When you think of being successful in college, you know lots of hard work, hours of studying, and a dedicated commitment will pay off. But if you’re heading into nursing school this fall, there’s also another essential, piece of the puzzle that will help your college years go as smoothly as possible.
What else can you do to help you make the most of your time in nursing school? Get a team together—one filled with other students you can rely on, professors who can teach you, advisors who can guide you, and college services offices filled with information.
While many students enter college thinking this will happen naturally, planning for the right kind of team is almost a strategic business move. You aren’t going to pick your friendships and associations with an eye on getting ahead, but knowing where to go for help and developing relationships with people on campus will always help you.
Friendships Are Your Foundation
Good friends will be a life saver when you are in college. Not only will they be right in the trenches with you and understand what you’re going through, but they’re also a steady source of sage advice, on-target observations, and, hopefully, some comic relief. Friends aren’t all good for the same thing all the time. You might find you develop friends to study with, friends to blow off steam with, others who help you reach your fitness goals, and others who’ll binge-watch Netflix with you the day after your last final.
Professors Motivate You
Some professors will make you pull your hair out and others will push you to make yourself better. Reach out to your favorite professors to cultivate a good relationship. They will help you when you are struggling with a class, offer you career advice, and will serve as references when you are seeking internships, externships, or a job.
Academic Advising Introduces You to the Possibilities
The most successful students are the ones who seek out help. You may have never needed a tutor or needed extra help in a class, but nursing school is a whole new situation. You aren’t expected to know everything, and keeping up the intense pace of nursing school is difficult—even for the best students. Get to know your school’s academic advising office and staff. Ask them for help with classes, difficult professors, or time management. They are an important part of your team and the sooner you develop a relationship with them, the more likely you are to avoid pitfalls like burnout, poor grades, or procrastination.
Health Services Watches Out for You
If you have any kind of chronic medical condition—from diabetes to depression —college is not the time to manage it all on your own. Health services will help you with getting medication, finding outside providers, and checking in to keep your health on a steady course. When you get to campus, start getting acquainted with the people and routines of the health services center. If you ever need to take any time off for medical reasons, they will be a big help with the process. The first time you see them shouldn’t be an emergency.
Career Services Takes You to the Next Level
All nurses have an end goal of a career in nursing, but that final career will look different for so many students. Career services will help you figure out how to narrow down your best career path, but they will also help you take steps to get there faster. Start early to get a resume in order, explore career options, and even develop a plan of outside experiences (volunteer work, summer jobs, internship or externship opportunities) that can help you get there.
Nursing school is a step toward independence and your career, and surrounding yourself with people who can help you will make your experience that much better and more successful.
Ask nursing students how they spend their free time and you’ll likely be met with quizzical looks. Nursing students don’t actually have much free time and the little they get is often shoehorned into a few minutes between odd working or clinical hours, class times, study time, and the short blocks they spend sleeping and eating because they have to.
Despite the hectic schedule, there’s a lot to celebrate about being a nursing student, says Liana Lo Chau, president of the Nursing Students’ Association at the University of Texas at Austin. “Nursing in general requires a special type of person,” she says. “We are very Type A and have an ambitious mindset. We want to do well, not necessarily because we are competitive, but because we want to do what we do best.”
But the fits and starts of a nursing student’s school years and earliest work experiences are tough.
“I think the most challenging thing for nursing students is time management,” Lo Chau says. “Our schedules are very different from regular college students. We have weird hours.” Some classmates work night clinicals and others are up at 5 am to head to day clinicals. Then there are days devoted only to hospital work and other days in the simulation labs.
According to Lo Chau, an organized schedule and the discipline to follow it is a nursing student’s best friend. “We have to figure out a time to set aside for hanging out with friends,” she says. “I keep a really, really detailed planner.”
Lo Chau says she records activities and tasks nearly hour by hour. Some days, she will pencil in a few minutes for something fun in between the time scheduled to study for one class and the new block of time to study for another class. “It’s hard to plan because there’s so much stuff,” she says. “You just have to work with whatever you have.”
And being a working nursing student has it’s own challenges, too.
“One of the biggest challenges is a lack of experience and feeling incompetent at times and needing guidance,” Lo Chau says. As a new nurse or a soon-to-graduate nursing student, the fear of making a mistake weighs heavily, she says. “It’s just not feeling confident and trusting in your skills. As time goes on, you will gain more confidence and believe what you are doing is correct.”
Once you’ve graduated, there’s time to shift into a new role in your nursing path. After being monitored so closely for so long, new nurses often feel a little uneasy with the unfamiliar autonomy, she says.
The ideal, she says, is for nursing students to consider getting work-like experience during their school years. That might be the competitive externships or residency programs that many hospitals now offer to new nurses and nursing students, says Lo Chau.
Because there are certain situations in a clinical setting that you can’t prepare for unless you’ve had the direct experience, these opportunities give you those opportunities with a little more supervision so you can gain your confidence. These programs cater to student nurses and newer nurses and allows them a little bit of monitoring with some breathing room to come up to speed.
With the intense education that nursing school requires, Lp Chau says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “If you enjoy doing something, it’s not really like work,” she says. “We like caring for people, and it’s something we want to do.”
Going to nursing school is challenging enough, but when you are trying to juggle your studies with making a living, it sometimes seems like you are swimming against a very strong tide. Just as you get ahead, you are knocked back by another big project or some extra hours at work.
If you are trying to be the best student possible and a great employee at the same time, you have to set some priorities to make sure you can do both.
1. Plan Ahead
Part of managing work and school successfully is anticipating what your schedule might hold. At the start of classes, enter all the information your professors give you into a calendar system. Choose whatever system works for you, but just make sure you use it. Add any work you know about and any planned doctors’ appointments, vacation days you plan to take, or any other commitments you have.
2. Reassess Each Week
Every week is going to be different when you are working and going to school. Some weeks you are going to have more responsibilities at work and other weeks are going to require you to focus on your studies (finals week, anyone?). At the start of each week, look at what’s coming so you can decide what’s going to take the most time or energy. Plan accordingly so you can accommodate the extra time where it’s needed.
3. Plan for Some Give and Take
So you know finals week is going to be a monster and any schools days off (like spring break week) are going to help your workload. See if you can plan to take a couple of days off around finals or take on extra work during break times. Work with your employer ahead of time to see if you can make any arrangements that will help you and them.
4. Schedule Your Days
Working and going to school successfully requires you to make every single minute count. Plan your day right down to the minute for a few weeks to see how you can arrange your time. It sounds like overkill, but it’s actually a great way to show you how you use your time and also to show you how to manage your time.
5. Fit in Down Time
If you have your time planned right, you can also see where you can fit in time for yourself. If you are a working student, you will need time to decompress so you don’t get burned out. Block off a couple hours to go to a movie with a friend, go to bed an hour earlier, take an exercise class, watch a favorite television show, or just catch up on reading. Write it into your schedule just like you would class time or work hours.
6. Be Honest
Don’t try to hide your dual status, but don’t expect any breaks from it either. Professors generally aren’t swayed by work responsibilities cutting into class efforts, and your boss likely won’t want to hear you were late to work because you were up so late studying. Be honest with yourself about what you can realistically do. Maybe you need to reduce your school or work schedule if either one is suffering. When you are at either place, you want to be able to give it 100 percent. If you can’t, you aren’t going to be successful in either place.
Working and going to nursing school is possible but requires discipline and dedicated planning. As your time management skills improve, you might find you have more time on your hands.
For many nurses, going back to school is a challenge. Trying to find enough time in a day seems impossible and sustaining that commitment long enough to finish a degree program is daunting.
But there are ways to find the time you need to go back to school. If you are flexible enough and diligent enough, you can make it happen.
Here are five ways you can squeeze more out of the minutes you’ve got to work with.
1. Get Clear About Your Goal
Going back to school takes time and effort. For some people, it takes a little more of both, especially when it’s someone who has lots of other obligations. But if you fix your sights on your end goal and decide that whatever sacrifice you have to make in the next couple of years will get you there, then it won’t seem so unmanageable. Just keep telling yourself, it is not going to be this way forever.
2. Don’t Go It Alone
There’s no doubt about it – life is busy. If you’re working, have family obligations, or other things demanding your time, you are going to need some help to return back to school successfully. The first step is accepting it, the second step is finding it. If you have a job, see if you can find a program that works around your schedule. If you have kids, see if a friend or relative will care for them – offer to swap childcare during other times. If you spend hours every week cooking, designate at least one or two nights as a pizza and bagged salad night or at least just cook something quick like ravioli or eggs with toast.
3. Find a Flexible Program
Nursing programs are becoming increasingly flexible to accommodate all the different time constraints of nursing students. Look around for a program where you can take night classes or even weekend-only classes. There might be a way to sign up for classes that meet early in the morning or later at night. Search around and see what you can find.
4. Look at Your Schedule
You can’t earn a degree without some juggling. It might seem like you don’t have a spare second, but charting out your days will help uncover the small chunks of time that you might have available. For one week, track your time – when you are working, cooking, exercising, watching television, caring for family, etc. It’s a long process, but you might find out that you have more free time than you think. That can help you put your plan into perspective. And see if you can be more flexible with what you are willing to shift around. If getting up earlier can give you time to study, it can bring your goal that much closer to reality.
5. Talk to Academic Advising
It can’t be said enough – when in doubt, turn to your school’s academic advising office. They are there to help you figure out how you can be successful at school, and they want nothing more than to see you get your degree. Talk to them about your time constraints or your concerns about finishing your degree. You might be surprised at the ways they can help you figure out just how you can make your dreams become your reality.
If going back to school is one of your dreams, but you don’t know where to find the time, don’t despair. With some priority shifting, time management, and reorganizing how you spend your time, you can do it.
Congratulations on passing your national certification exam and landing your first job! Relish in the feeling of accomplishment because you have a vast future in view. As new graduate nurses, you can accelerate your ambitions and convert them into concrete ventures if you elude common missteps such as poor financial choices and the lack of the artful but essential talent cheerfully labeled time management. Ultimately, the goal is that all new graduate nurses avoid these unassuming snares and breakout completely unscathed. And, it is essential that experienced nurses provide the tools so that all new graduates will be prepared for their upcoming journey. (more…)