Many years ago, I endured a tragedy that inspired me to embark on a nursing career.
During that difficult time, the fear of the unknown and pain of a loss was tough to deal with, but I got through it thanks to the nurses who cared for me. They would hold my hand, pray for me and tell me I was going to be okay. When I woke up from the anesthesia, a nurse combed my hair and held my head. The love, support and strength I received that day from each of those women put me on my current career path. I knew that I wanted to be the helping hand that gave strength to others during their worst days.
I’m now in nursing school, and while it is challenging, I have found a few strategies that have helped me:
1. Work in healthcare
Before I started nursing school, I worked as a nursing assistant at a local hospital. It was a great choice! That job helped me to become more humble and taught me that the simplest actions are the ones that matter the most. A smile can make someone’s day better, and active listening can open the doors to a trustworthy relationship with your patients. My first piece of advice for anyone thinking about a career in nursing is to work as a nursing assistant while you study. It provides a great opportunity to learn many basic skills that you’ll use on the job once you’re a licensed nurse.
2. Master time management
Nursing requires dedication and time. That doesn’t mean you can’t juggle a job, children and family. It just means you will need to master time management skills. Early in nursing school, I figured out that if I scheduled my assignments, made time to study every day and organized my week in a way that allowed me to still care for my loved ones, I could be successful in my courses.
Each week, I schedule time for my assignments, homework, study groups and skills sections. I always keep that calendar by my side. If I accomplish that day’s tasks in less time, I pick an assignment from the following day to work ahead. Buy yourself a calendar and start planning!
3. Create a study system
There are many different ways to study, and using a variety of formats can help increase your understanding. There are endless resources available – so don’t limit yourself to one book!
I read my book word-for-word and create my own study guide using the book. The next day, I watch videos on YouTube and compare my notes to the information in the video. My third step is to connect with a study group. During the pandemic, my classmates and I meet via Zoom to review and discuss our materials line-by-line and answer each other’s questions. This is very helpful because the more you talk about the topic, the more you retain it. Finally, I do practice questions. Kaplan is a helpful source, but I also use other online resources that apply to my courses. This system works for me, and I recommend that during your very first semester of school, you find and strictly follow your own study system that gives you good results.
4. Play to your learning style
During nursing school, you will cover many interesting yet challenging topics. It’s important to dedicate enough time to each area and make sure you truly understand each concept before moving on to the next one. Focus on understanding the basics because the material becomes more challenging as you progress. Having a strong foundation will save you in the future.
For example, pharmacology was a challenging course for me, so I created a method to help me learn. Learning medications by their name never cut it for me, so I placed them in groups. First, I focus on knowing what group they’re in and their overall function. Next, I identify the most common side effects for the entire group. Even though each med is its own little world, they share common features, so figure out what those are. Then I focus on major interactions, or alerts, or even black box notifications. Finally, I determine what makes each med unique. This process worked for me, but others may find it easier to look at flashcards or read a book. Figure out how you learn best and stick to it.
5. Designate a study space
Find a quiet space where you can focus because nursing exams and assignments require critical thinking. I can’t focus if there is noise, and being forced to study from home because of COVID-19 was a challenge. I managed to find a time and space in my house where noises are kept to a minimum. I even created a weekly schedule for my family, so they knew when my testing days were. This not only helps with your performance but keeps your family engaged in your journey. This is where they can help and support you, even if that means remaining in silence for an hour while you complete a test.
Throughout nursing school, I’ve learned that mental health is important and we must care for it. Having support makes a huge difference, and nursing can give you a family you never expected to find. There are going to be days where you feel overwhelmed and others where you think you can conquer the world. It is a hard career path and requires a lot of dedication and time, but it is also rewarding. If nursing is your calling, waking up for work every day will fill you with joy.
As our instructors always say, “Everyone would be a nurse if it was easy, don’t you think?”
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2020. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.