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.

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!

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.