Advanced Practice Nursing

How to Survive Your First Year of Nursing School

How to Survive Your First Year of Nursing School
Good news: it's possible to survive your first year of nursing school with your mental health intact. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly November 4, 2019

The last thing we'd compare this to is a prequel to "Grey's Anatomy."

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There’s no denying that nursing school is notoriously challenging. Most nursing programs require high GPAs and stellar scores in math, chemistry, biology, and psychology, which can make the run-up to a Nurse Practitioner RN program feel somewhat of a gauntlet in itself.

Now that you’ve applied and enrolled, the reality of what you’ve heard from working nurses may set in. Nursing school will demand that you work hard, study harder, and in ill-prepared cases, virtually say goodbye to your social life. At times, it may seem like you’ll need to prove yourself consistently to maintain some sense of confidence. You’ll feel like you have no time for anything other than reading, memorization, labs, and exams, let alone to change into something more elaborate than a pair of scrubs.

But completing a nursing degree isn’t all stress and cynicism either. In reality, it will be a mix of hard work, camaraderie, opportunity, and nerves. It’s where you’ll gain an incredibly diverse set of skills and knowledge, and a stomach strong enough to withstand even the worst case of bedsores. And with the right approach, it’s where you’ll successfully take the first step of your journey towards a career improving the health and happiness of others. Here’s how to survive your first year of nursing school.

1. Use the buddy system.

Making friends in nursing school isn’t easy for everyone, but it can come naturally, especially given the likelihood that you’ll take classes with the same students from one semester to the next. Reaching out to your peers is an easy way to foster a support network that knows what you’re going through and can sympathize with the challenges you’ll face while adjusting to nursing school.

Whether it’s someone who’ll listen to your concerns about a particularly tough instructor or drill you on dosage calculations for an upcoming exam, these relationships will be immensely helpful and have the potential to last throughout your nursing career.

2. Choose knowledge over memorization.

Your nursing school program will require you to learn and retain a lot of information, which comes with the challenge of not just memorizing content, but committing it to long-term memory. One way to do this is by considering the context of the material, like why a particular condition occurs or why a type of medical intervention is best for treating it. Once you get the hang of understanding concepts, you’ll soon see patterns emerge quickly understand how things are interrelated.

When studying, you may also find it helpful to go with the rule of thumb that if you can understand a concept or term well enough to explain it to friends or family, you’ll be able to successfully apply your knowledge in all kinds of situations, including nursing school exams.

3. Opt for supplemental reading.

Despite what your list of required textbooks may say, additional books on the core components of your program are an easy way to have instant access to refreshers when tasked to form a diagnosis or create a care plan. Better yet, many of these books don’t necessarily need to be the most current edition since diagnoses rarely change. Instead of paying full-price for textbooks, you’ll be able to snag older versions from former students or find used copies online.

4. Avoid comparison at all costs.

As a nursing student, you’ll find that everyone in your program has a unique set of qualities and skills. The tendency to compare yourself is only natural. Still, when pervasive enough, it can make your desire to compete with other students feel intense enough to be unhealthy—and your confidence takes a turn for the worse. The most important thing to understand is that there is a vast difference between using your peers’ success to see where you can improve and using something as fleeting as an exam grade or a positive remark from an instructor to send yourself into a spiraling funk.

If you want to tackle nursing school to the best of your abilities, you’ll need to dedicate your time and what you’re capable of now and how you can improve yourself as a student. Set goals for yourself and focus on achieving them. Learn at your own pace and focus on what you’re good at and where you’re struggling. After all, this is about your future.

5. Strive for balance.

Nursing school involves a host of responsibilities, especially for students on the fast track to earning your degree. You probably didn’t apply to a program to become a socialite, but that doesn’t mean you won’t crave time for anything other than taking a mannequin’s vitals or listing off the names of prescription drugs. By implementing a few time management techniques, your first year of school will be a whole lot simpler.

Start by making a routine of studying for a class the day that you have it, and planning study time for when you have the most energy during the day. You can also consider consolidating certain daily activities, like sifting through some flashcards or lecture notes during your commute or running through a presentation as you make dinner.

From here, practice saying, “no.” You’ve likely already developed the skills to manage your time and balance life with work, but the first year of nursing school can change that. You know that you’ll have less time to see friends and family, but you need to be prepared to say no whenever deadlines are around the corner.

But don’t turn down fun entirely. Do your best to save at least one day a month for time with whoever‘s most important. Maybe you’ll visit the aquarium with your kids, host a potluck with your significant other, or meet up with a friend for coffee. It can help boost your confidence, recharge your sense of energy, and get your mind off even the most demanding classes.

Lastly, remember that you’re not perfect. Nursing school might come with a sense of mobility, but it’s also a source of intense and demanding work. Aside from worrying about your classes and grades, you’ll need to balance a social life with the time you give to your program. You’ll forget to highlight an error on a patient’s chart. You’ll reference a condition using the wrong name. The truth is, you’ll learn so much in nursing school that it will be nearly impossible to always be right. What matters is that you see your mistakes as learning opportunities of their own.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: Advanced Practice NursingNursing & Healthcare