7 tips to stay mentally sane during nursing school
Caveat: some people (nurses) might not agree AT ALL with what I say here . . . oh well! I want to share how it really is to give confidence to those struggling.
We literally get hundreds of emails a day from nursing students.
Sadly, a good portion of them are from students that feel like they should quit nursing school altogether.
Here are just a couple recent quotes from students:
Starting to lose motivation to study.
There is sssooooo much information that I don’t know where to begin. I find that often times the instructors are even confused when students ask questions because they are as well versed in the subject matter that they are teaching. Which leaves me to teach myself. Ugh!
I gave up after that and lost my motivation to study.
I keep falling on my face.
My Story . . . (uncensored) When I Quit Nursing School
I started nursing school with high hopes, but after my fourth semester, I dropped out. I quit nursing school.
I knew nursing school was going to be hard . . . I mean the whole point is to learn how to competently take care of a human being suffering from complex heath issues.
I expected school to be hard.
In fact, I had a meeting with the administration of my program at one point and suggested to them that they had made our program too easy and that we were not learning what we needed to know to be competent nurses on the floor.
I attended an Accelerated BSN program of ABSN designed for working professionals interested in a career change.
Basically, the 4 years of nursing school were condensed into 18 months given that we already had a previous degree (mine in Business Management).
Prior to even starting nursing school I made a promise to myself.
I was going to give 110% and learn everything I could to be the best nurse possible. From day 1 I was spending time in the library every day diving deep into the lecture material. . . .
The result . . .
- 1st Semester: 4.0 GPA (the first time in my life I ever got a 4.0)
- 2nd Semester: 4.0 GPA (one of only two students in my cohort to get a 4.0)
I had one thing on my mind . . . NURSING SCHOOL
At the time my wife had just had our first child . . . Taz.
He was born with a congenital condition that required a two week stay in the NICU and 3 surgeries with subsequent week long hospital stays during the first year of his life.
I will never forget staying up late into the night studying for exams in his hospital room by the light of the Emergency Room signage below then waking up in the early hours with him or going across the street to school and rushing back to baby Taz.
There were times I would bring him up to the school library during his nap time so I could attend a study group while he slept in his stroller.
Life wasn’t easy, but we were happy.
- We were buried in student debt.
- We were living on food stamps and WIC.
- Our newborn was frequently in the hospital for surgeries.
- We lived deep in the ghetto.
- I was giving my all (what was left) to becoming a nurse.
The Semester I “Hit My Wall”
Life continued on and I began my 3rd semester.
At this point I was feeling pretty confident that I could take on anything that came at me.
I was wrong.
Things began to build up this semester. Taz had his final surgery with complications. We were given a brand new nursing professor that had no business teaching . . . in any capacity . . . ever. And I really started feeling the pressure.
The professor mentioned above became more and more obtuse with her thinking and was clearly not in the game of educating nursing students but reaping vengeance on some past experience. She had an utter lack of understanding of education, clinical nursing, and general people skills.
I allowed all of this to weigh on me.
It got to a point that I was completely unable to think about or focus on anything other than the anger and frustration I was feeling. I wanted nothing to do with this class or this woman yet the anger I felt began to control my life.
That semester I ended with a C in that class. I lost my motivation. I hated nursing school and all I could think about was quitting nursing school.
I was ready to forget about nursing altogether.
My wife kept trying to get me to see past my frustrations. She kept me going at that point. The next semester I had great professors and experiences, but the drive and motivation were gone.
I was still a good student and loved every minute of clinical but I hated school, my school, so much. I couldn’t get past the frustration.
The point finally came that I couldn’t help but look outside of nursing for employment. A job opportunity arose back in Texas (where we were from) and I wanted to jump at it. My plan was to burn rubber driving out of town and say goodbye to nursing forever.
My wife convinced me to talk with the program and line up a way to “Withdraw” from nursing school rather than quitting. By doing this I would keep the door open to return to the program within a year and pick up right where I left off. I had no interest in doing this, but to keep my wife happy I went ahead and did it. In my mind I was going to quit nursing and nursing school for good and just mark the experience up as another life mistake.
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7 Tips to Stay Mentally Sane During Nursing School
So, right before my final semester (yes, just 10 weeks from graduation) I withdrew from nursing school.
You guys know the rest of the story . . . 1 year after quitting nursing school, I returned to complete my degree. Ending with a 3.89 overall GPA, landing a spot in a Trauma I ICU, precepting, charging, and starting NRSNG.com, and now reaching literally millions of nurses and nursing students each week.
With that said . . . I want to offer you 7 tips that will help you stay mentally sane during nursing school.
Full disclosure . . . I DID NOT do these things during my program . . . and I nearly went insane and that is why I temporally quit nursing school.
They say hindsight is 20/20 and I feel that had I done these things during my program I might not have hated it so much and actually come out a better person. I do try to implement these 7 things into my daily life now.
So here is the list:
- Avoid becoming uni-dimensional
- You are more than “just a nurse”. You are a human with varied interests. Don’t drop everything when you start nursing school. Make sure to take time to still be you! NurseBass is a good example of this . . . he runs his YouTube channel for nursing students and he also focuses a lot of time on fitness and working out.
- Realize that after nursing school is when you begin to learn in exponential leaps.
- I was stuck on the idea that I had to know EVERYTHING prior to graduating nursing school. I have since realized that learning becomes massively accelerated AFTER nursing school as you begin working on a floor and become specialized. I still encourage you to take school seriously and learn all that you can, but give yourself a break . . . you won’t know everything.
- Develop healthy habits (miracle morning, fitness, exercise).
- This is obvious, but can’t be overstated. If you are not taking care of yourself . . . your mind and body will become weak. One thing I have implemented with great success is something called the “Miracle Morning“, essentially, developing an early morning routine that includes some form of journaling, meditation, fitness, and reflection before anyone else wakes up. Sometimes just a short walk in the morning with your phone off is enough . . . please try it!
- You are NOT your grades (dehypnotize yourself, radical acceptance).
- Sadly, many students, including myself tie their self worth to their GPA or how many questions it takes them to pass the NCLEX . . . this is sad! Your grades DO NOT define you . . . do not allow them to control your happiness or how you view yourself. Two books have really helped me understand this better: Psychocybernetics and Radial Acceptance. If I could force you to read one non-nursing book . . . it would be Radical Acceptance. If you have a few bucks download the audio book and listen while driving around town. The book had me in tears and opened up a new world of accepting myself at a level that I had never achieved previously. I am confident that had I found this book prior to dropping out of nursing school I would have gotten my RN a year earlier.
- Deep work (set aside focused study time).
- Deep Work . . . a concept outlined in great detail by Cal Newport in his book by the same title involves allowing youself time to dive into deep mental states and accomplish great tasks by learning to get deep into your work. Applying this to nursing school, you can learn how to organize your life to allow sessions of deep work into your studies. One 3 hour deep work session is probably worth more than several unfocused days of meaningless study. To learn more about the concept . . . listen to this podcast here.
- Find a good friend or start keeping a journal.
- You have to be able to decompress and share your frustrations openly. I have been lucky to have my wife through this journey. I haven’t always been very good at listening to her but having a companion, friend, or family member that you can be 100% open and honest with is so key to mental health. A friend that allows you to share your frustrations unfiltered without judging is essential. If you do not have this person . . . buy a $0.79 composition book at Wal-Mart and start writing in it. . . just let your feelings flow.
- Life is a journey.
- Lastly, and most obviously . . . realize that life is a journey. You don’t have to achieve perfection TODAY . . . you have a lifetime to WORK toward it. You don’t have to pass the NCLEX tomorrow, you don’t have to get accepted to nursing school THIS semester . . . you have a lifetime. You are in this for the longhaul. Relax.
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You Should Dropout of Nursing School
I dropped out of nursing school. And let me be completely honest with you. I don’t really regret it too much. Nope, I don’t regret that I quit nursing school at all.
My mind was in such a bad place. I can’t imagine how tainted, angry, and just plain horrible I would have been at my first job had I started working at that point.
After I withdrew I turned nursing off in my brain. I didn’t think about nursing at all for about 7 months. I had no plan to return to school.
Then something happened in about February. At this point I was ready to go back. After talking to my school I got everything set up to return and complete my final semester.
This time I was hungry, I was excited, I was in a complete different mental state . . . I was motivated and able to face any challenge to make it happen.
So . . . while I don’t really suggest quitting nursing school . . . I will say that in my case I am glad that I did. It wasn’t the end of the world . . . remember, life is a journey.
Before You Quit Nursing School – Do These Things . . .
Listen . . . we need more nurses.
Let me rephrase that.
We need more nurses who give a damn!
If you want to quit nursing school, if you hate nursing school (we all do), if you are thinking about dropping out . . . do me a favor:
Start with those 7 things listed above. How many of those are you doing daily? Can you do a better job at some of them?
If you feel that you are in a mentally healthy place and have implemented those 7 tips and you still feel that you need to leave your nursing program please work with your school to withdraw in good standing. This just means that in the crazy chance that you decide to return to school, the door is still open.
Make sure you sit down with your adviser, dean, and whom ever else and clearly understand any stipulations.
For some the only answer may be to distance themselves for a time. This is a good thing. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean you will be a terrible nurse. Nursing school is NOT real life nursing.
Just keep that door open. I was inches away from not becoming a nurse myself.
You will never meet anyone that tells you nursing school was the best experience of their life. It’s not. It basically sucks. But you can do it. If you see no other option and you are in a poor mental health state . . . take some time . . . take some distance . . . see if you can relight that fire.
What I want you to get from this post is to understand that we all struggle, we all have dark moments. Learning how to handle those darkest moments of our lives is what makes us strong.
For me . . . that portion of life was one of my darkest.
I chose to withdraw from school.
I don’t think this is the best option for EVERYONE . . . but for me . . . I have no doubt that it was.
If you get to this dark of a moment and you feel that quitting nursing is the right option. Please, do it in the right way so that the door is still open.
We need more nurses who give a damn!
Do you know a future nurse who might be struggling? Share this message . . .
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