5 Tips for Surviving Nursing School

So, you’ve started nursing school or you are about to and the reality of the situation is creeping into your consciousness. I remember the first college I visited when deciding on a nursing school.  I was giving myself a tour to get a feel for the culture.

I walked through the halls past the health sciences labs where I saw anatomically correct mannequins, and I was overwhelmed with fear.  I cried on the way home and my spouse, well, let’s just say he was not as supportive as he could have been.

Maybe you just learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and realized becoming a self-actualized nurse who doesn’t kill people accidentally every day is going to be more of a challenge than you expected. You may be asking yourself what you have gotten into. “I don’t know anything, this is overwhelming and scary, how am I going to do all this?” Well, here you go. The top 5 things you need to know to make it through nursing school assuming you didn’t get scared away by the mannequins.

  1. Focus on school.

The first tip for surviving nursing school is to focus. Now is not the time to move, get married, pregnant or divorced (if you can help it), start a new hobby, invest in a big project, etc. Just be still and focus.  You might have to learn to say no.

  1. Make friends and study with them.

The second tip I want to share is about socialization. I don’t mean social media, I mean actually talking to people. Preferably, people you are in school with. Most nursing school classes have a diverse enrollment. 40 year olds starting their next career to 18 year olds just out of high school. You all need each other. Find a local coffee shop, study hall or library (yes, they still make libraries) and study with these human beings on the same path as you or just hang out and discuss the last clinical or the microbiology lecture that went over your head. Chances are someone there will be able to help you more than the internet, Facebook or your clueless spouse.

  1. Speaking of spouses, give them a break. That goes for every other non-nursing-student human being you usually rely on.

Your spouse, friends, neighbor, mom, dad have no idea what you are going through. You can try to explain to them how hard nursing school is but they still won’t get it. You are on a very personal adventure into a career that most would describe as a calling. Those who are not called don’t get it and won’t get it.

If you are lucky and smart, you will cultivate relationships with others who heard the calling (see number 2) and rely on them to provide the debriefing/ranting/crying time that you need. Otherwise, you run the risk of being disappointed in your spouse, feeling unsupported and alone.  The same will be true once your start your career.  It will be hard for your partner to empathize with your day if they don’t work in healthcare.  Give them a break.

  1. Get organized—and don’t skimp on tools and supplies.

You need a binder with tabs, and you need office supplies, a reliable computer, paper, ink, great pens and pencils. You need it all and it needs to be organized in a designated space. You cannot survive nursing school without this tip. You won’t survive with a crappy computer that dies every other day and especially the night before a paper is due.

Don’t forget organization. Do you take your notes on a computer or device? Organize them immediately! Computer notes are just as easy to misplace as paper. Create a naming convention that makes the notes easy to find and reference then file that stuff in the right place.  Do I need to tell you to hit the save button?

  1. Take care of you.

Many people who are drawn to nursing are natural caretakers of others. Some are caretakers in unhealthy ways. This is your time and your goals require that you focus on yourself and your efforts to get through school. When the oxygen mask pops down in an airplane the instructions are to first place the mask on yourself, THEN help others.

This is your time in nursing school.  This is your time to be selfish. Say no. Don’t take on extra tasks for the people you are caring for in life. Let them know now that you will be a little busy studying and will need their help to get through this, that you won’t be as available to them, that you can’t help like you once did. DO IT! It will be the healthiest thing you do and if they love you they will recognize that you are simply putting your own oxygen mask on first.

Are you a nursing student or recent graduate?  We invite you to share your life-saving nursing school survival tips in the comments.

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