There is no question that completing a higher education degree in nursing is one of the greatest challenges around. Not only do nursing students have to work hard to assimilate a wide range of theories and intricate medical practices, they also have to manage practical work placements and study hard to pass a series of demanding exams. On top of that, many students have to balance their studies with work, family and personal commitments. The good news is that succeeding in this challenge enables them to embark on a long career in their chosen profession.
So, what can student nurses do to ensure their time spent learning is a successful and enjoyable one? In this article, we look at studying tips, the best ways to prioritize well being and self care, and other ways students can access the best study resources. In addition, we examine the typical educational and career paths open to student nurses, as well as the importance of lifelong learning and experience.
Preparation is the key to success
Nursing is one of the most respected and in-demand professions in the world. It is also one of the most important, with nurses often the first point of care for patients. It is no surprise then, that the education and formative process is so demanding: registered nurses (RNs) have to be fully prepared to deal with a range of difficult situations. Nurses tend to operate in a wide array of different institutions and disciplines, from hospitals and general outpatient clinics to drug rehabilitation centers, psychiatric institutions and even in educational facilities and companies.
For this reason too, their education means far more than merely gaining a qualification. In training to become a registered nurse – usually through a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – students establish a fundamental basis of knowledge about the most important aspects of nursing that, when combined with experience, enables nurses to deal with the various challenges they face in their future work. Many nurses will also at some point look to specialize further, whether in a particular discipline, or by completing a post-graduate course as a nurse practitioner or nurse leader.
So, what are the most important things to look out for during studies?
Create the right conditions
As we discussed above, there is much to learn when completing a BSN, from the theoretical aspects of biology, pharmacology and psychology to practical nursing techniques, administration matters and patient management. Naturally, in the first few weeks of your studies, you might find yourself bombarded with information and at times become overwhelmed. However, with a few simple steps, you can help ensure you are able to study efficiently and effectively.
The first thing to do is to make a realistic study plan so you can set realistic goals and not become too overwhelmed which can lead to ineffective studying. After all, if you set the goal of reading a dozen medical textbooks a month and after three weeks you’re only on page seven of book one, you’re quickly going to feel demoralized. The best thing to do is to make a rough plan for the first few weeks, then stay flexible and adjust it often in order to ensure you’re keeping on top of things without getting overwhelmed. Over time, you should be able to develop a set routine that becomes automatic.
It’s also important to find the right place to study. Ideally, you will have a quiet room with a desk, writing materials, and no distractions. In reality, you might have to content yourself with a corner of the bus and some noise canceling headphones or a tiny space on the crowded kitchen table late at night, after everyone else is safely tucked up in bed. Either way, the important thing is to find a way to focus and if it proves too difficult, to have the strength and foresight to seek out somewhere that works for you.
Don’t be afraid to seek help and work together
Of course, one of the best ways of managing study is to find a partner or group to learn with. Although it’s not for everyone, meeting up with fellow students to read together, test each other, discuss difficult aspects of your learning, or simply have a chat, can be a great way to improve your knowledge. Study groups also help form firm friendships, while releasing some of the stress from undertaking a difficult degree. In addition, teaching others about new concepts can also help deepen your own understanding. Even if you happen to be studying online, there are a host of different communication channels available to create a digital study group.
It also makes sense to identify a few key learning techniques that can help you absorb and retain the information you need. Some of these are very simple – taking good lecture notes, underlining key words in texts, or writing up your own summary of important topics. Others can be slightly more elaborate, such as applying mnemonics and acronyms to help remember technical terms, elaborative interrogation, where you take a topic and ask yourself a series of questions that help you improve your understanding and identify any weak points, or creating pictorial representations such as flowcharts and concept maps – great for visual learners in particular.
Indeed, whatever kind of learner you are, variation can also make a big difference – mixing reading and writing with discussion, video tutorials and relevant podcasts can be a great way to help your brain take everything in and also think more widely about topics. The important thing is to find what works for you, it might even be worth spending a little bit of time reading up on the learning techniques that could suit you best. Remember to always, always match the right techniques to the right content, and don’t forget to reward yourself when you meet your goals!
Keeping on top of things
Given that most nursing students also have a range of other commitments, from family life and full or part-time jobs to personal obligations or pursuits, time management is also another key area that deserves your full attention. Ideally, you will be able to set a certain time of day aside for study time, whether it’s early morning, late at night or perhaps after your lectures, where you can fully focus on learning. It might also be a good idea to make it clear to friends and family in advance that there will be specific times – such as the exam period – when you may be unavailable as you have to dedicate as much time as possible to studying. By setting expectations early, you can help avoid offending them if you have to turn down social invitations later on.
Indeed, ensuring you get enough rest and maintaining positive wellbeing and self-care are not only vital for your general state of health, but will also help make sure you get the most out of your degree – it is always easier to concentrate and absorb information if you are in a good state of mind. Naturally, there will always be times when things might get on top of you, which is why it is a good idea to allocate specific times to rest and relaxation. It’s important to remember taking a break has real value, and at times a trip to the cinema to unwind and switch off can be even more useful to your studies than a two-hour cramming session.
In addition, though at times it may seem almost impossible, healthy eating and exercise can also play a really positive contribution during nursing studies. A balanced diet has been scientifically demonstrated to help improve concentration, and regular mealtimes also help provide structure in a busy day. Similarly, exercise can help boost the mind and clear your head, and it doesn’t have to take up half of your day either. A few star jumps in between study chapters, a brisk run in the morning or walking home instead of taking the bus after class are all great ways to get the endorphins flowing without losing too much valuable time.
Identifying the right resources
In addition to good study techniques, time management and self care, it’s also important to ensure you are learning the right things and are able to access the right resources. The most important, of course, is to make sure you have access to the mandatory textbooks – whether in physical or digital form – while it is also a good idea to organize your lecture notes so you have everything on hand. It might also be a good idea to identify a study partner so if one of you can’t make a lecture, the other one can share what they have recorded.
On top of this, it pays to be able to identify additional resources that may broaden your understanding of the topics covered. These can come from a variety of sources: from the college library or learning center, to recommendations from your professor, YouTube training videos, online articles or even nursing forums. In each case, the most important thing is to be able to identify the most reliable and relevant information, and not to get lost in a rabbit hole not directly relevant to your studies.
Remaining focused on the goal
One other important thing to remember is how important it is to get the most out of your studies. It is worth being mindful of the fact there are very few occasions in our lives where we can dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of knowledge in a specific topic and really focus on learning. Nursing school is the perfect time to find out as much as you possibly can about not only the profession of nursing, but about the pursuit of medicine and patient care in general.
Generally speaking, the first step for a prospective nurse is to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). While these often take place on-campus, there are also a number of online courses available. A distance BSN from the University of Indianapolis, for example, can be completed entirely online, providing both a superb education and full flexibility – particularly useful for students who plan to maintain a full or part-time job during their studies. It is important to remember the educational requirements for a nurse are both a tremendous challenge and the ideal opportunity to prepare fully for a career as an expert carer. The initial journey – qualifying as a registered nurse – is a time every nurse will remember for the rest of their career, and most look back on this period as a crucial and formative experience in their path.
The learning never stops
Naturally, even after graduation, nurses will continue to learn as much as they can, initially through practical experience. In fact, many nurses will attest that the first year of practice is the most illuminating of their careers, as they have the chance to apply what they learned in the classroom whilst beginning to understand the practical realities of the profession. Lifelong learning also plays an important role: the very best nurses will always remain open to new techniques, medical discoveries and technology throughout their career and will often read independently to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in their profession.
After all, completing your initial degree in nursing is the first step of what should hopefully be a long and satisfying career. Which is why it is important to note that developing positive and effective habits and approaches during your studies – whether in terms of learning, stress management or good medical practice – will enable you to transfer them to the world of nursing itself and help ensure you get the most of what is one of the most important professions on the planet.