It’s not surprising nursing is such a hot career choice right now. Not only does it offer a rewarding, respected, and well-paying profession; nurses are in short supply and expected to remain so for years to come. As a result, experienced nurses have a lot of exciting opportunities available to them.
But before you decide it’s time for a career change, we need to talk honestly about what goes into becoming a nurse, because nursing school is not easy. To get a better understanding of what makes nursing school hard, along with what you can do to be successful, we talked to Crystal Small, a faculty member with Concordia University Texas’ Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) track.
One of the biggest surprises for nursing students is how different nursing school is from their past educational experiences. For one thing, it’s very time-intensive. You may have gotten through your prior schooling with minimal effort — you might have even graduated at the top of your class. Nursing school isn’t going to be like that, especially an accelerated nursing program, like Concordia University Texas’ ABSN track.
“The amount of time that is required to pass the courses successfully is a shock to students,” says Crystal. “Nursing school is your full-time job from day one until you graduate. Many hours are spent studying, completing assignments, practicing skills for a check-off, and in the clinical setting.”
However, it’s not just the time commitment that sets the nursing school apart. Up to this point, it’s likely that much of your education has revolved around memorization. When you were younger, it was spellings, grammar rules, and historical events. Later, it became names and dates, math formulas, scientific concepts, and economic principles. Tests often involved demonstrating your ability to memorize information or to pick the right answer out of a group of incorrect answers.
While thoroughly learning the material (and there will be a lot of it) is crucial, this involves so much more than just memorizing information. You must also master critical hands-on skills, as well as finely hone your ability to think analytically and often under pressure — weighing everything you know about medicine with everything you can uncover about a patient. In other words, you have to be able to apply the information to real-life situations.
“All of our courses intertwine to bring the complete experience together,” says Crystal. “Medications taught in pharmacology relate to the medical conditions taught in theory. These medical conditions are seen in the clinical setting and students administer the medications to their patients. Skills are taught in the skills lab that reflect what they are learning in theory and can be done in clinical.”
Similarly, nursing school tests — including the NCLEX — are a bit different from what most students experienced in the past. At first glance, they might look like your basic, standardized test with multiple-choice questions. What tends to trip up new nursing students, though, is the decision process required to make the right choice, or rather, the best option. Indeed, you will come across questions where every answer is correct, but one is more right.
It’s tempting to view these questions as “trick” questions but think about it — in the medical world, there will be multiple possible courses of action, all of which might have pros and cons to them. Determining the best choice requires you to think through the given scenario analytically, applying everything you have learned about nursing theory.
Now that you understand what makes nursing school hard, we’ll turn our focus to the habits that help you to achieve success on your path to a career in nursing.
You’re going to have a lot to keep track of in nursing school. Maintaining an up-to-date calendar of all of your assignments, tests, lab, and clinical dates, etc., will go a long way toward ensuring nothing slips through the cracks. This includes scheduling set times for homework and studying each week.
“If you miss a skills lab or clinical day, you fall behind very quickly,” Crystal warns. “Those experiences cannot be reproduced and made up in the same manner. Mismanagement of time in regard to studying and completing assignments can lead to a student quickly falling behind in classes.” Also, be sure to store your assignments and notes where you can find them for quick reference later.
It’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t understand or can’t do something right away. Be patient and keep at it. “You cannot learn everything in one night,” says Crystal. “It takes time for things to start to come together. One day, things just make sense and click.”
Nursing school is tough, and you are going to make mistakes. However, you have a choice: You can view every mistake and struggle as a learning opportunity or as validation that you don’t have what it takes to be a nurse. In the words of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, “A stumbling block to the pessimist is a stepping-stone to the optimist.”
If there’s one thing most of us struggle with, it’s asking for help. Nonetheless, you must get over this fear. No one will think less of you for asking questions or admitting you need help. Instead, it shows you are committed. Remember, the faculty and staff do not want to see you fail. “We give our cell phone numbers to our students on the first day and encourage students to reach out for assistance whenever they need it,” says Crystal.
Any good nursing school will make a number of invaluable resources available to students, and CTX is no exception. Failing to take advantage of these resources is a big mistake. “We give students all the tools and resources they need to pass exams, checkoffs, and the NCLEX,” says Crystal. “Students that use the resources, tutors, and trust in the process do very well.”
Get to know your classmates and instructors. You will come to rely on them throughout the program. It can be especially helpful to have a study buddy in the program. As Crystal says, “We are a very close-knit community.”
Additionally, be clear and upfront with family members and significant others about the time commitment, and talk to them about ways they can help you. For example, your spouse may need to make dinner more, or you might ask a retired parent to babysit for you. “If you have a family, they need to support you and be there for you, but also understand that you will be absent for a lot of things,” says Crystal. “You will study on holidays, birthdays, and weekends. You will miss weddings and vacations. If a support system is not present to help with household chores, children, and family commitments, it will be tough.”
All too often we let good habits like exercising, healthy eating, and getting enough rest fall by the wayside when we’re stressed or have a lot to do. However, experts warn this is a big mistake. Not only does exercise promote good health, but it can also improve cognitive functioning and reduce stress. Similarly, the foods we eat can make a big difference in the way we think and feel. Don’t discount sleep, either. While it’s tempting to stay up all night studying, you’re better off making studying a regular habit and getting plenty of rest the night before a test.
If have a passion for helping others and meet the eligibility requirements, we have a place for you in our accelerated BSN track. With three starts each year and an accelerated online/hands-on format, it’s possible to earn your nursing degree in as few as 16 months. Give us a call today, or fill out the form, to find out if ABSN@CTX is right for you.