Things I Have Actually Learned in Nursing School

In just under two years, I have mastered skills such as taking a manual blood pressure, performing a head-to-toe assessment, administering IM injections, and much more. But the things I will really take away from nursing school weren’t even learned in class. Here are just a few, in no particular order:

  1. How to sleep literally anytime, anyplace – broad daylight, the passenger seat, the bench in the hall at school. . .
  2. How to eat a 6″ sub in under 10 minutes
  3. How to sneak into the patient kitchen for saltines and water without being noticed
  4. That most people in nursing school aren’t worth your time
  5. That a select few people in nursing school will sometimes be all that keeps you sane and are more valuable than even the best Littmann stethoscope
  6. How to prioritize a variety of tasks such as clinical paperwork, studying for exams, completing research papers, showing affection to significant others, and sleeping
  7. Group projects were created to handicap the grades of good students
  8. SIM patients can and will vomit on you
  9. If you’re not early, you’re late
  10. People who are not nurses usually have no idea what nurses do, despite the fact they have probably had a nurse take care of them at least once in their lives
  11. There are opportunities for academic experiences that your program and/or school will not tell you about that you can find and take advantage of
  12. Patients appreciate that, as a student, you have time to attend to their less critical needs, like a warm blanket, having a pleasant conversation, or being able to take your time with total-feeds
  13. Attending four-hour lectures will give you the beginnings of disuse syndrome
  14. Coffee is a necessary ingredient for life as we know it
  15. Some patients have the most interesting tattoos in the most interesting of places
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A Day in the Life of an Anti-Social Nursing Student

0645 – Wake up, realize you have to people today, and, like most days, today is not a good day for peopling.

0700 – Text best friend or significant other about how you literally cannot people today.

0745 – Sit in car for a few extra minutes listening to tunes so you aren’t obligated to talk to people before class

0755 – Exchange necessary niceties with classmates. Find seat and establish best rbf while burying attention in phone.

0758 – Get asked seemingly innocent question by classmate. Answer politely, but ramp the rbf up a couple notches.

0835 – Hide in unused classroom following exam. Play solitaire with actual deck of cards you brought.

1030 – Stay in seat during break because everyone else leaves. Enjoy quiet reflection about foley catheters and/or tacos.

1035 – Go to use bathroom as stampede of students return from bathroom. Keep hair pulled down in front of eyes if possible.

1057 – Exchange eye roll with trusted classmate regarding other students’ behavior and/or questions.

1114 – Exchange eye roll with instructor regarding other students’ behavior and/or questions.

1200 – Take lunch break off campus to nearest Sheetz. Surround self with people you haven’t spent 20+ hours a week with for the last 2 years.

1231 – Return to class just as the professor begins to lecture. Make no apologies.

1449 – Rub temples in exasperation

1500 – Practically run out the door and seemingly fly home

1534 – Collapse on couch from exhaustion of peopling all day. Pat yourself on the back because you did not, in fact, eat anyone today.

 

Things I Wish They Taught Me in Nursing School

As I am busy completing my third of four semesters of nursing school, finally participating on the clinical floor more as a true “baby nurse” than just glorified CNA, I am realizing some things that would have been so useful to have learned in those first semesters.

Inspired by If Nurse Eye Roll Ran Nursing School and my own experiences.

  • Popping Pills 101
    • How to open a variety of pill containers using basic tools such as fingernails, bandage scissors, teeth, and sheer determination.
  • Popping Pills 102
    • How to open a variety of pill containers without looking like a blubbering, clumsy idiot in front of clinical instructors.
  • Report Sheets that Actually Work
    • What you really should know from report and initial assessment.
  • Your Personal Nursing Brain
    • How to schedule your time from 0700 to 1500.
  • How to Play Nice With Others
    • How to make friends with your classmates at least long enough to survive the semester.
  • How to Ask Smart Questions
    • So that every time your nurse asks “Do you have any questions about anything?” you sound like you actually think.
  • How to Talk to a Care Team Who Thinks You’re a Nuisance
    • And when you were told to “report off to your nurse,” you actually had words to exchange besides “good riddance.”
  • How to Raid Kitchens and Stave Off Hunger
    • It may say “Patients Only,” but if you are thinking about eating your patient, it may be time to resort to sneaking a cracker. . .
  • The Big Hospital of Search and Find
    • How to do a quickie room scan and actually find the 20 things amiss in 2 minutes or less.
  • Talking to Patients 101
    • I’m not talking therapeutic communication. I’m talking the casual conversation that helps to build rapport with patients and helps them to think about something other than their illness.
  • How to Be Okay with Not Reading the Book
    • Okay, so most students probably find this intuitive. Some of us (*cough* me *cough*) could really use a course in when reading the book is truly a futile endeavor.
  • Dealing with Clinical Instructors, Their Mannerisms, and Their Paperwork
    • Ideally taught by a recent grad(s), this covers the pet peeves and how-to-please of all your professors. One likes their med sheets one way, one likes them a completely different but equally insane way, one is your best friend if you bake brownies for post-conference but otherwise is entirely unbearable, and the other insists that jackets never be worn on the clinical unit and to appear with one is your death sentence.

Good luck, fellow nursing students! It’s a big, scary world out there for us to figure out.

Is there anything you would add to the list? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Learning your work/life balance starts now

Figuring out how you’re going to balance your nurse work and life isn’t something that starts after you graduate nursing school – It starts now. I know many students with the mentality of “I don’t have a life now, but once I get out of nursing school I’ll go back to having a life.” Newsflash: Life as a nurse is demanding, usually entailing at least three 12 (so, 13-14)  hour shifts per week, plus the potential to be on call, graduate or CE courses, staff meetings, in-service trainings, conferences… You name it, there are a million and one ways in which being a nurse can soon take up your entire life. Being willing to give your entire life to nursing school is setting you up to have no life during orientation, graduate school, and basically your entire career as a nurse. 

Currently I am in a comparatively easy gerontology/med-surg course. I have been encouraging my classmates to make the most of this opportunity and, while still studying frequently, to do some fun, lifey, mental-health-rejuvenating activities. Here is a breakdown of a typical week for me:

Monday: Study, potentially with a friend at a coffee shop. Catch up on household chores/personal to-dos.

Tuesday: Attend lecture and lab. Study at home. Work 4 hours. Relax at home or dinner out with friends.

Wednesday: Lunch with a friend. Study at home. Catch up on reading/Netflix/movies.

Thursday: Attend lecture. Often some sort of work/school meeting, if not study at coffee shop with friend. Work 4 hours. Clinical prep and early bedtime.

Friday: Clinical day. Spend time with family after. Relax at home.

Saturday: Work 4 hours, can usually study at work. Go see boyfriend.

Sunday: Church. Hang out with friends, possibly fit in some studying.

I am getting in multiple hours of studying each week, while maintaining a solid 7-8 hours of sleep per night, a light work schedule, and getting time with family and friends. Additional hours of studying can easily be added for more difficult courses without having to eliminate all of my fun/relaxation times. Granted, it does help that I still live with my parents and do not have children (I respect you mother/father nursing students so much!). However, I tell you my schedule not as a guide for your own life, but to demonstrate that with a little planning and prioritizing, nursing school does not have to consume your life! 

You have my permission and encouragement: Do not make nursing school your life. Define your priorities and your work(school)/life balance NOW.

How to Get Ready and Out the Door for Clinical Mornings in 30 Minutes or Less

Only one thing sucks more than having to get up at 5:30am for clinicals: Having to get up at 4am for clinicals. Here’s how I’ve trimmed down my morning routine to get me from just-waking-up to out-the-door in just under 30 minutes.

1. Shower the Night Before

In my experience, I end up showering as soon after clinical as possible anyways, so showering the night before makes sense. Don’t have time for a shower? Rub in some dry shampoo the night before or morning-of for a quick fix. Fellows, if you can get away with shaving the night before, it will save you the extra minutes in the morning.

2. Pre-Set EVERYTHING

  • Clinical Materials: I pack my clinical go-bag the night before with all the essentials: Paperwork, stethoscope, pen lights, pens, pencils, ID badge, lotion, lip balm, books to study during downtime, money for lunch (alternatively Pre-pack your lunch and leave your lunchbox in the fridge overnight for easy grab-and-go). . . the list goes on and on to include basically everything I think I’ll need. Nothing gets forgotten, and no last-minute hassles searching for that one important item.
  • Breakfast: My pack of instant oatmeal is sitting in the bowl, with the spoon, next to my travel mug, with a K-cup pre-set and ready to go. The percentage of mornings I eat breakfast before clinical has significantly improved since I implemented this strategy! No need to try for anything fancy–cereal, instant oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit are fast, easy options that will keep you going. Also, taking your drink on the run saves more time and will help keep you awake for the early morning drive.
  • Outfit: I make sure my scrubs are washed and pressed the night before (yes, I do indeed iron my scrubs if needed. Professional appearance is important). Then I lay out my scrubs, any undergarments/undershirts, socks, and nursing shoes, plus a jacket/hoodie/lab coat if I think I’ll need that. No more fumbling around my closet in the dark!
  • Hair/Beauty: Make sure any supplies you will need in the morning in the way of hair supplies, makeup, deodorant, etc are within easy reach on your vanity.

All this pre-setting takes me about 30 minutes the night before (less if I can get away with not ironing my scrubs), and the time and stress it saves the next morning is so worth it! As you get into the routine of packing and pre-setting, it will take you less and less time.

3. Set 2-3 alarms

I set my first alarm for 5 minutes before I want to wake up, my second at the exact time I want to be up, and the last 5 minutes after I should have woken up. I also set the third alarm on a separate (more annoying) alarm clock across the room from my bed. When the first alarm goes off, I have the option of five more minutes of rest, or to get up and have the extra time in my morning. Then I have the third alarm to catch myself if I have slept through the first two or if the first alarm clock malfunctioned, and I’ll only have lost 5 minutes.

4. Routine, routine, routine

Develop an order of doing things, and then always do them in that order. Pretty soon you’ll be doing things automatically, so you can operate on auto-pilot while you’re still waking up.

5. A note on hair and makeup

Although I’m a huge fan of doing the least amount of things in the least amount of time in the morning, I still like to look nice, tidy, and professional. So ladies, this tip is for you. Quickest and best way I have found to look like I put in a little effort in the morning:

  • Quick freshen up: Just a quick once-over with a wet washcloth will help you feel more awake and alive.
  • Hair: Simple ponytail or nice, tidy(ish) bun works well. Spray fly-aways out of your face by spraying onto your hand, then smoothing over the top of your hair–this avoids the “I totally doused myself in hairspray this morning” look.
  • Mascara: Even if I’m running short on time, I try to do a quick once-over with mascara. The extra pop to the eyelashes can really help you look more awake and alert.
  • Eyeliner: I like to keep it simple and conservative, with just the waterlines of the eye (top and bottom) and a moderate line just above the eyelashes. Simple, easy, and just a little definition that says you put in an effort to look your best today.
  • I typically skip foundation and eyeshadow as I’ve found they don’t produce results worth the time involved, and they usually leave my face feeling grimy after an 8 hour clinical day anyhow.

Even implementing just a few of these tips could have you well on your way to shaving time off your morning routine and able to wake up later while getting to clinicals on-time and stress-free.

Tips for Studying for Finals (Full Article)

It’s that time of the school year again–the stress, the business, the assignments, the exams. . . Yes, it is (both fortunately and unfortunately) time for finals. As the end of the semester is fast approaching, here are some tips on how to end the semester strong:

1. Practice NCLEX-style questions

Questions in the back of the book, NCLEX review books, NCLEX review sites. . . Get your hands on as many NCLEX questions as you can that are relative to your course. Practicing this way will test your knowledge and critical thinking regarding key concepts and prepare you for the style of exam you will be taking.

To change things up a bit, try making your own NCLEX questions for each chapter, and then quiz your friends (see below).

2. Study group

Selection of the people you will study with is important. Try to pick 1-3 other motivated, professional students. Students who like to gab or goof off may be fun to hang out with, but they may not make the best study partners.

Work through your NCLEX-style questions together. You will have differing perspectives and be forced to defend your opinion, and you will get to hear other students’ rationales for their reasoning. Alternatively, everyone could pick a few units to review, and then take turns teaching the main points to the group. This way, everyone gets a review, and no one has to review every unit or chapter covered throughout the semester.

3. Study environment

Choose a quiet place away from the distractions of the home. Going out to study can boost productivity. Choose a place with just enough going on to keep you interested in working, but not so much that you get distracted. A library is an excellent place to study for a few hours. Coffee shops may be more crowded, but you get the added benefit of coffee/tea/juice and snacks while you work. Those with small children may find working at home after the kids go to sleep to be helpful

4. Take care of yourself

Take frequent breaks when studying. During a day of intense studying, taking 10 minutes every hour or 30 minutes every few hours can help you to recharge and come back fresh to study more. During a week-long study-fest, taking a half-day or day to do relax has a similar effect.

Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, even during finals week. The temptation to cram into the wee hours of night may be great, but don’t get so caught up in reviewing just one more section that you deprive your body of the sleep it needs to function at peak performance. You’ll need that brain power to pass your final exam.

Along those same lines, be sure you are getting adequate nutrition. Don’t let the stress of finals allow you to neglect your health by not eating or by binging on junk food. Try to focus on healthier choices that will pack a punch, like vegetables and lean meats. Limit your caffeine intake, as well. Don’t forget the power of water! We’ve all learned that dehydration can impair mental cognition–this goes for you too!

5. You’ve been studying all year

Believe it or not, you’ve been studying long before this week! In general, the concepts you will be tested on are ones you have learned, studied, and been tested on all semester. Use this to your advantage. Focus your studying on areas you know you struggled with and take comfort in the fact you will not have to study as hard on subjects you understood easily.

6. Make lists

Make a list of what you want to study, and check off as you get them done. This way, you can keep track of what you’ve done and what you still need to study. This will also help you to budget your time wisely by knowing how much you have left to do. You can prioritize more easily because you can see everything that is left and determine what is most important to study first.

7. Exercise

Exercising can boost your positivity and motivation and helps to refresh your mind. Plus, it takes the edge off any jitters before you sit down for a few hours to focus. Taking a hike, using the treadmill, and playing with a pet are just a few great ways to get your heart rate up.

In short, study hard and take care of yourself in order to perform at your best. Good luck to all my fellow students out there!

Why Cheating Will Only Hurt You in the End

It’s an unfortunate truth that cheating plagues colleges, and nursing school is not immune. Obviously, the most severe consequence of cheating is the threat of being permanently expelled from your program. This, however, does not deter some students, who believe they can be sneaky or secretive enough to avoid detection. Sometimes, they are. However, cheating has long-term consequences even if you escape the immediate ramifications of your actions.

You don’t know what you don’t know. Everything in nursing school leads up to the NCLEX, the examination you must pass to receive licensure. If you cheat on tests, you are cheating yourself of actually understanding and retaining the material. Beyond the NCLEX, you will become responsible for the care of patients as an RN. If you failed to actually comprehend concepts taught in school, if you merely looked up answers or memorized test questions through a test bank, you will not have acquired the knowledge necessary to care for patients as a new RN.

If, however, you maintain academic integrity throughout your schooling, you will be well aware of where you need to focus on improvement. You won’t be relying on a test bank to memorize questions and answers ahead of time, or a cheat-sheet to refer to when you get stuck, but instead your own knowledge base and critical thinking skills. When you graduate, you will be properly prepared to pass the NCLEX and competently care for patients as a new nurse.

Not to mention, as a patient, I would hope that my nurse is one who not only ensured they comprehended information that would be used in my care, but that they would rather take accountability for a bad grade and study harder in the future to expand their knowledge and understanding than falsify their way to a higher score.