Staying sane in nursing school

Nursing school is rewarding and exciting. In my personal opinion, I think it’s one of the best degrees out there. I met some of my best friends in nursing school (I’ve been to one of their weddings, and they will be coming to mine someday). I grew so much as a person during nursing school; I am completely different compared to who I was when I started my program. I learned so much about myself and about the nursing profession.

On the other hand, nursing school is really tough. It is different than any other degree or program. It is focused, demanding, and intense. Practicals and lab simulations are nerve-wrecking. Instructors are real nurses in the field with real-life experiences and stories that inspire students, as well as scare the *crap* of out them.

That all being said, I graduated nursing school with distinction. I both struggled and thrived. I learned a lot over the 4 years, and here are some of my tips for success in nursing school

#1 Stay Hydrated

Buy a big water bottle. Moisturize your whole damn body. Get hand cream and use it. Hospitals are full of dry air, especially in the cold winter months. Hand sanitizer is very harsh. Drink lots of water on working days, and non-working days. Trust me, it helps. Your skin, hair, eyes, and bladder will thank you.

#2 Work Ahead

Make a plan. I used to make charts in Word Docs that planned out the whole semester. I included each class and it’s assignment’s due dates, readings, and exams. I never fell behind that way. In fact, I often worked ahead a week or two on readings and assignments. Working ahead allowed me so much more time for self-care, seeing friends and family, and helped me keep on top of study for those big exams and practicals.

#3 Get to know your classmates

In my first year, I met 4 awesome classmates that became my best friends. Even though I moved away from my school’s town where they all live, I still go back every 1-2 months to visit. They were study partners and best friends. Find your people: study hard with them, spend late nights and early mornings at the library with them. It helps to have someone to watch your backpack while you go on a coffee run.

#4 Get good scrubs

My school did not have a uniform (although I know some nursing programs have scrub uniforms). We only had a patch and a name badge we had to wear on placements. If you can buy your own scrubs, buy good ones. Some people bought cheap scrubs because of financial reasons. Believe me, it’s better to splurge a bit and get good ones. You’ll spend hours in hospital in these scrubs and hours at school in simulations. Get comfy scrubs. Get ones with lots of pockets. Make sure they fit right. Make sure they look good and that you feel good wearing them. You’re going to have to be (or at least act) confident at the hospital when you don’t feel confident about your skills; a good pair of scrubs that make you feel good about yourself can really boost your confidence.

#5 Go to class

This does not need an explanation. How else are you going to learn? Just get out of bed and go. Your instructors are real-life nurses with real-life experience. You are not going to learn real-life skills unless you go to class. Remember, you really only get a couple years to learn everything you need to know to save lives and keep patients safe. Just go to class.

Just a sample of my textbooks from second year nursing

#6 Do the readings

Again, this does not need a huge explanation. How else are you going to learn? I bought at least 30 textbooks during my 4 years in school. At least 4 of those are more than 3000 pages. It is a lot of reading. Do it smart. Skim the non-important parts. Make good notes so you do not have to ever re-read. Always read the headings first. Remember, this is not just a course you have to pass to finish school. It is a course that is aiming to teach you skills you will need for the rest of your life. So make a cup of your favourite hot beverage, sit down at your desk with your computer/notebook, and spend a couple hours reading each week. Just do your readings please.

#7 Pay attention in the hospital

You only get a few hospital placements before you will be an actual nurse and be responsible for your own decisions; That is seriously the scariest thing about becoming a nurse. So, while you are still a student, pay attention. Listen to your preceptors. Watch them do things. Watch how they interact with patients, families, and doctors. Imitate them. Listen to their advice. Take opportunities to see new things. There’s a patient going down for a procedure? Ask to go with them to observe. Seeing these things will help inform your practice and make you a more knowledgable nurse. Pay attention to the things going on around you and to your preceptors/instructors because it will make you a better nurse.

#8 Talk to your family

Believe me, your family (unless they’re in the healthcare field) will not understand what you’re talking about. Tell them everything you’re doing, seeing, and learning. Tell them about the sad things, the happy things, the disgusting things. Talk to anyone and everyone you consider to be your family. Be proud of what you’re learning and share it with everyone. The more you talk, the more they will understand and the better you will feel about the sad things and the difficult things. The first time I had a patient die, I told my mom. My mom is the most emotional person in the world. She cries hysterically during commercials about sad children and dogs. I knew she would be upset, but I had to talk about it. We cried together. I felt better, and she understood more about what I do and how I do it. So please, talk to your family.

#9 Enjoy yourself

You only (hopefully) get one chance to be in nursing school. So enjoy yourself! Celebrate your victories and your *learning opportunities* (or failures, as some like to call it). Got an IV in for the first time? Or gave an injection for the first time? Celebrate! Felt embarrassed about something you said or did? Celebrate the fact you know what to do better next time! Just enjoy yourself. It can be a stressful time, so focus on the positives and go with the flow.

#10 Stay healthy

This one goes hand-in-hand with #1 (stay hydrated). Take a multivitamin. Eat a vegetable at least once a day. Eat some fruit. Make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet. Pack your lunch, don’t buy it from the hospital or from the school. Wash your hands. Exercise. Find a sport or a type of exercise you enjoy and go for it. It’s great for relieving stress and keeping your body healthy. Talk to friends and family regularly. Write a blog or journal. Express your feelings. Mental health is just as important as physical health.

Most important thing to take away from this list: focus on the present and the future. Nursing school goes by so quickly. Don’t forget where you’re going, and don’t forget what you’ve been through to get there. Good luck!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s