Jan. 11, 2022

8 Secrets to Success in Nursing School

8 Secrets to Success in Nursing School

These are the 8 secrets to success I've learned in my year and a half of nursing school. Success is no accident. It takes hard work, but it helps to hear tips from someone who's gone before you on this journey. 

#1: Take advantage of the Halo Effect

#2: How to choose your study group

#3: Build a strong study system

#4: Reminder notifications

#5: Master assignment list

#6: Study group rules

#7: Strong support system

#8: Prioritize health


Hey you guys! Welcome back to the Nursing School Week by Week Podcast. This is your host, Melanie, and today I want to share with you 8 secrets to success in nursing school.  So I’ve been in nursing school now for about a year and a half and these are some things that I’ve learned that I think will help you out.

All right, so number one of these eight secrets is to Take advantage of something called the Halo Effect. So this is a very real phenomenon, it’s a bias that we all have. I know you’ve heard the expression, that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and this is true, especially when you are going into your nursing school classes for the first time. You want to make a very good first impression on your teacher. There are some ways to do this. You want to go into the class prepared.

So, you may think that the most important time to study is those first 2 weeks of class, but I’m gonna tell you, the most important time to study is the two weeks before class even starts. You study hard for those two weeks leading up to class and you show up knowing your stuff. You’re gonna sit in the front of the classroom because that’s where the smart people sit. This helps you stay more engaged, and allows you to have better eye contact with the teacher. It also eliminates the distractions that would come from having people sitting in front of you, and noticing all the small movements that they make. Also, this will increase your chances of befriending the students in class with good study habits.

You are going to smile at the teacher, nod, lean forward, just act like you are really into the class, even if you’re not. Just act like it. Cause teachers are human. And just like all humans, when we’re talking, we want to feel like people are listening, and people are engaged and into what we’re saying. And if they get that from you, they’re going to naturally like you more. You’re going to raise your hand and offer answers to their questions, and hopefully, if you've prepared for those two weeks leading up to it, you will get some of those questions right. Also you want to dress appropriately to take advantage of the halo effect.

The halo effect basically says that people tend to think that a person who looks good and put together is also smarter and more capable than someone who hasn’t made an effort on their appearance. Don’t be showing up to class in your pajamas or workout clothes. Realize that your teachers are probably a little older than you, maybe in a different generation. Maybe when they were in college they wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing their workout clothes to class. So you need to, you know, take that into account. Wear some nice clothes. Maybe I don’t know, something you’d wear to church. You want to make a good first impression on your teachers.

Another reason why it’s good to make this first impression is because that impression they get of you is going to carry over for the rest of the semester. For the rest of the time that they know you. And that comes in handy. I consider myself a good student; I try to put down everything in my planner so I don’t miss something. But sometimes, things change quickly. I know one time I showed up to an exam and I was 30 minutes late to that exam. The teacher had changed the time two days before and I somehow did not get the memo, and I showed up 30 minutes late. But because I had established a relationship with my teachers, they were willing to stay behind. They sat in the testing center with me; they didn’t give me a hard time about it. I was of course apologetic, and you know, admitted that it was completely my fault, and they were in turn willing to stay behind and help me out. And that’s why it’s so important to make nice and make that good first impression because you may need them. Even when you’re applying to your first job, you’re going to need recommendations. Most jobs require at least 2 recommendations from either a professor or clinical instructor and don’t assume that your professors will write you a recommendation even if they don’t really know you. I have seen first hand someone in one of my clinical groups was denied a letter of recommendation because she didn’t think the student was going to be an asset to the hospital. That student had not made a good first impression and it carried through until they graduated. 

Alright, the number 2 secret to success in nursing school is to find the 2 people getting the highest grades in class, and make them your friends. These two people will usually be sitting, like I said, at the front of the class. They will be participating, answering questions. They'll look like they’ve prepared. They may not be taking a lot of notes during class, because they’ve already got most of the information in their heads when it comes time for class. So you’re going to smile at these students, ask them their name, tell them your name. Then at the end of the second class, get their phone number. Say, “hey, you want to exchange phone numbers, in case we have a question outside of class?” Then you text each other back and forth a few times, and then these may be your study group people. So yeah, make friends with these two people with good study habits, and ask them, just straight up ask them, “hey, how do you study? You seem like you know your stuff. Tell me what you do.” And they are not gonna mind, they’re gonna be flattered that you asked them that. Most people love to share their study system. 

If you’re confident in your own study system, then do that. If not, if you’re looking for ideas, then maybe try those ideas. You can also ask these students how they did in their pre-reqs, so you can get an idea of the grades they’ve been getting. Of course, it’s not easy to get into nursing school at all, right? So most of your fellow students probably did get A’s and B’s in their prereqs in order to even get in. But you can get a fairly good idea of a person’s study habits from the way they’re participating in class. Do they seem like they’re prepared? Do they know a lot of the answers in class? Do they have that deer in headlights look, like they don’t know what’s going on? Are they trying to write down every word? That’s a sign that someone has not prepared. Are they avoiding eye contact with the teacher cause they don’t want to be called on? That’s another sign. 

Alright. Secret number 3 to success in nursing school is to build a strong system for studying. And I suggest you nail this down while your doing your pre reqs so that by the time you get into nursing school, these are just habits, and you’re not starting a totally new study system when you’re starting nursing school. I have done an episode that goes into really great detail, called My Insanely Effective Study System. That was season 2, episode 6.  And I recommend listening to that if you are looking for some ideas. It tells you exactly what I do to prepare for class and each test; everyday, and like 2 days out from the test, and I have done really well with that system, so if you’re looking for a system, feel free to borrow mine. You’ll notice that I’m using the word, “system”. I’m not saying “go take your test and get an A.” If you know me at all, you know that I am big on habit formation and one book that I recommend to you all is Atomic Habits by James Clear. In that, he talks about how, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” So, you may have a goal to get straight A’s this semester, and yeah that’s great, but that’s just a goal. How do you get there? What is the system you have in place everyday to make that goal a reality? What are the study habits that you are developing that are going to get you to that goal?

It’s important to study a little bit everyday. Don’t get behind. You can take a break at Christmas, Spring break, Summer. The academic calendar has built-in breaks. But study a little bit everyday, even if it’s just 20 minutes of doing your flashcards. That small amount of time is gonna go so far towards making you feel prepared. Once you start to feel behind, it is… there’s something about it that makes you want to avoid studying even more because you don’t like that feeling. You don’t like that feeling of being behind, it’s overwhelming. So studying even just 20 minutes a day will help you avoid getting to that place. That dark pit of despair. 

Alright. Secret to success in nursing school number 3: Use a planner with reminder notifications. So I actually have two planners. I use a paper planner and I also use my Google calendar app. I don’t put everything in my Google calendar app, but I will put things like due dates, or papers, or I’ll put test dates with the time, um, if there’s a nursing lab I have to be at, I’ll put that in; clinical times, I’ll put those in; with a reminder that’s one day before. If there’s a due date, I will actually put it in as being due the day before, so I’m getting that notification a full 48 hours before it’s actually due. 

Number five is to, at the beginning of the semester, make a list of all the assignments and due dates for the semester. Print that out and tape it on your wall. And you can cross off assignments as you complete them throughout the semester. This serves as just like an at-a-glance reminder of both what you have to do coming up and of how much you have achieved throughout the semester. It’s easy to feel like you’re never gonna get there. But if you can just look up from your desk and see all of these crossed off items that you’ve already completed, you can see, “Oh my gosh, I’m halfway through the semester in the things that I have to get done, or, I’m almost done, I only have three more assignments left. Hey maybe I can go ahead and knock out two of these this weekend, so that I’ll only have one thing left.” It can serve as motivation and also help ease that fear of missing something. I know before I started using this list, I would have this constant low-lying fear, like, “ok, I know it’s in my paper planner, and I have it in my google calendar, but what if, you know what if I’m missing something?” It helps to have it all in one spot, on one sheet of paper, just the due dates and the assignment titles for the whole semester. If you have two or three classes going on at the same time, you’ve got it all right there on one sheet of paper. And bonus tip: If you want to be really popular with your classmates, send a copy of this list to all of them. They will love you for it!

Alright, Secret to success in nursing school number 6 is to have a study group, but not too many people, and not too often. Studies have shown the ideal size for a study group is 3-4 people. Anything more than that, and it can often turn into a social hour where people are chatting and having fun, and not so much studying. I mean, even with just 3-4 people, you're gonna get all the socialization that you need, and you’re gonna get to know these people and feel that sense of camaraderie. But try to keep it small if you want to actually get some studying done and reap the benefits of having a study group. These 3-4 people, one of them will be you, obviously, and the other 2-3 will be those super smart people that you met while sitting in the front row. Another tip for study groups is to come to the group prepared. It’s helpful to pre-assign topics or chapters to each person in the study group. For example, send out a message that says, “Hey, for this next study group, how about I take chapter 3, and Sarah you take chapter 4, and Andrew you take chapter 5, and we will teach each other the material, and each person can come up with like 5 questions that they think might be on the test for those chapters. That way, you have a game-plan going into the study group. And everyone reaps the benefit of having to prepare because nothing teaches you the material like knowing that you have to teach it to someone else. Right? You’re definitely going to prepare for that so you don’t look like an idiot standing up in front of the rest of the group. That’s why I started this podcast so I could cement the information in my own brain by teaching it to all of you guys. So you meet up for your study group and you take turns teaching the information to each other and asking each other those questions. You can rent out study rooms in your school library, and they usually have white boards in them that you can use, and then take pictures when you're done so you have something to take home with you that you can review. Another tip is to set a clear start and end time to your study group; probably 2-3 hours. 

The number 7 secret to success in nursing school is to have a strong support system in place before school starts. You want to warn your friends and family that you’re about to start something that’s gonna be challenging and grueling and take up most of your time. And just warn them that you may not be available like you have been because you’re gonna be studying. A lot. And it’s because you love them so much that you want to study hard and do well so that you can provide them with a better life at the end of all this. Or, if you’re talking to your parents, you want to study hard so that you can make them proud, and they will be behind you fully on that one. If you can NOT work, for at least the first half of nursing school, I would recommend that, so that you can just focus on studying. Otherwise, definitely go down to part-time, and hopefully you can work in the hospital, so that it’s related to what you’re learning. Also, if you have children, make sure you have reliable childcare set up, and a backup for that childcare, in case it falls through. So if you’re using your husband for childcare, make sure you have your parents available, or his parents available, or an aunt or uncle. And then in addition, maybe also have some sort of nanny service, or drop-in daycare service ready to go with a phone call, so that you’re not feeling that stress that comes with knowing that you have to be at clinicals in two days but you don’t know what you’re gonna do with your kids cause maybe they’re sick or school’s out because of a parent-teacher workday. Also, you want to put your life on auto-pilot as much as you can for the next 2-4 years, depending on what program you’re in. So, warn your partner that you aren’t gonna be cooking a bunch of home-cooked meals all the time. Maybe sign up for a meal delivery subscription or frozen meals more often, or crockpot meals. Maybe you one day of cooking and you freeze a bunch of meals that will last you until the next school break. Maybe your partner steps up and takes on more of the household chores. Maybe if you can afford it, you hire a housekeeper to come in and help out, cause you’re not gonna have as much time to clean the house. And when you do get breaks in school, try to make that quality time with your family and friends. You definitely don’t want to lose these relationships over the next couple of years, so try to get in some quality time when you can.

Alright, the number 8 secret to success in nursing school is to take care of your health. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. You want to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night, depending on how much your body needs. Nobody knows your body better than you. Personally, I think if it comes down to a choice of either cramming before a test, or getting at least 6 hours of sleep, I’m gonna choose the sleep over the cramming; because your brain is not gonna make good “select all that apply” decisions on little sleep. While I’ve been in nursing school, I’ve tried to go to school by 11:00 each night. Some nights I haven’t always made it, but that's definitely the goal. Because I definitely feel it. If I get less than 7 hours of sleep, I am not functioning on all cylinders the next day. And when you’re in nursing school, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of eating junk food. Right? You’re doing these long study sessions at your desk, and you just want to munch on something. But try to make them healthy snacks as much as you can. Fruits, vegetables, proteins; and don’t fall into the trap of (I actually did this for a bit), so, when I’d get out of clinicals, sometimes it would be late at night, like 11:30 at night, and I’d be hungry, right? And I’d think, well what’s still open? Ok, Wendys. Wendys is open. Let me go get a burger and fries, and a coke. And you do that once, and then the next time, you think the same thing and you do the same thing and next thing you know, it’s a habit of getting junk food and eating it everytime after you get out of work. So, don’t fall into that habit. Take my advice, cause that is a bad habit.

The best way to do that is to prepare. Pack something extra in your bag for that drive home. Plus, when you get out of clinicals, your body and your mind are recovering because you just experienced something very new and stressful; and I think when our bodies go through stress, we look for comfort afterwards, and that often comes in the form of comfort food, which is way to often junk food. So try to resist that urge because it’s not gonna be good for you in the long run. 

Alright, you also want to hydrate. And this is easier to do when you’re just studying. It’s a little harder to do when you’re in clinicals, working in the hospital. But it is ok to take breaks, to drink, it doesn’t take long to go to the break room or the hydration station at the nurse’s station and just take a long swig of your water bottle. And it is also ok, I give you permission, to take potty breaks. No one’s going to think less of you if you empty your bladder. 

And you also want to exercise throughout the semester, and this may turn into your new form of me time. Exercising. Whether it’s going for long walks, jogging, swimming, um, a lot of my friends do crossfit, and that’s sort of their way of killing two birds with one stone. They get the socialization of working out with friends and they’re exercising their bodies. Or maybe your jam is going to the gym for the treadmill or going biking. You probably already know what your favorite form of exercise is, so just schedule it into your planner if you have to because - this nursing school thing is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. If you treat it like a sprint, and you just hunker down at your desk and eat junk food and don’t workout, you’re not gonna make it. This is a marathon. You have to hydrate, you have to sleep, you have to move your body. And you have to give some attention to your family - if you’re gonna be still standing here at the end of this nursing school journey. And I want you all to be still standing here when we get to the end. You’re gonna be standing up on stage with your cap and gown, and you’re gonna be filled with the greatest sense of pride because you have done it. You have finished the marathon. You have accomplished something so great. So challenging, but so rewarding and worthy of your time.

Alright you guys. Those are my 8 secrets to success in nursing school. I hope you have found them helpful. That is my goal in all of this, to share the things that I’m learning along the way so that you can have an easier time and be even more successful on your nursing school journey. Alright. Have a great week, and I will talk to you next time.