It was a year ago that I was getting ready to start nursing school. Honestly, I don’t think that you can be ready for this. It’s crazy and hard and it will make you cry and curse and generally wonder what you could have been thinking. All of that said, it is worth it. At least, it has been so far. I have cried. I have hoped that I knew enough to pass a test. I have hoped that I passed a test. I have gasped audibly when seeing a grade that I thought would be awful be pretty good. So if you are getting ready to go there, here’s some advice that I wish I had a year ago.
#1. You can’t work ahead. As a person who generally loves to plan things, this is important to know. It seems silly to say but I know a lot of people who are like me in class and it’s stressful to not be able to plan out a whole semester and work ahead. But you can’t. Work ahead, that is. It’s to much and your brain needs to be on your task at hand. I used to be able to work ahead and have no trouble. I would never consider it now. Every ounce of my brain is going into what I’m doing in class. What comes next is not on my radar until the day of the test.
#2. Those prerequisites matter. When you’re just trying to memorize bones and muscles you may not see it. In fact, a lot of times, you can memorize what you need for a class and not worry about until the final and sometimes not even then. Don’t memorize! Seriously, don’t. You will thank me when you start nursing classes. Even classes like psych, which seem like they have nothing to do with it. They do. Those things will come back to haunt you and then you have to start all over again. Learn it the first time and keep it in your brain.
#3. Work on critical thinking skills. You will take tests that are going to make you wonder if you’re in the wrong room. You will walk out wondering when you were taught that material. Sometimes you weren’t. A huge part of nursing school is about using what you know to come up with an answer that you weren’t explicitly taught. And it’s crucial. In the real world, you’ll come across situations that you’ve never encountered. That patient will be relying on your ability to figure out what to do.
#4. There’s more than one right answer. Yes, you read that right. It goes along with the critical thinking. Nursing tests are designed to test not only critical thinking but your judgement. You are going to look at the answer choices for a question and realize that 2 or 3 of the 4 choices are correct. You need to find the BEST answer. This is a judgement but again, crucial for the real world. What do you do first and why is more important to your future patients than your instructor. Be prepared, and refer to number 3.
#5. Accept passing. In my program, our grade must be an 80 in order to pass. Our motto has become “B’s get degrees”. When you’re used to be being one of the top students, it can be very hard to accept an 82 as a good grade. I have had that moment. Trust me, it doesn’t matter as much as you think. It’s more important to realize what you got wrong and why than to worry about the grade. Take a deep breath and keep going. The world won’t end. I promise. Which leads me to…
#6. Find out why your answer is wrong. Every answer I get wrong, I want to know why. If I can’t figure out why on my own, I will ask my instructor to explain it to me. This knowledge is invaluable because these questions aren’t going to get any easier. Understanding why your answer was wrong helps you get better and the next time you see a question like that, you’ll get it right. It’s part of the learning process and it helps you improve. That’s the goal because to get through nursing school, you have to keep raising the bar.
#7. Make clinical valuable. Clinical is the time to put the books to use. Everything we learn in class will be applied in the real world. Start practicing now! Ask questions, think about what you’re doing and why. Pay attention to your patient and what they say or do, or how they act. Talk to the nurse you’re working with. Volunteer to go places with your patient if they need a test or have a procedure. Everything you do, you will learn. If you don’t want to be in clinical, why are you here anyway?
#8. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” (or be wrong). You’re going to make mistakes. That’s why we have instructors. They’re there to help you, guide you, teach you. They don’t expect you to know everything. If you don’t know something, say so. If you try to fake it, you’ll more than likely get caught. If you did your homework and you’re still not sure about something it’s ok to say so. If you knew it all when you started, you wouldn’t need to be in school. It’s a scary thing to admit you’re not sure but that’s the only way to get help.
#9. It’s ok to be scared. It sounds silly but there’s a lot at stake here. The biggest thing is the life of the person who is trusting you to help them. You’ll probably be scared. It’s ok. So is everybody else. Some people just hide it better than others. Everyone I talked to was afraid the first time they gave an injection. Some people were even scared the first time they went into a patient’s room. You’re going to be afraid at some point. It will be ok though. Each time you do something, you gain confidence. Then there are new things to be scared about but you can be sure that eventually you’ll become less scared and more confident.
#10. It will go faster than you think. In August, it seemed like the task was huge. I thought I would be in school forever. Now, I’m looking at the calendar and seeing that I’m much closer to the end and it’s a little amazing. I still have a way to go but every day I get a little closer and it’s going a lot faster than I thought it would. Take a deep breath and keep that in mind. The end will arrive sooner than you think!
It’s nearly April, and this semester is almost over. Summer semester will be crazy fast too, especially since it’s only eight weeks and we have two courses to complete. It’s a lot and it looks overwhelming but I know that I’ll get through it and get to the other side. And then the end will be much nearer. It’s scary but exciting to think about where I’ll be a year from now, especially when I think about how fast this year has gone. So if you’re just getting started, be prepared. It’s a wild ride but it’s possible to get through it. And you’ll be amazed at what you can do when you get to the other side. Until next time! For now, I have to get ready for another clinical day tomorrow. Wish me luck!