- Organization: The key to keeping up with the demands of a nursing program is to be organized by way of planners, supplies, and work space. I am a huge believer of making lists and having a thoroughly planned week. My planners usually have a month view and a week view (hobonichi weeks is what I prefer) so I can get a visual of how everything looks from afar. On the monthly view I wrote all my exams down and had them each color coded by class. On the weekly view I broke down assignments by what I wanted to get done day by day (this is because each assignment took more than a day to complete, sometimes it took weeks if it was a group presentation with little things due as the class progressed.) On the weekends, I used post-its and broke down my Saturday and Sunday and kept that stuck to my computer monitor. Breaking down what I wanted to accomplish each day made the tasks seem achievable. This was especially important when I had clinical paperwork/care plans that took 20+ hours to finish and were due Monday at 0600.
- Cultivate a proper work space: I was lucky to have a spare bedroom that I transformed into my office. It is important to have a space, no matter how small, to use as your study/homework haven. I often went into my office, closed the door, and escaped the rest of my apartment for the duration of assignments; I even ate at my desk. Having my own space, I would often tell my boyfriend not to disturb me if I were taking a timed ATI exam or really needed to get homework done by a certain time. I am a person who requires silence when I'm working so having a personal office is key. Having two cats who demand attention often made it difficult to concentrate despite having a door to keep them out--cats will scratch and meow until that door is open!
- Find a support person: I live with my boyfriend and two cats and it's been this way for a long time. He fully supported me entering an accelerated BSN program with the understanding that I would be minimally working and would need him to pick up the slack around the apartment. I relied on him doing the grocery shopping during busy weeks, cleaning, doing the majority of the laundry, and to keep me sane during times of high stress. Many people lived at home with parents but I did not have that luxury and it was stressful at times because my income was low (I essentially worked every other weekend to keep my job and be rehired as an RN.) What I'm trying to get at is that you just need one person to lean on during nursing school--if you have more, even better.
- Reward yourself: With little money that I did have, I did reward myself with purchases throughout the program. Sushi dinners or orders from jetpens.com (my guilty pleasure is pens and stationery) help break up the monotony of your school-focused life. Receiving a package in the mail can do wonders for you. I rewarded myself toward the end of the program with a new Littmann Cardiology IV stethoscope with my name and BSN RN engraved in it--this was a huge motivator for finishing the program.
- Set up a digital countdown: I am a huge countdown person. I use the app "dreamdays" and had it set up as a widget on my phone for quick viewing. Countdowns are extremely satisfying and help me stay focused on the end result.
- Be prepared to give up hobbies: This is a big one. I am a person who loves to read, has a kindle, and usually reads anywhere from 25-50 books a year. During my nursing program I read ZERO books for fun. This was very hard on me and I often felt awful without my relaxing outlet. It is important to tell yourself that it's only temporary and your hobby will be waiting for you when you graduate.
- Dedicate time for yourself: This is a big one and everyone uses this concept differently. With my organizational skills, I often had at least an hour before bed that I dedicated to Netflix and watching a TV show (winding down to the point where I could read wasn't happening.) For some reason I thought it was a good idea to watch Grey's Anatomy from the beginning and that's what I did in my free time. This allowed me to decompress and zone out for a while so that I could go to sleep without homework on my mind. I wish working out was my way to decompress but I'm still working on that ;)
- Don't pull an all-nighter: The reality of nursing school is that you will always think that you need more time to study and that you didn't study well enough. I studied until 11pm at the latest, took a melatonin, and went to sleep. Allowing for at least five hours of sleep helped me retain more information and critically think to the best of my ability.
- Find friends like yourself: This is pretty important as you'll be with these people for the duration of your program and beyond should you work at the same hospital! Find a friend or friends who you can get through the clinical day with. My friends and I had group texts going and made clinical days tolerable for each other--you need a buddy to wipe butts and turn patients every two hours. These people will also be study buddies if you are into studying as a group. I often reviewed the morning before an exam with a friend but chose to study the bulk of the content on my own.
- Keep your eyes on the prize: Working three-four days a week in a hospital setting with good pay and benefits...that's enough to keep you going, right?
The dreaded NCLEX
Now, let's talk about the NCLEX. You've just finished nursing school, received your ATT number, scheduled your exam, and now you have to study for the test that determines your licensure. It's a scary thought and I took to studying as if it was my full-time job. I had two weeks exactly from the time of scheduling to taking the exam. I took two NCLEX reviews (one with ATI that was held at my school--not very helpful) and one with Mark Klimek (extremely helpful!!!) What I can say, because the exams are different for everyone, is to concentrate on what you are worst in and ignore what you already know. For me, OB, Acid-Base Imbalances, and electrolytes were, and probably will always be, the bane of my existence. Just study key points, take solace in your passing of nursing school, and RELAX. I had a hard time relaxing because the thought of not passing and not being able to start my job gave me heart palpitations. With that said, I never studied into the night, never lost sleep, and always did something to unwind. And hey, I passed with 75 questions (the minimum given) and received my results rather quickly in an email.