I survived the first semester of nursing school, and somehow we’re already halfway through the first bimester of my second semester! (That was a mouthful.) The good news is that the time flies. I spent a lot of time before nursing school poking around the internet trying to figure out if this was all going to be actually doable, so I feel like I need to put my own tips/experiences out into the interwebs for the next nursing student mommas coming down the line. Because YOU CAN DO THIS! You can work, and have kids and a husband and get As in nursing school and even maybe read a book. It can be done!
Here’s what I learned that I wish someone had told me (or they did tell me and I didn’t listen, so I’ll add my voice to the chorus):
- Everyone is going to tell you that you shouldn’t work during nursing school. Ignore them and figure it out for yourself. I work part time: two twelve hour shifts a week. This bimester (first half of spring semester), it’s a little ugly. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday I have clinicals from 2-10:30pm. Saturday and Sunday nights I work from 7pm-7:30am. Monday morning after work I get in my car and drive to school where I take my weekly test on the previous week’s material, and then sit through three hours of lecture. At 12:30 I get to go home and sleep until the kids get home from school (at which point I wake up and zombie around the house before going to bed again around 9). Tuesday is another 8:30-12:30 lecture and then it all starts again. Does it sound insane? Sure. But I absolutely love my job and I’m almost halfway through this particular schedule already! Which brings me to my next point:
- You can do anything X times. There are a lot of things in nursing school that you probably won’t be in love with. Tests, certain clinical rotations, certain projects, whatever it is, figure out how many times you have to do it. It’s probably not that many. Like my crazy schedule of insanity, for instance. Yes, it sounds dumb. But as I looked ahead into the semester I knew that I only had to do 7 crazy Mondays. I only had to do it 7 times. Easy, peasy. You can psych yourself out thinking about how many months or years you have left of nursing school, but the actual bad parts do not last long. There is spring break and Christmas break and summer. (SUMMER!) I find that May of 2017 seems like a very long time from now. So I look at the thing that’s daunting right now: the Mondays. And I count them. Seven. I worry about that and leave the rest for later. (It’s very Scarlet O’Hara of me, but you do what works!)
- Your family will do amazing things. Will can start a load of laundry. Nic meal plans and makes dinners and does grocery runs. This weekend he took both kids skiing by himself. Ellie had been skiing twice, Will less than a dozen times, and he got them up, got them dressed, packed a lunch, and was out before 7am to drive 2 hours for a day on the slopes! They made amazing memories, and wowed my socks off while I slept and studied between my Saturday and Sunday night shifts. If you’re going to work and go to school you aren’t going to be the do-it-all mom you used to be. You aren’t going to be there for every dinner or every outing. Embrace it. Watch in awe as your family steps up and be wowed when they rock the things you thought you had to do. You are growing with the challenges of nursing school, and in not trying to do everything you used to, you give them the opportunity to grow too! You can feel guilty about it, or you can be super proud of them. I pick proud. Because really, they’re killing this.
- You might not be top banana anymore. Seriously. Yes, even you. No, really, I mean it! In reading about nursing school, I read a lot of remarks about how nursing school is one of those small fish, big pond moments. I read it, and then arrogantly dismissed it. That wouldn’t happen to me. I mean, someone has to score the top grade. It’s usually me, so…you know….I got this. Except I didn’t. I got an 88% on the first test. And an 86% on another one. And sure, I got my As overall…but I knew that when I got 98, there would be a couple of 100s. And when I got 100, I would be in good company. My top banana days were over. The competitive part of me wanted to dig in, give more, reclaim my crown as queen of the exam…but then reason set in. Which brings me to:
- Don’t try out new medication. You are going to take pharmacology, where you will learn about anxiety meds. You will also learn about anxiety, and you will realize that this describes you perfectly. (Nursing students are type A stressed out sleep deprived perfectionist beasts. It’s less a classroom than it is a psych ward. All semester I kept coming home and saying things to Nic like “You don’t understand. *I’m* coming across as well adjusted.”) THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO GO TO YOUR DOCTOR AND ASK FOR ALL THE GREAT MEDS YOU JUST LEARNED ABOUT. We had a couple of students in our class fail or nearly fail because they either went on medication or messed around with their medication dosage during the semester. It was like watching an after school special. (And lest I come across as being above the great medication debacle, remind me to tell you some time about the day I took melatonin to help me sleep between shifts. It turns out the side effects of melatonin include headache, depression, and confusion. If you’ve never been medically depressed AND confused, you have missed a great hilarious self deprecating story.)
- Don’t get swept up in the tide. There is nothing a group of nursing students likes to do more than spiral out. You are going to hear about how difficult X is, or how many hours someone spent on Y, and it is tempting to jump into the pool of crazy and let yourself get all pruney in it. I really like my fellow classmates and enjoy learning from them and celebrating with them, but I am also cautious. I keep to myself before a test and usually try to keep to myself after it. When I don’t, I regret it.
- Follow test strategies. Our instructor made this book mandatory our first semester, and it is a fantastic resource. I already followed many of the tips (like underlining key words in the question and using symbols to mark the answers [though I use “-” and “x” instead of their “-” and “+”). It’s a really good investment of time and money. I felt like I already had my multiple choice strategies locked in, but I learned new things!
- “But Mom, there’s no such thing as more right.” “Uh, yes there is. And less right is wrong. Welcome to nursing school.” This is a conversation I had with Will one day when helping him with his math homework. He had something like “10/20” as an answer and he was trying to argue that he didn’t need to change it to 1/2 because “both were right.” The multiple choice questions in nursing school are insane. You are going to come across ones like this:
- Which of the following statements or questions made by the nurse addresses the nature of her patient’s pain? (Select all that apply.)a)”Describe your pain to me”b) “Is the pain worse in the morning or in the evening?”c) “Place your hand over the area that is uncomfortable.”d) “Rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10.”
- The answer is “a” and “c.” The rationale given is that b is a precipitating factor and d is severity. I think that the actual rationale is that the people that write nursing exams don’t have a good grip on words. And you know, what they mean. But this is your life now, and you will eventually crack their code. Test strategies help a ton.
- Tips for the NCLEX will help you now. The NCLEX sounds like something that it is a little soon to worry about, but one of the best things you can do is start preparing for it now. Nursing school is there to get you to PASS the NCLEX, so in preparing for the NCLEX you are actually preparing for your regular tests! These little NCLEX “rules” help me out all the time:
- When prioritizing actions during emergencies, remember “ABC” (Airway, Breathing, Circulation). The actions in your question are all going to sound right, so remembering ABC will help you to choose the right answer, which will have something to do with securing the airway.
- Unless it’s an emergency, assess first. Getting vital signs or assessing lung sounds will be the right “first action” most of the time, unless the question is an emergency, in which case you drop into the ABC rule.
- Don’t pass the buck. Most of the time, there is something the nurse should do before calling the provider.
- Take NCLEX practice tests. You can find lots of NCLEX practice tests on various subjects online and in book form. While these will be geared toward the national standard and not your professor’s particular big ticket items, they help tremendously. They get you used to the mean multiple choice questions of nursing, and they help you better understand the material. This semester I’m getting a lot out of this Med Surg practice test book–I just got 98% on our big Med Surg test!
- Get really interested in something else. Anything else. The week before finals I got really interested in applying eye makeup properly and spent a lot of time watching the you tube channels of 20 year olds. The month our skills tests got really intense I listened to Carry On (the latest young adult novel from Rainbow Rowell) a dozen times. (That’s a conservative estimate.) This semester I’ve been listening to the Magicians novel series and researching houses I might want to buy and updating blog posts. In all that, I mean: give your mind something else to obsess about. Have something else going on so that you’re not just obsessing about the next test.
- You will probably fail at some point. And cry. And doubt yourself. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t cry at least once during nursing school. For me, it happened in melodramatic fashion at the point in the calendar when I was sleep deprived to epic proportions. Already in sleep debt, I got three hours of sleep and showed up for my medication skills checkoff. I forgot to aspirate before giving an IM injection and failed the checkoff. That seemed about right for that week. I was fine until I got to the car, where the stress and lack of sleep caught up with me and I cried and drove and cried and drove. I didn’t want the stress of a skills retake (fail a skills checkoff once and you retake the checkoff, fail twice and you have to retake the class). I didn’t want my undefeated skills checkoff streak to be over. All I wanted to do was go home and cry myself to sleep, but my poor grandmother was there that week to help us with fall break childcare and I didn’t want to show up weepy and defeated. I pulled over on a side street, lay down in the backseat of my car and threw a little sobfest for myself, pathetic princess style. It was not a high moment. Then I went home. Where I received a phone call from the lead instructor an hour later that said that they’d decided that I shouldn’t have failed since the rest of the med pass had gone so well and the jury is currently out on the value of aspiration anyway. She said that they were going to list this as a pass and I wouldn’t have to retake it. Which meant that I had acted like a total moron and wasted all of that emotion over absolutely nothing at all. It was ridiculous. *I* was ridiculous. BUT it was like after seeing how ridiculous it was to let my performance in nursing school define my sense of self, I was able to really let that go. The pressing-weight-style stress left. And it’s never come back. From what I can tell, it’s normal to have a meltdown or two. So if at some point you find yourself sobbing in the backseat of your car, know I’m right there with you.