Back-to-School Must-Haves for Nursing Students

Dare I speak the truth: It is almost time for school to start. Now that I’ve admitted the inevitable, it’s time for me to start shopping for those back-to-school essentials. Here’s my top ten items to make sure you have on hand for the coming school year:

1. Planner/Calendar

Without any doubt I would say that the most important supply for any nursing student is some sort of planner or calendar. Hardcopy, pocket-sized, phone or tablet app; it doesn’t matter what kind as long as it works for you. Use it to keep track of class and clinical times, work, life events, due dates. . . Everything.

2. Pens

Be sure to stock up on your favorite pens! Mine happen to be Pilot G2s. I love taking notes with them, and having a pen that feels good in my hand actually makes my handwriting neater, too! But also be sure to stock up on cheap pens that you can loan out to classmates, because chances are you’ll never see that pen again. . .

3. General NCLEX Question Study Book

If you don’t get one when you buy your textbooks, be sure to pick up a fairly current book of NCLEX study questions, preferably broken down by subject matter. Refer to this for extra practice questions throughout your schooling.

4. Good Shoes

Don’t just buy the first reasonably-priced pair of white tennis shoes you come across.
Choosing a shoe with some orthotic support will pay off in the long run. On clinical days when you’ve been on your feet for 7.5 of your 8 hours, your feet, legs, and back will thank you.

5. Hair Supplies

Ladies with long locks, you are going to need to stock up on hair ties and bobby pins! Like, a lifetime supply or so. Hairspray too, to keep those fly-aways back and your buns neat and tidy.

6. Miniature Notebook

The hero of my clinical experience has got to be my pocket-sized notebook. Goodness knows I can’t remember all the critical values I assessed at the bedside when I’m completing gingerbread man worksheets at home hours (or days) later! Vital signs, lab values, assessment notes, procedures you performed, due dates of assignments, and whatever else you might need to remember can be jotted down quickly at any time.

7. Messenger Bag

I’d recommend a bag large enough to carry a textbook or two, and with a sturdy bottom. Use this to carry books, laptop (if desired), stethoscope, and other supplies to and from clinical. Choose a material that can be easily wiped down to make cleaning off hospital germs a breeze.

8. Caddy for Assorted Clinical Essentials

One of the biggest time-savers in my morning is having one small basket by the door with all my clinical essentials–name badge, stethoscope, pens, mini-notebook, bandage scissors, penlight. Long gone are the days of hunting around for something last minute or misplacing items at the bottom of my backpack. I just grab my things on my way out the door and put them in their proper place on my person, and empty my pockets into the basket as soon as I get home. Nothing gets forgotten!

9. Travel Mug

No nurse is complete without their coffee! Save yourself money by making your morning cup at home instead of grabbing something on the way. A nice travel mug you really like will save you money in the long run.

10. Quick and Easy Power Snacks

Stock up on granola bars and other grab-and-go healthy snacks. These are perfect for those 5-minute breaks from lecture or for clinical days when you just can’t make it until lunch. This will save you the money of buying vending machine food, plus healthy alternatives will keep your brain working harder longer!

Summertime!

Summer is finally here! School is out, and it’s time to kick back, relax, and enjoy your time off—as well you should, having spent the last eight months owning it at physical assessment, disease processes, and care plans. But maybe you also want to spend some time making sure you don’t lose all those important skills and critical thinking abilities you worked so hard to acquire. Here are some ways to stay fresh over the summer and be ready to tackle the upcoming semester:

1. Work as a Nurse’s Aide

There are few things as valuable on-the-job experience. Working in a nurse’s aide position as a student nurse will grant you more time at the bedside. You will become more confident talking with patients, gain more experience with basic technical skills, and have the opportunity to observe and talk to nurses on a regular basis. In addition, working as an aide can serve as a foot in the door for when you graduate as a Registered Nurse.

2. Job Shadowing

If working as a nurse’s aide doesn’t fit your schedule, consider job shadowing as an exciting alternative. Simply by asking, you have the opportunity to shadow nurses and other medical professionals in a variety of settings. This allows you to explore employment options for when you graduate, as well as to pick the brains of your fellow nurses.

(For more information about job shadowing, see my article here.)

3. NCLEX Practice Questions

Never underestimate the value of practicing NCLEX questions! Buy yourself a review book, or sign up for a daily NCLEX question to be delivered to your email. Although doing more NCLEX questions is probably the last thing on your mind this summer, doing a few questions every day or even every week will help to keep your mind sharp and to review the concepts you’ve learned over the last year.

4. Continuing Education

Taking a class is a great way to keep your mind working over the summer. There are many free MOOCs (massive open online courses) available on healthcare-related topics. You can take these courses from the comfort of your own home, and some you can work through at your own pace. Furthermore, check out if your local community college offers healthcare-related continuing education or a summer course that could apply toward furthering your degree.

5. Read

Check out your local library for books on nursing history, heartwarming stories of nurses making a difference, and the latest in medical research. Consider subscribing to a nursing magazine or medical journal for monthly or bimonthly articles of interest. And of course, be sure to browse all the coolest nursing blogs! (May I recommend https://ineffectivecopingpattern.wordpress.com/?)

6. Road Trip!

Why not make the most of your summer vacation by combining vacationing with nursing history? Visit some place in your area or where you plan to vacation that is significant to nursing history or that is celebrating the achievements of nurses.

7. Treat Yourself

Don’t forget the value of taking a mental break. Do something to treat yourself–you’ve earned it! Take a spa day, read that novel that’s been sitting on your shelf, go to a bed and breakfast for the weekend with your significant other, dedicate some time to a hobby you’ve been neglecting. . . take some time for YOU.

 

It is possible to have a rewarding summer vacation while still not completely neglecting your studious nurse side. Just by choosing a few of these suggestions, you are well on your way to a fun yet educational summer.

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.

Playing the Student Card

Is there a type of nursing you’ve always wanted to learn more about, but haven’t had clinical experience with? Is there a certain advanced nursing specialty you’re considering pursuing? Just looking for a way to keep gaining experience over the summer without working as a nurse’s aide? Make the best of your upcoming summer off and play the student card!

Use your connections!

We all have that friend or family member who is a nurse. Reach out to the nurses in your life and ask if you can shadow them or another nurse they know on the job. I reached out to just one nurse and suddenly had a laundry list of contacts, ER to case management to practitioners and more.

Professors and clinical instructors make great contacts as well. Many of them have hospital jobs as well, especially part-time faculty. Ask if you can shadow them, or if they can put you in touch with a few nurses that you could observe for a day.

Make new connections

Reach out to specialty centers in your area–burn and trauma centers, life flight, home health and hospice care, etc. Often, specialty centers are receptive to having students come in for observation. Simply write a nicely worded email or put in a call to the administrative office explaining that you are a nursing student interested in any observation opportunities that may be available. You will be surprised at how many yeses you can get, and if you are turned down you have lost nothing. You literally have nothing to lose and so much experience to gain!

In summation: Don’t be afraid to reach out to the nurses you know in your personal life, instructors, and specialty nursing centers in your area. You can learn so much though observation and getting the opportunity to talk with nurses employed in many different areas of the profession.

Can You Feel the Love Tonight? No, I’d Rather Be Sleeping. . . (How NOT to Neglect Your Lover in Nursing School)

So many times we get caught up in this assignment, that test to next week, these clinicals to get to, the study session with the girls tomorrow night. . . add in the possibility of jobs, housekeeping, and kids, and in the hustle and bustle of it all, we often forget or neglect our significant others. Or if we don’t, we seem to value quality time with our bed more than our honeys.

However, our spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends can often be our greatest source of support and encouragement. We can’t let them down! What are some strategies to enjoy each other even with our busy nursing student schedules?

1. Scheduled date-nights

Make a habit of making dates with your lover, and not to blow them off either. Scheduling a few hours once a week or every other week, or even once a month, to focus only on each other will help you to reconnect. You can make your date night out or in–the important thing is to put the other stuff aside and focus on being together.

Holding Hands

2. Mutual study/work sessions

My boyfriend and I have used this one many times. If you’re both in college, or if your sweetie has some work-related business to attend to from home, work together! It doesn’t matter if he/she is in nursing too. I highly recommend going out to a coffee shop together to work. Have your S.O. quiz you on some NCLEX questions, and in return offer to proofread their essay. Take turns explaining concepts from your classes to each other. They can be a great asset to and champion of your learning!

3. Doing and appreciating the small things

The biggest problem I’ve seen in nursing school relationships is that the nursing student side of the relationship stops giving, while expecting to be given more. Who hasn’t heard after a long clinical day, “I can’t wait to get home and crash on the couch, and make the hubby take care of the house and kids!” While it’s totally okay for your better half to pick up some of your to-dos when your plate is full from nursing, remember the importance of you doing little things too–taking his car through the car wash, making dinner for her one night. . . And by all means, don’t forget to show appreciation for all the extra help you’re getting from your S.O.!

To sum things up, it’s important to remember our partners, even during the demanding course of nursing school. They’re often our biggest supporters, and we owe it to them not to neglect our relationships. If you make an effort to spend time with your lover, and remember to continue contributing to the relationship and appreciating your honey, you’re well on your way to maintaining a happy relationship even among all the stressors nursing school throws at you.

How to Succeed in Nursing School Without Really Trying

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.