Nursing remains one of the most popular professions for young people, as well as those who are looking to take their careers in a different direction. Among the reasons given for its popularity are that it is a rewarding, challenging and interesting profession that allows practitioners to develop a wide range of skills.
The interest in nursing has grown even stronger in recent years, as shown by the increase in enrolment numbers especially in entry-level programs. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there was an increase of 3.3% in enrolment into entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2021. Although there were concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic might slow down enrollment, the numbers tell a different story.
Nursing schools have made a concerted effort to expand opportunities, provide a larger variety of specializations, and offer students whatever support they need to succeed in their studies.
Even as enrollees prepare to go to nursing school, they must think about how they will make the most of their time there. It does not matter whether they do a post-graduate, graduate or certificate program. Whatever qualification they choose to pursue, students should be prepared to do what it takes to succeed.
Nursing programs differ in complexity. A Nurse Practitioner certificate program, like the one offered at Wilkes University, is well-rounded and comprehensive. To qualify for it, one needs to have a Master’s Degree in Nursing, a minimum GPA of 3.0, and an active RN license. The program prepares students for three specializations (family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner and psychiatric health nurse practitioner) and covers topics like advanced pathophysiology, diagnostic reasoning for nurses, health perspectives of diverse and underserved populations and advanced health assessment.
Depending on the specialization they opt for, students can complete their program in as few as 12 months, but most can graduate within just 18 months. However, to graduate in such a short time requires commitment and dedication, and one must develop the right study habits.
What are the right study habits, and how does one develop them?
There is plenty of advice out there about how nursing students ought to study — they are told to work harder not smarter, to learn how to focus, to dedicate a certain amount each day and even to summarize their notes so that revising them is easier. These are all valid tips, but as many nursing students will attest, they are not very easy to implement. They are quite general, and what students would like is more tangible advice that they can implement in their everyday lives.
Every nursing student ought to know that when it comes to studying there is no standard method that works for all. Each student is different and their understanding and absorption varies. Some people do very well just by listening to the instructor and retaining everything that they hear. Others have to put in the hard work and repeatedly read their textbooks and notes to retain the material that is passed to them in class and through reading material.
For some, it is a combination of hearing and reading, while others do best when they give themselves enough time before tests and exams to digest what they have learned. If they wait until the last minute they panic and it affects their performance.
As students enroll in nursing programs, they ought to take some time to find out what works best for them. What method of study and revision helps them retain the most material? If they understand this, they will save time and it will be easier for them to come up with a system that works.
With all this in mind, there are some habits and tips that work almost universally, and students who practice them tend to enjoy a higher rate of success than those who don’t.
Those who do best have passion for their studies — they love what they do and they have a roadmap for the coming years. A passionate student who is enrolled in an RN program, for example, knows that they want to be the best in their class so that it is easier to get a job. They are keen to learn everything there is about basic nursing and they put in whatever extra time is required to understand their programwork.
If one is doing a postgraduate or graduate program they ought to define their goals. What kind of job do they have their eye on, and how long should they take to complete their program? What grades should they aim for to secure those jobs with ease? Having a roadmap makes it easier to focus, and every time distractions come along they are easier to recognize for what they are.
Understand the curriculum
Sometimes nursing students are surprised when they realize what is involved in the clinical part of their program, or even when they see what topics they will be covering in the theoretical section of the program.
Surprises can throw students back and make them lose time. Immediately after enrolling, and before the program begins, students should take time to understand the material they will cover. If anything is not clear, talk to a counselor and let them explain what to expect along the way.
Be well prepared
Whether taking an online program or studying on campus, students should be adequately prepared. The nursing school will provide a list of things that they ought to have to help them succeed in their program. This usually includes textbooks and writing material, a laptop, and in many cases, nursing students are told to buy a comfortable pair of shoes and a stethoscope. It is important to have all these things ready to be able to fully participate in every class.
Online classes have made it easier to get qualifications, but every student who opts to go this route ought to understand that there are pitfalls to avoid.
Because learning is flexible and students are not directly supervised, they can let things slide. They miss lessons and fail to attend online discussion groups only to scramble at the last minute. Busy students can reorganize their days in such a way that they have the time to study each day. It does not matter if it is only an hour — if planned well, it is enough time to stay up to date with what is going on in the program.
If a student misses a day or two, there is no reason to panic. They should simply catch up as quickly as possible and keep up with what is happening in class as they do so.
Complete assignments on time
Assignments and tests usually count towards one’s final score and should be taken seriously. Nursing schools that offer online programs usually post all assignments and tests on each student’s portal, so students should visit theirs regularly to make sure that they have not missed anything.
Stay away from people who are not helping
Some people’s friends, and even family, may not understand their goals and what they aim to do by enrolling in nursing school. They may suggest going out during times when the student ought to be studying, or may want to call them and have long chats, or visit and take up time.
It is important nursing students are not afraid to tell friends and family that they are now in school and would be grateful if they could be given time to study — they will catch up once it is all done.
Get help when possible
This is important, especially for a mature student who has a job and a family. Both need time and attention, and if these students do not recruit some help, their studies will suffer. These people can talk to family and friends about helping with chores for some time so that they have enough time to dedicate to their program.
Many employers are also happy to support employees who opt to pursue continuing education and are willing to tweak schedules to give them enough time to study and do assignments and exams.
Develop a self-care regimen
There are many articles out there about nurse burnout. What many of them fail to mention is that in some cases it starts as far back as nursing school. Students fail to take care of themselves and it eventually catches up to them, affecting their studies and over time, their work. Self-care is all about making sure that one is in the right mental place and that they have the physical stamina to do their job.
Try to develop a relaxing habit like meditation, yoga, or whatever else works. If nurses take the time to rest and re-energize the mind every few days, they will find that their studies are so much easier. Exercise, sleep and healthy food are also crucial for nurses. They help them develop the stamina needed to be an exemplary nurse.
Make use of instructors
Instructors are there to help nurses be the best they can be, so make use of whatever advice they have to offer. If a certain part of the program proves difficult, schedule a meeting with the instructor and let them explain it better. Be sure to prepare questions in advance to prevent wasting time.
Recruit a mentor
Mentors are great for helping students stay focused. They help them define priorities, develop a career path, and sometimes even help them secure good jobs.
Many nursing schools have mentorship programs, and interested students can get in touch with the administration office to find out what the process is to be assigned a mentor. If a college does not have mentors they usually have counselors, and these are just as good. They understand the landscape and can provide useful insights on how to study and even how to go about securing employment after the program.
Allow enough time to prepare for exams
Rushing through exam prep is not any fun and it usually affects results. Every nursing student should leave enough room in their schedule for revision so that they do not have to rush through their notes at the very end.
It is important to have all notes lined up and have a basic understanding of every topic covered in that semester. If having difficulty with a particular area, one should give themselves more time for revision, and recruit the help of other learners who have a better understanding of it. Learning from another student sometimes makes a big difference.
A nursing student has come this far, and beaten other applicants to secure a place in nursing school. This is a big achievement that should not be underestimated. They have what it takes to complete their program, pass their exams and secure a good job.
Confident students find it much easier because they believe in themselves and their abilities. They should not let one or two failures get in the way of their program. Getting poor marks in one or two programs should not discourage students — it happens all the time in higher education.
The important thing is to develop a plan to retake the programs as soon as possible and be better prepared the next time around. Talk to the instructor about areas of required improvement, and talk to other students who passed to find out what they did to succeed.