What does it mean to become a nurse today? How do we know what it truly takes to apply to nursing school, be accepted, and finally graduate?
Now in today’s society with social media and many medical professionals taking to Instagram, Facebook or youtube, it is easy to misconstrue the amount of time and effort it takes to be successful in nursing school. Social media makes it look as if someone just schedules a test and passes with flying colors, without revealing any of the hard work behind the scenes of what it took to pass the exam.
For example, we see posts all the time: “accepted my offer to my favourite nursing school!”, “Finally, I will be graduating my BSN degree!”. But what we never see if the struggle to keep focused, the late nights we stay up studying, the emotions that we experience during the difficult times.
Don’t get me wrong, social media can be an amazing resource for students and health professionals and it is great to show the happy and successful moments. But what it fails to acknowledge is the hard work you have to put in to see the results. You can write a post as heartfelt as you possibly can however, it is difficult to portray that emotional level you experience and feel during these stressful times.
To shed some light on the nursing journey, I wanted to share my nursing career path and how I came to become a Registered Nurse.
HOW I CHOSE NURSING
During my high school years as many of my classmates planned to continue on to university, I for one, was completely lost with my future after graduation. I enjoyed memorizing information and had a good understanding in math. After speaking with my guidance counsellor, I decided I would enjoy business/marketing degree. From there on out, I began to pave my way to a business major, dropping my science classes to take more accounting, sports management classes and other business orientated subjects to sculpt my transcripts best for applying to a business program.
Long story short, by the time I completed my second round of midterms for my business classes, I knew I didn’t have a passion to pursue business. Once again I found myself at a crossroads with the future of my studies, and as I brainstormed where to go I realized that healthcare was a field that drove my passions. I was always interested in medicine, such as biology and anatomy/physiology and began researching medical programs of all types in university.
That’s when I came across the Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree. I knew absolutely nothing about this profession, aside from what I exposed to from what a family member working as a nurse had discussed with me. I asked her if I was able to shadow her when she worked next and see what a “day in the life” of a nurse was like.
Soon after that shadow experience, I was hooked. I knew this was what I wanted to be doing no matter the obstacles I would have to overcome and the sacrifices I would endure. I fell in love with the nursing process from the very beginning. The critical thinking skills and moments where I would think to myself “how did they know how to do that? I want to know how to do it too!”, all made me want to become a nurse. The bond between a nurse and the patient I saw develop in the matter of 8-12 hours in one shift was enough for me to know deep down, this is where I needed to be.
My dedication to pursuing my dreams of nursing were tried and tested during this time, as I learned that before even applying to a four year Bachelors of Science nursing program, I would have to complete an intensely competitive “pre-nursing” one year program. For the next year, I knew nothing but school and studying, because anything less than straight As could be the difference between acceptance or rejection. If this was to be my dream and get into the nursing program then that’s what it will take.
After a year of intense studying, I had received all A’s in my pre-nursing program classes and applied to every nursing program in every school around me. All my hard work was worth it - after a few agonizing weeks of waiting, I was ecstatic to learn that I was accepted into every school I applied to.
THE CHALLENGES OF NURSING SCHOOL
Finally being accepted into my nursing program was just the first step in some of the most gruelling, yet rewarding years of my life. I was in the big leagues now, and those challenges put me through the ringer intellectually and emotionally: fear, loss of confidence, anxiety, stress, fear of the unknown, relief, joy, happiness, confidence, and many others.
With tests, quizzes, assigned readings, assignments due each week; I often felt lost during my first year, which was to be expected. Every year I thought the next year would get easier and less course work since we had been learning all the material in the first 2 years. Well, yes and no was the answer. I discovered in third year, that yes, the course work and actual “book studying” decreased; however, the clinical hours increases and the lab hours increase. But clinical is a whole different type of learning; where you’ll experience days of caring for patients who have a condition you’ve never heard of, or you don’t understand a lab report, or you didn’t know how to perfect that one skill or known the adverse effects of that cardiac medication. Eventually that “book studying” comes right back just when you thought you left it behind.
I would go home after a shift and as our school asked, I would make journals regarding what patients we had for that shift, research the patient’s co-morbidities, research their past medical history, medication they’re currently taking, understand therapeutic doses and adverse effects. Following this, I would make notes of what I still needed to learn. I would go to the nursing lab practice skills I wanted to be more confident in. I wanted to make mistakes in the lab and not on a real life person. This dramatically enhanced my care. When the patient saw I was confident in myself, it helped make them relax and feel confident in me, that I knew, I was capable and competent. I never wanted to be that student who was afraid to be in a situation where I didn’t know what to do.
MY ADVICE FOR ANYONE CONSIDERING NURSING
As bad as all of this sounds, a nursing program shouldn’t be easy, it shouldn’t be a walk in the park or a program where you just show up to class and don’t have to study after. Becoming a nurse demands you study more hours than you spend in class.
You quickly learn, how you learn; whether you’re a visual learner, auditory learner or tactile learner. We were told for each hour of time spend in class, you will need 3 hours of time spent studying. My favourite aspect of my program is that it had an emphasis on each learning type: we had nursing labs to assess our hands on skills, PowerPoint slides for visual learning and a professor to talk to with questions about then readings.
I’ll never forget my first clinical. I had a sleepless night and my mind was racing laying in bed trying to review the head to toe assessment, making sure I would be flawless when my instructor would be observing.
I arrived at my clinical site at 0530. I received 2 patients I would take care of for the 8 hour shift. My instructor came to mark off that I knew my head to toe assessment. We walked into my patient’s room and proceeded to start my assessment. I was frozen. I stared blankly at my patient as they stared back at me. Not a single thought went through my mind, except for my own voice “say something!”. My internal scream for action was not enough to help me.
I went home at the end of the shift and immediately, thoughts ran through my mind: Am I able to do this? Can I do this? I don’t think I’m smart enough for this? Is this the right path for me? Do I deserve to be in this nursing program?
These thoughts during nursing school are all too common.
My recommendation to the nursing students out there, be accepting of failure. Failure doesn’t mean you are unsuccessful or that you are not good enough. It means you are trying to find your weaknesses and improve on them. No matter what you believe, each person in your class has a weakness and others might be better at certain skills/subjects than other people. But it is your responsibility to discover you weaknesses and improve on them. Go to the lab to work on a skill you aren’t confident in and when it comes time to perform that skill in clinical, you’re instructor will be impressed with your effortlessness in being able to complete that skill.
Overall, nursing school will be an amazing experience in your life. You will learn aspects of yourself you never knew were there. You may have been shy and timid but now are outspoken, and making new friendships. You will become resilient and strong with studying to become the best nurse you can be. You will learn to overcome your fears and push through to get to the next level. But with all this, you will learn. You will learn to become a nurse. You will learn that nursing is not just about putting in IVs, bandaging wounds, putting in NG tubes. So for those of you who are on the fence about entering nursing school, go for it! Each experience is different and I’ll let you experience it for yourself to decide what type of nurse you want to be.
I wanted to thank Stephen for inspiring me to make this and share my educational journey to nursing.