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Nursing School Survival Tips

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By Laura Gilbert, Editor

The first thing nursing student Leilani Fraley does when she gets ready to head back to class after a break is buy a personal organizer and note all tests, projects and deadlines in it.

“I formulate a realistic schedule in advance and make adjustments as necessary—part of achieving success in nursing school is staying organized, while maintaining an open and flexible attitude,” said Fraley, who graduates from her accelerated registered nursing program in September. “I just take one day at a time—quietly celebrating each exam taken, each presentation given, each nursing care plan submitted, each research paper written along the way—confident and comforted by the knowledge that completing each of these tasks brings me closer to my goal.”

Stephanie Thibeault, a registered nurse and author of Stressed Out About Nursing School: An Insider's Guide to Success, agreed with Fraley, pointing out that getting back into the nursing school groove requires both mental and logistical preparation. “Whether it is organizing all your school gear ahead of time, making childcare arrangements or taking the time to reconnect with fellow nursing students, remember that there is a transition required after being off from school.”

Most importantly, Thibeault suggested students take advantage of those last few weeks before class and clinical rotations start up. “You need time just to hang out with friends and family to ensure you are centered before you have to throw yourself back into learning again,” she said.

Stress Strategies

Sometimes, nursing students forget how stressful school can be—and forget the coping strategies developed during the school year. “It is easy to let stress dictate your emotions,” Fraley said. “When you start to feel anxious, use that emotion as a trigger to remind yourself all that you have accomplished thus far—and that new challenges better prepare to you to be a nurse.”

Setting a realistic expectation is another key to success. “I didn’t realize how different nursing school was from other programs,” Thibeault recalled. “The first year for me shook my confidence—even the confidence of those fellow students who had been a patient care tech or CNA. Then, just when we got into the swing of things, clinicals began and the worry started up all over again.

By the last year, though, we had more confidence and were more excited about exploring the possibilities than worrying over them.”

Sometimes, however, the stress becomes overwhelming. Both Fraley and Thibeault recommend when that happens taking a step back and prioritizing. “Just focus on accomplishing one task at a time,” Fraley said. “And, don’t beat yourself up when you occasionally don’t score as high as you’d like on an exam or project—we all experience disappointment or downright failure at one time or another, and those who make it through nursing school acknowledge their weaknesses, consider ways to make improvements, implement these strategies and, then, move on.”

Avoid the Drama

Developing positive relationships with other nursing students is crucial, Thibeault said. “Other students provide a support network and a group of people you can commiserate with. And, you can team up with fellow students in informal study groups, which can accelerate learning by dividing up assignments and preparing study questions together.”

Another benefit of study groups is the opportunity to learn to deal with difficult people, as even the most successful study groups will include challenging personalities.

“Don’t create a big drama with these types of people,” Thibeault said. “You won’t get to choose your coworkers, so any opportunity to practice getting along with all different types of personalities and work styles is beneficial to your career.”

Call it a Day

Whether it is your first day back to school or your first day on clinical rotation, pre-planning also helps set the right tone. As Fraley suggested, get essential items together the night before so you’ll feel confident and ready to go the next day.

“Remember, all these long nights of studying and hard work will pay off and before you know it, you’ll be a nurse,” Thibeault concluded. “Just remind yourself that it is worth it in the end because nursing is such a satisfying and rewarding career.

One last tip? Thibeault said to keep in mind that there are many different nursing paths to choose from. There is always going to be a need for registered nurses—so if one type of nursing isn’t to your liking or your skill set, choose another direction.

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