To all who have received acceptance letters and are starting nursing school soon…CONGRATULATIONS! I am so very excited and happy for you as you take this next big step on your journey to become a nurse.
As someone who has mentored nursing students for years, I have seen many students get absolutely blindsided by the realities of nursing school. And it’s not that they aren’t smart or dedicated. Most nursing students are extremely high-achieving students because that’s what it takes to even get into a nursing program. The challenge is that nursing school is vastly different from the prerequisite courses that are required and most students find they have to make some pretty big adjustments in order to succeed in this new environment.
The first thing we are going to do is get organized.
Organization and time management are the two factors that can make or break your ability to succeed in nursing school. If you are a caregiver for anyone or have a job (or both), then this is magnified by 10. You absolutely MUST be organized if you are going to succeed.
It starts with organizing your environment and culminates in organizing your schedule. In this precious time period before school starts, you’re going to clean your house like you’ve never cleaned it before. Get rid of clutter, scrub the bathroom, clean out the kitchen cabinets. Get it absolutely spotless so that it can ride for a few months without a deep clean. If you’re like me, then your brain works better when your environment is peaceful and organized.
Once you have your syllabus for each class, then you’re going to start planning out your time. Put all the big dates into your planner (exams and other important deadlines) and then plan out that first week. If you’re enrolled in my Crucial Concepts Bootcamp, we do a live workshop at the start of each semester where we get all our paperwork and schedules organized together. But if you’re tackling this on your own, then just focus on doing one week at a time.
When looking at your weekly schedule, the first thing you want to do is block off time for each of your commitments. These are things that must occur on a certain day at a certain time…things like attending class, going to work, any appointments you may have, and could even be your non-negotiables such as exercise or family dinner night.
Next, make a list of everything you have to do for the week and then block out time for each and every activity. As you start adding all these things into your schedule, you’ll quickly see how important it is to manage your time well. There’s a lot to do in nursing school, and you can only get it all done if you plan ahead and use your time wisely. Trust me…you’ll feel so much better when you know you’ve allocated enough time to do everything you need to get done.
Create your study sanctuary
The next thing we’re going to do is create a space for studying and doing schoolwork. I like to think of this space as my sanctuary and strive to create a space I look forward to spending time in. If you study in chaos, then you’ll associate your study space with chaos which is exactly the opposite feeling you want to have when doing a critical assignment or taking an online exam.
Claim some space and dedicate it to your schoolwork. Maybe this is a corner of the bedroom, a section of the dining room table, or a special nook somewhere you can claim as your own. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, but do make sure you’ve got an ergonomically correct chair, good lighting and the basic equipment you need. Once you’ve got all that, now add at least one thing to this space that brings you joy. Is it a delicious smelling candle, a bright throw rug, a plant or maybe a photo of someone you love? Make the space joyful and you’ll actually look forward to spending time here.
Decide on a system for organizing your paperwork
Whether you’re committing to going all digital or you like to print out your paperwork, you need a system in place ahead of time for keeping it all organized and easily retrievable. You don’t want to be trying to develop a system when you really should be studying, so please take it from me that this is not something you want to put off.
In my book, Nursing School Thrive Guide (#ad), and in my course, Crucial Concepts Bootcamp, I share with you a way to organize your notes and paperwork whether you’re using binders or just your ipad and laptop. Whatever system you land on, the key to making it successful is consistency. Why set up a beautiful organizational system for your computer files only to save everything on your desktop? So, find something that works and stick to it. When you’re trying to finish a key assignment, it’s such a relief having the components you need at your fingertips.
Develop your morning ritual
If you’ve spent any amount of time in nursing school facebook groups or discussion boards, you know that self care is one of the first things that goes out the window. But not for you. Take a few minutes to jot down those things you can do before the day starts that set you up for having a positive day. Maybe it’s spending ten minutes in meditation or prayer, having breakfast with the family or going for a run.
My morning ritual looks like this:
- Get the coffee started and feed Oliver (5 minutes)
- Take supplements and drink water (3 minutes)
- Exercise (30-45 minutes)
- Make my coffee concoction (3 minutes)
- Shower and get ready (40 minutes)
Now, I know I can’t do this routine every single day, but I do strive to complete it most days of the week. For nursing students, who may have some days that start very early, I advise you develop an “express” morning routine that you can do even when you have clinical or an early lab.
Ideally, you’ll create your ideal morning routine while you’re in between semesters and can start practicing this important ritual daily in order to solidify it before classes begin. Every day that I do my routine runs so much more smoothly than the days I skip it. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!
Did you notice what was missing from my morning routine ideas? Making your lunch, ironing your scrubs and gathering your clinical supplies. That’s because you’re going to do all of those things the night before. A good start to the day begins before you go to bed the night before. Trust me on this one.
Review some core concepts
Now I know that if you’re like most nursing students, you want to hit the ground running as soon as classes start. And many of you want to use the weeks before the semester begins to review key material from your prerequisites. While I definitely encourage students to enjoy their downtime, there are some key topics to review before nursing school starts. These are:
- Cardiac physiology, especially the blood flow pathway through the heart. Also review stroke volume, heart rate, cardiac output as they relate to blood pressure.
- Renal physiology and how the renal system relates to hemodynamics, fluid balance, infection and tissue perfusion. A quick review of the tubules and the balancing of electrolytes will come in handy when you tackle pharmacology.
- Fluids, pressure gradients, and fluid shifts
- Electrolytes and their key roles in the body
- Dimensional analysis, which you’ll use to decipher dosage calculations questions
- Oxygenation and respiratory physiology
- How the body maintains acid/base balance
- The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone-system (RAAS)
- The autonomic nervous system (this is another one that comes in very handy as a basis for pharmacology).
If this seems overwhelming, don’t worry! I cover most of this for you in Crucial Concepts Bootcamp, or you grab my A&P study guides here.
Adopt a different mindset
In your prerequisite courses it was all about making the grade and securing a coveted spot in the nursing program. You were competing against your classmates, always striving to be at the top of your class.
Now it’s time to set that competitive mindset aside and adopt an attitude of collaboration and teamwork. Why? Because nurses do not work in isolation and neither do successful nursing students.
Instead of viewing your classmates as competitors, view them as colleagues. Help each other, support one another and I promise you that you will all do better as a result. Here are some ideas for ways to collaborate with your nursing school classmates:
- Form a study group with 2 or 3 other students. Read here to see why large study groups are a waste of time.
- Practice lab skills with each other, such as head-to-toe assessment and taking vital signs. If you can’t meet in person, meet over Zoom and have your classmate observe you going through the steps with a willing volunteer. They can coach you when you forget next steps and provide valuable feedback as you prepare for checkoffs.
- Divvy up the reading and assign each person a chapter to outline. This strategy works best with a larger group (10-12 students), giving you detailed chapter outlines in a fraction of the time.
- If you lack motivation to study or do schoolwork, set a weekly date with another student to keep each other accountable. Meet up in person or on Zoom to ensure you’re both staying on task. I like to call these “work sessions” so try to avoid it turning into social hour. If you plan your schedule well, there will be time for that later!
- Take turns teaching concepts to your study group. The absolute BEST way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. At the beginning of the semester, take a look at the syllabus and choose some of the more complex topics to focus on. Have each person take ownership of a few topics with the expectation that he or she will give a short (no more than 5 minutes) presentation on that topic on a specific date. I promise you the time and effort you spend making your presentation will pay off with huge dividends.
Take time to relax and renew
I say this all the time, but it bears repeating. Nursing school is going to challenge you in ways you never thought possible and it’s not uncommon for students to experience severe burnout even after just one semester. You absolutely must start your program fresh, rested and rejuvenated. Sleep in, read for pleasure, spend time with loved ones, binge watch Netflix shows, bake, play video games, sew. Do whatever it is you enjoy doing. Fill up your cup and you’ll be ready to not just survive nursing school. You might even thrive.
Many times, Nurse Mo’s Bootcamp and supplemental notes helped me understand a topic better than my school. The walk through in disease calculations was exactly what I needed to pass my exam with the required 100%. Thank you.– Tracy