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

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.

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.