At the time this article was written, Jessica Koopman was a nursing student at Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. Currently, she's waiting to take her boards.
The author has disclosed that she has no financial relationships related to this article.
MY LIFE AS A NURSING STUDENT could be accurately described as a three-ring circus. Some days, I feel like a juggler with many different balls in the air, eyes on me, everyone waiting for me to drop one. Other times, my life might be better described as a balancing act—you know, the one where the man or woman balances a plate on a stick, then a cup, then another plate as the audience watches in awe, hoping nothing falls. And on other days, I feel like the tightrope walker: high in the air without a net, praying with each step that I don't fall.
Currently I'm in my final semester of nursing school, and I've found many ways of coping with everything life throws at me. In this article, I'll share some of what works best for me.
Plan, plan, plan!
First I plan, using an old-school paper planner. In it goes each and every one of my children's events for school, whether it's football games, piano practice, days off, half days, or dance recitals. I don't color code (this would personally cause me more stress, but I know it helps some people). I also make sure each and every one of my husband's events is in my planner, including his work schedule. He works as an over-the-road welder so I make sure I include his weekends home, what day/time his flight leaves, and so on. I also add my school schedule: classes, meetings, exams, clinicals, when assignments are due—everything!
A key to making the planner (whether digital or paper) work for you is to make it part of your everyday life. Add to it, change it, and update it as needed. Keep it on the counter when at home or in your purse or backpack when traveling. Make sure to use it, and, if you have a family, teach them to use it too. My children and husband know to “check the planner” before committing to anything!
Just say no, but ask for help
Another way that I've learned to balance life and school is a simple one: I've learned to say “no.” This sounds easy but it's not. Many nursing students I've talked with have voiced the same concerns: it's hard to attend every family/friend event, keep up the biweekly coffee date with an old friend, or volunteer for the children's football games without losing study time. We all have commitments and we all have many things we'd like to do. However, nursing school takes a lot of time and commitment and should be the main priority. Over the past few years, I've learned to say, “no, I can't do that right now, but if there's any need over spring break or winter vacation, I'm your girl!”
I've also learned to ask for help. This is huge, not only in school, but in clinicals and my personal life. Even though I strive to be the best mother, wife, and nursing student I can be, there are times I just can't do it all or I'm just not sure of myself. It's those times that I stop, assess the situation, and ask for help. Whether it's educating a patient, writing a paper, or asking someone to watch the children while I study, it's easier to ask for help than to try to do it all and end up giving less than 100%.
Apply the nursing process
I've also learned to apply the nursing process to my life. For example, if I'm struggling with a homework assignment, the first thing I do is assess. Why am I struggling? Have I reviewed all of the materials? Am I having a problem with one concept or the whole assignment?
Next, I determine the most appropriate “nursing diagnosis.” What's the specific problem? Lack of knowledge? Lack of understanding? Have I truly put forth my best studying effort, or have I been “studying” the material while watching my favorite TV show? Is this a concept that I've struggled with in the past?
Once I think I know what the problem is, I can plan ways to address it. For example, I can plan to meet with the instructor to review the information. I can make flash cards or a concept map. I can plan meetings with a study group. I can plan time after class to review information.
Next, I implement my plan. I meet with the instructor and find out what knowledge I'm missing or misunderstanding. I make flash cards and concept maps and use them to study. I meet with a study group to go over material and concepts. After class, I take 30 minutes to review the information just obtained.
Finally, I evaluate. I test my knowledge by asking classmates or family members to quiz me on the material. You can use online or end-of-chapter tests to learn if knowledge has been retained and, more important, understood. By evaluating, you can determine which study methods worked and which didn't. If a method worked, continue using it. If not, start the nursing process over by reassessing and reworking plans and implementation as needed until you fully learn and understand the material.
In the circus of my life, I've dropped the ball, broken plates, and fallen off the tightrope. But I've also picked up all the pieces and begun again. In reality, a safety net is always in place: family, friends, classmates, and/or instructors. Everyone is cheering for success, watching and waiting, ready to step in as needed. And, at the end, the crowd cheers and claps, forgetting any mistakes!