Dear new student,
As you enter your first semester of nursing school, your head is going to spin. You will hear all sorts of advice and tips that may work for you to lead you to success. You will be bombarded with homework and feel overwhelmed and at one point, may even question why you decided to go to nursing school. Well, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Take a deep breath and listen closely.
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You are entering a profession that is responsible for people’s lives. It is good to feel anxious and afraid. These are your senses getting you prepared to be alert and cognitively aware of all that is necessary to become the most efficient nurse. Embrace those feelings and take control of them. Trust your instincts.
Next, give yourself time. Often, students feel that nursing school is just another task to put on their list of things to do. Erase all the other tasks and make nursing school the only thing on your list. Give yourself time to transition into the nursing program before you begin to add other things on your “to do list.” Many students want to become involved in extracurricular activities or hold part-time jobs. Wait until you get into a groove and begin to manage your time that has now been taken from you. Then slowly add the things that are priorities so you do not overwhelm yourself. You want to have other interests outside of nursing school, but you want to be able to enjoy them and not feel as though they are just another obligation. So time management is very important in those first few months of transitioning into the program.
Take control of your learning. Learning is not a passive activity. Don’t wait for others to tell you what to know. Don’t ask, “what will be on the test?” Learning goes beyond knowing the correct answers on the exam. Learning should result in your ability to connect all the pieces together. Each time you hear something, try to understand it. Don’t waste your time memorizing things. Everything you learn builds upon itself. Your nursing knowledge is compared to a brick house. Each brick contains a bit of information, and when put together, you will construct a complete house. However, you will not be able to develop a finished product until you utilize each brick properly. So learn, understand, build upon previous learned knowledge, and apply it into practice.
Tie it all together. Don’t just study each course as though they are individual entities. Each course ties into one another. So while you have your med-surg book open to cardiology, open up and reference your pharmacology book to the cardiology section. Use other resources such as your NCLEX review book and study the chapter on cardiology. Use videos, practice tests, and study groups. Each different perspective provides you with the ability to critically think through problems.
So now that we have covered the technical aspect on how to approach nursing school, let’s discuss the more difficult side of being a nurse. Nurses have been chosen as the number one trusted profession for many years. There is a reason for this. Think about the intimacy involved in nursing. Think about the most intimidate relationships in your own life and then think about the care you provide for these total strangers. Yes, strangers. We identify them as patients, but prior to reading their history and physical that you will find in their medical chart, you knew nothing about them. In spite of never meeting them before, you will wash them up when they are soiled, you will be with them at their weakest moments, and they will count on you share their deepest fears.
You will hold dying babies as you wipe away tears from their mothers. You will care for people as they accept the news of only having a few months to live. You will teach patients how to move on as they lose a body part such as a limb or breast. You will provide comfort to families who have lost their loved ones. I cannot teach you how to be prepared for all that. All I can say is that you must know who you are and be comfortable within yourself. You must understand yourself and know what it truly means to be present.
Presence is the most difficult aspect of nursing. Presence comes with maturity, and I don’t mean the one of chronological age. It is a maturity that comes with experience and time. It involves caring and empathy and evolves with passion and confidence. Presence is being in that moment when you are 100% listening and hearing the patient. You care about them as an individual and are able to see them as more than a patient. You respect them as a human being. This is tough. You may ask how are you ever going to relate to a 90 year old when you are just turning 20. But it is a human experience that even age cannot interfere with. It is a reciprocal encounter. Being present allows you to receive as well as give, resulting in emotional and spiritual growth each time. It is not an easy thing to do, especially as you approach your shift with a long list of tasks to complete without getting into overtime. However, this will be the most meaningful task of your shift. This will be the “making a difference” you first sought out when you chose to be a nurse. This will be the recharge you need when you no longer want to practice or are feeling burnt out. This is what your patient will remember when he or she is discharged.
Presence cannot be forged. It is a sincere act that requires you and only you with full integrity. We all enter nursing with good intent. We all promise to be sincere and bring 100% of ourselves to each and every patient. But then reality sets in and you will be burdened with under-staffing and several tasks to accomplish before your shift is over. But always keep in mind the purpose of your career choice and stay true to that throughout this journey. Make it a point as a student and as a nurse, to stay present in each and every encounter you have. I can reassure you that this will keep you feeling accomplished as a student, and as a new nurse.
MaryAnn P.