 6 chapters in one week, preparing clinical paperwork, and a part-time job all at the same time drains you. Plus, these are the people that best understand you. Your non-nursing friends/family miss you and want to support you. Take the chance to go out with them instead of your nursing school friends. Vent about nursing school, or forget about it all and catch up on life outside the nursing school bubble.
5. Find Your Effective Coping Strategy
Nursing students tend to smoke, drink, and bitch their way through the stress. But who ever said the strategies we teach our patients can’t be applied to ourselves? Find what helps you de-stress, and schedule time for that. Just make sure it’s good for you!
For me, it’s baking. I love to bake. Almost every Friday–when I’m off from both class and work–I devote a few hours to trying out a new recipe. Flurrying around the kitchen focuses me on the immediate task. Baking is a sensual experience of tactile sensations and wonderful aromas, and going through the motions of baking from scratch simultaneously heightens and calms me. Not to mention the delicious tastes and sense of accomplishment when you’re done! Baking leaves me feeling refreshed to study… my scrumptious treat in hand of course!
What is your effective coping strategy? Reading, jogging, yoga, music, gardening, playing with a pet. . . the possibilities are seemingly endless! The important thing is to make time for something (completely non-nursing!) that you love. Focusing on something other than nursing once in a while will keep you big-picture focused (see: #1) and dramatically reduce your stress level.