how to survive your first year of nursing school

How to Survive Nursing School: A Guide for First-Year Students

Nursing school may be calling your name if you want to impact patients’ lives and join an in-demand field of work. Of course, it is also required. To become a registered nurse (RN) today, you must graduate from a state-approved nursing school.

But surviving nursing school? That’s no easy feat. Today we’ll discuss 10 tactics you can employ to survive your nursing classes and thrive in a nursing career.

Take Care of Yourself.

Just as caring for patients is essential to the working nurse, taking care of yourself must be a top priority. Nursing school can be demanding and stressful at times. You must remember to care for your mental and physical health to survive nursing school.

#1: Get Enough Sleep

Never, ever underestimate the value of getting enough sleep. While pulling the occasional all-nighter to study isn’t the end of the world, you need quality sleep to maintain your mental and physical health.

#2: Exercise

Don’t be intimidated by finding time to exercise. Instead, add studying to the mix—think of it as killing two birds with one stone. Bring flashcards on the treadmill or post flow charts on the mirror while you lift weights. Listening to lectures while walking, jogging, or working out at the gym is an excellent way to retain content while maintaining mental and physical health. There’s nothing more motivating than listening to the consequences of heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes while working hard to prevent them!

#3: Eat Well

Students at Goodwin have reported two hacks to maintain a healthy diet and survive nursing school. First, you can prepare meals one day a week and freeze them for the future. Or, learn to love a crock pot. Countless delicious meals can be prepared the day before or the morning of and left to cook while studying for an exam.

#4: De-compress

Every successful student will tell you to make time for playtime. This can be a family game or movie night, alone time with a favorite book, or a night out with your best friend. Do not think of it as time away from studying but as a battery recharging to prevent burnout. Remember, to take care of others, you must first take care of yourself!

#5: Engage with the Community

Get to know fellow students by joining a study group. Meeting regularly with a study group allows you to compare notes, observe each other, and practice NCLEX-style questions that you may have trouble with alone. Plus, connections with other future nurses are as important for social support as academic success.

Ace Your Studies.

Regarding academic success, let’s look at the final five survival tactics. These help students build nursing skills, maintain high grades, and ultimately pass the NCLEX exam.

#1: Practice Clinical Skills

Whenever in the clinical setting, get as much practice as possible. Listen to lung sounds, bowel sounds, and heart rates more frequently than ordered—as long as it is not invasive or uncomfortable for the patient. You can also practice vitals and assessments on family members and friends outside of clinicals.

The skills become more natural when you practice. Remember, the clinical environment is a chance to perform skills in a safe and supervised environment. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities and ask clinical instructors to help you find them. It is less intimidating to gain experience under the guidance of your instructor than a future boss or colleague.

#2: Ask for Help

You don’t have to do this on your own. Ask for (and accept!) social and academic support because no one can do it for you. You must be independently persistent in your pursuit of clinical knowledge. A few ways to advocate for yourself are:

  • Email professors and TAs with questions.
  • Take advantage of office hours.
  • Utilize all available resources.
  • Find free tutoring on your campus.
  • Ask a librarian for additional resources.
  • See if a classmate will swap notes.

#3: Own Your Test-Taking Strategies (TTS)

Start working on the NCLEX questions ASAP. The best way to develop TTS is to start doing NCLEX questions as soon as school begins. First, locate a resource that will allow you to answer NCLEX-style questions that pertain to your current nursing lecture material. Then, use them to enhance your understanding of the material and prepare you to take your finals at the end of each semester. You may even set weekly or monthly goals. For example, do fifty questions a week your first year, and increase to 200 a week when preparing to graduate and finally take the NCLEX.

#4: Make Connections

Much of the medical sciences are connected in some way. Whenever studying new material, think about how it relates to what you already know. The best clinical nurses do more than memorize facts. They see connections beyond the facts. Nursing professors at Goodwin use the term “thinking and linking” to describe this vital skill to develop while studying. Suppose you think and link instead of memorizing facts. In that case, you will develop the ability to find answers to problems you may not immediately recognize when taking the NCLEX and throughout your nursing career.

#5: Get Enough Sleep

No, it’s not a mistake. This is actually on the list twice.

Why? Because it is that important (and the science backs that up). As reported by The Guardian, brain scans reveal that information we learn during the day is squirreled into long-term memory while we sleep. During a good night’s rest, memories of recent events shift from one part of the brain to another, a process crucial for developing long-term memories. So there’s no way to ace a test—or care effectively for patients—without a good night’s sleep.

Finding the Right Nursing School

If you’re ready for a rewarding career helping patients with their well-being, consider studying at Goodwin University. Learn more about our nursing school programs here to see if it’s right for you.

If you are just beginning your journey as a registered nurse, you may also download our free resource, Your Guide to Becoming a Registered Nurse, online for even more tips for success.