Monday, March 17, 2014

10 Action Steps to Survive and Thrive Nursing School

student nurse, school stress, graduate nurse, new nurse, renee thompson, rtconnections

I’ve been a nurse for more than 23 years yet I can remember almost every detail from nursing school (mental scars). Getting through my program was probably one of the most stressful and challenging periods of my life! The expectation of mastering a mountain of information, always being “tested” by your instructors, the constant worry that you’re going to make a mistake and the never-ending list of demands from your school – it’s a wonder that anyone graduates!
But we do. We somehow manage to survive.

Nursing school doesn’t have to leave you with mental scars. You and your classmates can do more than just survive school…you can thrive!!

Follow these steps for nursing school success:

1.    Embrace Maslow – Nursing school is so demanding yet many students ignore the basics – food, shelter, and water. They say things like, “I don’t have to eat.” Or worse, grab a candy bar from the vending machine as their meal. However, if you want your brain to function well, you must embrace Maslow – eat good healthy foods and drink plenty of fresh water. Simple.

2.    Laugh – One of the best ways to counteract the stress you’re placing on your brain is to laugh. Laughter is the antidote to stress because when you laugh, you release endorphins and other feel good chemicals in your brain! Even if you have to watch funny cat videos (I do), find a way to laugh every day.

3.    Own it – Take full responsibility for everything – your learning, test results, clinical performance…everything! Humans who blame others for their lot in life - do poorly. Humans who take full responsibility – succeed.

4.    Enjoy the ride – I know it seems almost impossible, but instead of filling your brain with thoughts about graduating, focus on the journey instead. What can you learn in each class, each chapter in your textbook, each patient you care for that will help you to become a better nurse? 

5.    Get growing – Commit to personal growth even during nursing school. Every day, carve out 15 – 30 minutes to read something that will help you to grow personally beyond “nursing stuff.” Read books about goal setting, effective communication, meditation, etc. Just read!

6.    Avoid the energy vampires – You know who they are. The people who suck the life out of you when they’re around. When exposed to negativity (gossip, complaining, etc) our brains start to become negative. Stay far, far away from them!! Instead, surround yourself with positive people!

7.    Build relationships – We are in the “people” business who just happen to be nurses. Don’t forget that every conversation you have with someone is either building that relationship or tearing it down. Always build!

8.    Reflect instead of ruminate – You are going to make mistakes, miss questions on your exams, and not know the answer to something when drilled by your instructor. Instead of beating yourself up (ruminating), reflect instead. Think, “what can I learn from this the next time I’m in this situation?” Reflecting is healthy – beating yourself up for not knowing something is just a waste of your brainpower.

9.    Express gratitude – They say that gratitude is an important component of a happy life. Every day think of 3 things you are grateful for. Yes. Even in nursing school!

10. Know your why – There will be days when you question your decision to become a nurse. Spend time thinking about your WHY. When times are tough, remembering why you want to be a nurse can help you push through the rough times!

Remember, when you become a nurse, you are joining a group of other humans who are favored by the public; who serve a higher purpose; who go out of their way to make life better for strangers; and who make a difference in the lives of other people.
Welcome to the club!

Thanks for reading. Would love to read your comments!

Take care and stay connected


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  1. Great summary, Renée!
    I'd add this older Nurses are a tremendous resource : knowledge, wisdom, examples. Take the good and the bad, as you will find both. Ignore the bad, except to learn to avoid such mistakes in your own future practice. Incorporate the good. Integrate it all, make it your own, then pass it along when the time comes to the next folks in line behind you.

  2. Excellent additions Greg! Yes. Experienced nurses can be a great resource for newer nurses! And you're so right...there is good and bad in life. What tips the balance is what you focus on.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. Cheers