10 Rules That Helped Me Survive the First Semester of Nursing School 

first semester of nursing school

Hey everyone, it’s Cristel. As you might already know, I was in nursing school. And although I should say being a nursing student is awesome, the first semester of nursing school is hell. You know, lots of people admit that they lost the desire to study nursing during their first year of college simply because of the workload. Well, I was there. I was almost ready to quit because of the level of exhaustion I suffered from. Now I’m past that point, happy and satisfied with where I am in life. So, if you’re deciding to be a nurse and you’re feeling like you’re being swallowed up by your major, let’s go through my top 10 rules that helped me survive my first semester of nursing school. 

Relationship Rules: More Important than You Think

Invest in first impressions 

I had never thought that my first year of nursing would show me that, regardless of how hard I study, I would never succeed to my fullest potential without having a good reputation. It doesn’t mean that you have to lie or manipulate others, but the way you behave around your peers and professors has a tremendous impact on how you are perceived. And as a nurse, you’re also dealing with human beings. The impression you give off will eventually matter a lot to your patients.

During my first week, I was really stressed, and I’m not proud of how I behaved in some situations. I had several negative encounters with my professors and even one with a new acquaintance. 

As a result of a negative with my professor, the next time I offered an answer during class, my professor disregarded me even though I had the right answer. That’s the danger of being disrespectful or unchill.

Once I realized my mistake, I backtracked a little and tried to reset the relationship with my professor. It took me some time, but I managed to improve and completely change the impression that I had previously made. I showed how I could be a likable person, and it was awesome. After I started doing that, many of my professors didn’t pick on me if I made a minor mistake. Consider it emotional networking. 

Find study buddies

And I mean, real study buddies. Not people who simply drink beer and call themselves nursing students, hoping that it will save them from bad grades. I met different people during my studies, and most of those who didn’t study didn’t last for very long. When you have study buddies, you receive support, motivation, and help at the same time! 

But if you’re not into having study buddies, it’s alright. Some people just really don’t care for having others around when they study. But if you’re like me, when you’re with someone fighting the same battle as you, you’ll feel inspired.

I think that this one was the most important thing that helped me to keep afloat academically. I didn’t even realize how severely difficult everything was until I met my study buddies.

Ask senior students for advice

Those who’ll soon graduate know a lot about how to succeed in nursing school. Why not ask them? When I rented an apartment, I lived with two best friends who were pursuing their Master’s degrees. I was really shy to talk to them at first, but they seemed really nice, so we started to eat out together and even play volleyball on Friday nights. 

If you don’t ask people with more experience, you may save yourself from several awkward moments (not all senior students want to help the newbies), but you’ll be doomed to repeat the same mistakes others have made before you. Why would you want to do that? I received several textbooks for free and even got the right answers to one of the tests that almost no one got right. I used it to prepare for my exam because it had all the explanations! 

Learning Rules: Nursing Is Hard

Get to know your professors’ requirements 

Among the nursing student tips that some underestimate is this one. You don’t need to be a brown noser; no one likes that, even the prof! However, every professor has their own quirks and demands that may surprise you! For example, as a first-year nursing student, I came to realize that my Microbiology and Biochemistry professors had entirely different kinds of requirements for how papers should be written. 

My Microbiology professor was mad at me because I told her that my Biochemistry professor had taught me that writing a paper with a certain kind of formatting was the right way to do it.

Your best bet is to read all the guidelines and requirements for paper format, exam structure, and other boring things. 

Analyze your mistakes

No one likes to do it, including me. I used to throw away my test results and never look back at them. But that didn’t do me any good. If you simply receive your grade and don’t focus on your errors, you’ll make the same mistakes again.

That’s why it’s important to save all the papers and tests you’ve received and carefully check your mistakes. Doing so is a powerful method for learning. 

You’ll be able to identify your weaknesses. In my case, it was often remembering numbers. Whatever your weakness, you’ll want to pay extra attention to that in your next test. 

Take regular breaks 

When you have to study for several hours, take breaks at least once every 30 minutes. You may think that shifting to relaxation mode will be bad for your preparation, but actually, it’ll have an entirely different effect. Ignoring your need to relax your brain will make it harder for your brain to absorb new information, so be nice to yourself. 

One of the things you can do is reward yourself and positively reinforce the learning. So, how should you do it? When I was working on a particularly boring English paper, I used to finish every paragraph with a couple of potato chips and one game of Tetris. 

Create a study calendar

You’ll learn when your tests and exams will be. If you have large papers to complete, you’ll also get the schedule well ahead of time. So, use this to your advantage. Put a large calendar on the wall or add one to your phone. You can divide your larger tasks into smaller chunks to make sure that you get everything done on time. I had to write a huge research paper for my anatomy class, and instead of finishing all 30 pages in the last 3-4 days, I simply wrote a page gradually for a month. I was way more relaxed about it.

Resilience Rules: Improve Your Will

nursing school tipsPick up sports, you’re not too tired to practice

You may find several nursing school tips suggest that you try sports or exercise, but some people don’t realize that the first semester is so demanding that you may feel completely destroyed physically. I’ve always been a fan of all types of active hobbies, and I tried to maintain the same level of activity I had before. However, I soon realized that I was falling asleep while reading my lecture notes. I’ve tried several different exercises and decided that 15-30-minute runs weren’t too exhausting but still provided me with enough stimulation to feel fulfilled and de-stressed. If you choose something too difficult, you’ll hate it. 

Without any activity, you’ll be in a much worse mental and physical state. 

Surround yourself with comfort

Some people ignore tips for nursing students that can make them at least a little bit happier. I was like that. I used to think that I’d be better off just going through my studies and working without end. I was raised on the idea that people who don’t suffer while learning aren’t really good students. I even tried to intentionally sit in uncomfortable positions to make sure that I wouldn’t fall sleep and that I’d feel my suffering “to the fullest.” It just made me miserable and didn’t help me learn more. Finally, I decided to take a weekend off after a huge breakdown, and it really helped. After that, I realized it’s better not to push yourself to that point. Put your favorite blanket near your studying zone. Buy nice learning supplies if you can. Put nice stickers on your books or folders or whatever. Wear your favorite socks to the worst lectures. 

Have a strategy to release your stress

Even if you do all you can, you’ll be sad and frustrated sometimes. It’s totally okay. Think about what will help you release your negative emotions. Maybe your approach is to draw angry doodles until the paper rips. Or, maybe, you like writing angry letters to people who’ve made you mad (without sending them, of course). Maybe you could even go into the forest and yell for a few minutes. Do something to relieve your stress (without hurting someone of course). Otherwise, you might blow up when you least expect it. 

Your Degree – Your Rules

These are the things that helped me get through my first semester. They might be perfect for you or entirely not your thing. But whatever you choose to do, take the time to think about the steps you can take to adapt and feel better. And you don’t need to change the way you do everything all at once, better to make incremental and sustainable lifestyle changes.

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Cristel Roberts
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Cristel works in retail but is eager to switch to something that’s more human-related. As the mother of an amazing boy, she believes in the importance of permissive parenting. Recently, Cristel moved from Delaware to Philadelphia because of the love of her life, and though her personal life didn’t work out, she still finds great pleasure in exploring the history of this city.