Maybe you're reading this because you're thinking of going to nursing school and it'll kill you or you can't afford it. Or perhaps you're in the middle of it wondering why you chose this in the first place because you're overwhelmed and tired. Possibly you are like me, at the tail end and wondering how you had the chutzpah to get through this madness and are now panicky about being able to pull this NCLEX gig off. Don't cry against your stethoscope m'dear! If you are thinking nursing school is too hard- either at the beginning or near the telemetry strip of a finish line- fear not, it's doable! Not only that, it's wonderful! Here's my take on nursing school (and yes I survived without going bald from stress....kinda):
First semester, you're giddy, yeah? I had a four semester program and boy oh boy I was struttin' through the halls that first day in scrubs. Gone were the year of pre-req's (if you're lucky and pass the first time, right?) and here I was, in the HP (Health Professions) building at Utah Valley University, the holy coven where all accepted nursing students go. I was beyond stoked. I had gotten in! I had my books all covered, my binder with cute little tabs, and I promised I would read EVERYTHING. If you're past this in your student nurse career, I can hear you snickering. But let me tell you, I was green as they come, literally, my scrubs were green too. I was just rarin' to go!
Then classes hit. I started out with great makeup, working out, and feeling grand. Oh boy.
I had to do pass offs of vital signs, assessment, and nursing interventions. I dropped catheter tubing on the floor, nearly shoved the mannequin off the bed getting him/her (sometimes both at once) into Sims' position. My instructor pulled me aside as I shook and felt stupid and with a cracked grin said, "You are too hard on yourself." Well, no joke! I'd been brainwashed into OCD must-be-perfect-ness! You have to work that hard and be that way to get there in the first place.
Yet, through a wonk paper that killed my grade (due to APA headers gone south), I was able to do it. I chalk it up to sheer desire and joy at being there. Yes, you have to study a lot but it's worth it- you want to save lives, right? Gone were my hopes of being on top of it all. I felt like I'd dived into a pool of sharks who smiled at me and winked. I honestly was too new to realize how much I had to learn but it was sinking in as each week went by. My professors were lovely, organized, and efficient- but I was in nursing school now, sissy pants came off in a hot second. I was growing up and I now had to study with a purpose and tie it together to relate it to my patient. I was starting to do this now. Sorta.
Second semester was all about learning to tread water. If you're there, you're thinking, "I'm halfway to being a nurse, yes!" This is true, but this was when I realized that a year of nursing school felt like a time warp- it drags and is filled with sleepless nights and exam anxiety. It's like a bad episode of Dr. Who- you never know exactly what's going to happen next. This was the semester of papers, being organized enough to keep up with the 3 quizzes, discussions, papers, and clinical write-ups that somehow all fell due at once every Monday at 0600. I think I even wore my shirt inside out once to school as I was so tired and class was early.
I was being thrown terms like DKA, respiratory alkalosis, ARDS, and Guillain–Barré. Little light bulb moments went off and it began to make sense- but it was fuzzy, unclear. I was making connections but it was a little bit here and there. I did psych rotations, had 6 patients in med/surg and even did a run in the ER. I found myself taking a deep breath in the supply room hunting for LR's. As I hurried back out, it was to find the ice bag I gave a patient had burst and he's shivering against the door while housekeeping mopped up the mess. I hung my head and nearly dropped the bag of fluids. If I couldn't fasten an ice pack, what was I doing here? I hung in there and scrambled to get everything in on time and at the end I thought, "Whew, I'm tired".
Then it hit me: I still had a year to go.
Third semester opened like the gaping maw of hell. Out of sheer desperation I took pathophysiology during the summer and it spared me having that on top of my third term classes. Yet there was hope: suddenly I understood the immune response and why free radicals suck and how important the membranes of cells are- why this hit me now I don't know. I think I had a fantastic teacher I fell half in love with he was so incredible. I felt armed with all of this cellular pathological knowledge that in a massive way connected what I saw in people to what I'd learned. Yet could I really do anything about it? This semester, I would find out. I promise you, I was still the girl that knocked syringes off the bedside tray and cried in relief after clinicals because I loved it and I was terrified. Yet I could start an IV without shaking (too much) and laughed inside when I tubed blood gases to the lab, realizing I was still kicking and thriving!
The big mamma jamma for this semester was critical care. Several ICU clinical shifts were on the docket and one morning on my way to such a clinical, I rolled my car in a patch of black ice. Like a moron as the police approached I yelled out my window, "I'm okay! I'm a nursing student and I know I'm okay!" Yeah....I had become a blathering fool by this point. It was a weird mix of feeling good and feeling lost. Yet I went to my clinicals later that morning and tried to bust it out like a champ. I read a lot, but never enough. You'll do this too.
I tried to understand blood gases, hemodynamics and remember what DKA, ARDS, and SVT all meant. I made up little memes to remember diseases and I guarantee a lady in Wal-Mart heard me muttering to myself all of the symptoms for gout. I tried to figure out mother/baby and what fetal strips meant, like I was reading some long-lost map written in squiggles and haiku. The syllabus for complex disorders was longer than the last book I'd read but through the massive piles of paperwork in my office, it was starting to make sense- the medical fog was clearing and my now less-than-new scrubs were getting a little tighter in the booty.
Then, holy of holies, the last and final fourth semester dawned. Had I survived? What did I know? Could I prepare for the NCLEX? Again: what am I doing here? But underneath this nervousness was a drive like steel. I had come through the fire- the sharks went away and I was starting to float- looking up at a sky of stars and wondering about the possibilities on the horizon. I wasn't solid in my knowledge by any stretch- but the impossible suddenly became doable and it was beautiful to realize- I got this.
You know that feeling where you start to realize that lull of security is going to give way to a Gandalf moment- you're clinging to a cliff and a fiery monster the size of Costco is going to eat you whole if you don't figure things out RIGHT NOW?! Yeah- that's fourth semester. If you're ready to click away and look up beauty school now- I understand. Let me give you a hug, but wait, don't go just yet. I know this sounds like a sick roller coaster where at the end you're covered in puke wondering which jerk to hit that shoved you on the ride in the first place. But calm down kemosabe- it's not like that. Yes, you're tired. Yes you have a 100+ hour capstone (all at night) and class 5 days a week....but the end is in sight! That light you see out there, at the end of the tunnel? It's not a train! You're going to graduate and that is the sunshine of Maui waiting for you when you take a vacation after the NCLEX! You've come through the fire- you can write care plans like a ninja. You can bust out a sterile dressing change with your eyes closed (well, not really). You can SBAR like it's going out of style and that swagger of first semester is slowly coming back- Mama, you're going to be a nurse!
I worked really hard. I kept reading. I kept praying. My capstone eval went weird but I loved it anyway and was grateful for the time I spent in the NICU. There were moments when things came naturally that used to be foreign- I didn't shake doing injections, I rattled off ACLS and PALS like it was second nature. Okay, so not really- but you get me, right? It's starting to gel...the work has meaning and you can see graduation invitations falling like manna from heaven.
Then- poof, you're done! You'll turn in the last paper and it'll be half PTSD and a broken heart. You love those hallways of the HP. You should pitch a tent below the faculty stairwell or buy a bench and put your name on it, since you practically have lived there for 2 years. You realize classmates are moving away. Some you wish actually would. People start getting jobs and you might find you love old people, babies, or pukey kids when all along, you swore it was L&D or nothing! You'll put your scrubs away for the final time (after your booty won't fit in them anymore anyway) and realize, "Oh, I'm sad. It's over."
How does hell feel so good? It's because you rolled like Flo'. You Nightingale'd the heck out of it. You learned what you could, you worked as hard as you could, and at the end of it all- you did it! You FINISHED nursing school! That story about the little engine going up the hill has meaning because you've reached the top and now you're there. It's wonderful. You'll love it. You'll be thankful. You'll sink to your knees at night and thank God that you stuck it out. You will feel in your heart that wonderful burst of joy that says you are living the calling of being a nurse. It will change you and give you wings.
At this moment for me- I'm done with classes and will finish my Bachelor's of Science in Nursing. The NCLEX looms and it'll decide once and for all if I get the holy-grail RN or if I need to apply at In N' Out. I am excited. I am over the moon. Yes, I am still terrified.
So if you're still with me, I hope you sense what I'm trying to tell you. It's worth it. It's hard. You might see people shake their heads as you go through it, they'll think you're making it up- it can't be that busy or tough. But it will be tough and guess what, so will you. Your patients will need your heart. They will value your smarts. There is room for you in nursing school and if this makes your insides sing- go grab the brass nursing ring. The time will go by anyway.
Not like I'm an expert or anything (just a fellow wounded warrior) here are a few tips I might suggest to help you survive the hell....um, joy of nursing school:
Top 10 Tips To Not Go Crazy and Pass Nursing School
1. Find a bestie. You'll need the love and reminders of when things are due. Make sure they'll accept you with brown toilet rings in your house, bushy eyebrows of neglect, and when your backside looks like a mid-century Chevy. Make sure you feel this way about them too. I *heart* my Jerri- she saved me.
2. Eat right and work out. You'll need the stamina. You will need this for those 14 hour shifts. It will be the example to your patients that speaks more than you do. It will help you keep up. Not to mention you'll avoid the aforementioned backseat booty.
3. Avoid the jealous naysayers or people that will learn to grow up at your expense. Go do everything you want- get involved, share your heart- grab that opportunity. If people get ugly, remember it's them, not you. Ignore the competitive rudeness that will rear it's ugly head in others- you're only competing with yourself. Sometimes others will learn on you so you can be taught forgiveness and sometimes you'll do that to them. Be gentle when others fail you or fail them- we are all human.
4. Get the best grades possible- it's worth it. Read and learn and grow. You never know when that obscure disease might show up or you'll be the nurse that acts fast on that wonky lab value. Be the change and inspiration you'll want when you're working. The world needs dynamic, go-getters like you!
5. Get your Bachelor's. Seriously- why work for nearly 4 years to get your ASN and stop? There are too many online options to quit halfway. Do your career a favor and forge ahead. You won't regret it. I've never heard anyone lament, "Gee I really regret getting that advanced degree."
6. Be nice when things go weird. You might find out someone hates your guts for no reason other than you do more than they think you should. You might get a bad review when all along you did great. You might even fail a test that you studied days for. A teacher might grade you harshly. But don't blow it. Don't lose your cool. Cry, eat chocolate (go easy on that one, mama), but remember- Scarlet had it right: Tomorrow is another day. You got this far, right? Keep a long-term perspective and follow some great advice I heard: As good as you've been is as good as you'll be. Kill em with kindness, sweets.
7. Respect the faculty and your program. If you can, find a mentor. I had two actually- wait three. To be honest, I was lucky in that I didn't have a bum professor in the bunch. I felt I could stop by their offices and plop down to either cry or tell a joke. I was told I could do it every single step of the way. They emailed me back when I was worried and they were honest when I needed feedback. I never griped about the AMAZING opportunity I had to be there. Remember there was someone who got turned down and bawled. You are not important enough to warrant changing everything- be grateful, be humble, be receptive. You'll need to learn that to work in a team setting anyway.
8. Take certification classes- ACLS/BLS/Critical Care- what have you...but get 'er done! Beef up that resume any way you can. Why wait until you're hired to get certified- wow em by having it as a new grad.
9. Realize you will not see your family much but they'll be there when you get done. I threw soap at my husband and cussed him out from the shower because he told me I needed to get it together. My teenagers cried and told me I was never home. My youngest would sigh every time I said, "Sorry I won't be home until after you go to bed" or worse, "I won't see you until Friday (and it's Tuesday, mind you) because I have class and clinicals." You are partially doing this for them and they know it. Make them proud and love them when you can. It'll end. Someday.
10. Enjoy the teaspoons of sugar that sweeten the bitter cup. So maybe you got an A out of nowhere. Or perhaps your ATI came back level 3. Perhaps you get a hug from a pediatric patient or you figured out why something is going on with a patient that you wouldn't have known before. Enjoy the sunshine, buy fresh flowers. Grab a new perfume or get a pedicure. You must love yourself while you're growing into someone stronger or else you will fizzle out. Don't wave away compliments and let the tender mercies of happiness sink in- you'll need them when you get 2 hours of sleep and have clinicals all night the next day.
So.......I'm gonna wrap this up!
In closing, God bless you for wanting to be a nurse. Go make it happen. It has made me a better person and I feel like anything is possible now. Nursing school gave me confidence. Nursing school taught me how smart, tough, and capable I really am. I learned to love people- I made connections. I made friends- I lost friends. Nursing school is the microcosm that showed me what I wanted out of life and what I wanted to give back to the world. Nursing school made me a nurse.
Let me know if you are in RN school, if you passed the NCLEX, or if you even feel like nursing is the road for you. I'd love to hear your stories and learn from your success. Happy schooling and don't give up- you've got this!
Have a great day,
P.S. I passed the NCLEX in 75 questions and it took about an hour and a half. Scariest time I've known was that drive to my husband's office wondering if I passed. I did- used Pearson's Exam Cram NCLEX CD over and over along with the NCLEX made Incredibly Easy and Kaplan's study book. Proud to be Tianne, RN!