Nursing school is a lot different than anything I have ever done. Having a BS in psychology, I have a solid college education. But nursing school is challenging because it integrates critical thinking + real world problems and situations. It is more than just exams, though those can make or break you. Critical thinking may come off as easy to some, but it takes practice to exercise that area of your brain. Most college students use “recall” on exams (where you are triggered to remember and can lead to a correct answer), but in nursing school, this is not the case.
So what is nursing school really like? This is my personal experience. There is a standard for nursing education, but each one in itself is different. It’s a combination of lecture class, clinicals, SIM experience (real situations on a mannequin), and a lot of various skills testing. The window for error is small, and there is a curve to ween out people who can’t keep up. Anything below a 75% is failing.
Nursing school is challenging, rewarding, but genuinely a great experience. Although I have only been in school for a year, these are a few things that have helped me have a successful and enjoyable first year.
My number one tip is get organized. I’m talking calendars, sticky notes, cute/fun stickers, amazing pens of all colors, a very organized and detailed binder with all kinds of fun tabs. At the beginning of your semester, fill in every exam, lab skill testing, open lab hours, and anything that is due. This is crucial to succeeding. Deadlines are strict and there is no room for I forgot to do my homework/prepare for class, clinicals, etc. You need to be ready. every. time. Every thing you are learning builds on top of the next thing you will learn, so you need to start strong and finish strong.
You will go through many stages of emotions during nursing school. First you’re going to be really excited. I got into nursing school! And congratulations because that can be hard work. You deserve to be excited. At first, it will be a combination of excitement and nervousness. What you can expect next will be some anxiety. This stage can be difficult. Your first skills testing, first few exams, and first few weeks of clinicals will give you some anxiety. But that is totally normal. My teacher has always reassured us how normal we are, and it always makes me feel better. I am currently just moving out of that anxious stage. I have more experience with patients and basic knowledge, that I am now starting to feel less anxious and more excited. I am finally connecting all the dots together and having a lot of ah ha moments. Like finally my hard work is paying off. You’ll be there too!
What can I expect on my first night of clinicals? Well I bet everyone’s experience is vastly different, but here’s how mine went: I panicked a lot. I didn’t know what to pack. I didn’t know what to expect as only having some medical experience – very basic. I didn’t know what to do, but I stuck with it and it all turned out okay. I’ll do a follow up post detailing my experience, what I packed, and what you can expect. Basically, you will meet your instructor for the semester, you’ll get a tour of the hospital, be assigned a patient, and you will use your basic knowledge to do a head-to-toe assessment. And as some one who has doesn’t have that type of experience, I was nervous. And a lot of people are nervous too. You won’t be alone. Many people may not be as vocal about it, but know that each person has their own insecurities, no matter how confident they may seem. (Update* – check out my blog post on everything you need for your first clinical experience).
Find that one person. This is a big one! I didn’t find her until my second semester, but when I did, we connected instantly and everything just seemed to flow together. We constantly lean on each other for support, we’ve grown with each other, and we keep one another in line. There are many times I would say it may be better to stick together as a big nursing pack, but that doesn’t work for everyone. I work better studying independently and so does my person, so this is what works best for us. We don’t study together, but we are constantly on the phone and texting to stay on the same page. Some people work in groups and are extremely successful; however, this just isn’t my study type. Find what works for you and keep a routine. You will be more successful in the long run. You may not find your routine your first semester, so take your time. Try new things and familiar things and see where you are at. I just had a routine of working on my bed in my dorm, so that is simply what has transferred over in nursing school and works for me 🙂
There is no competition to be better or smarter than anyone else in your class. You simply cannot let comparison be a thief to your experience or be fueled by competitiveness. It’s obviously great to want to be better, but it isn’t a competition. It’s hard not to feel a certain way when you think you may not be doing as well as everyone else, or you feel so behind because you may not have the experience other students have. You may feel like you’re at a disadvantage, but that’s not always the case. So block that all away. This is your journey. Teamwork makes the dream work but it starts with you. Some days I feel the tension between students in class and at clinicals. We are in stressful situations so it’s easy to compare. It’s easy to be hard on yourself or feel like you don’t measure up. Stay focused. Kindness goes a long way, in class, clinicals, and every day life. Help someone who may be struggling, but don’t carry someone else’s weight. Everything can feel heavy enough in nursing school. Know your limits.
Study almost every day. What works best for me is a continuing flow of study time, like 1-3 hours every night, with more time during exam weeks: and then once a week taking an almost complete break/night off. Yes, I even study on weekends; that is what being a night time student, a full time mommy, a homemaker, and managing my somewhat up and running photography business, is like. I have a somewhat flexible schedule, but I do best with a structured study schedule of doing a little bit here and there as opposed to cramming. Find your routine and map it out. Know your priority tasks. Know what your teacher will generally be testing you on and study that first. If you can’t pass the exams, you can’t move on. And when you do study, do for the sole purpose of learning. Don’t cut corners. If you look at the overall picture, if you try to understand for the sake of wanting to learn, you will be much more successful. You aren’t just studying to pass an exam, you’re building a foundation for your passion of helping others. Always remember that.
Loosing myself in the service of others has been the best feeling!
Stay focused, positive, and remember: you can do this!!!