What’s nursing school really like? Let’s ask a current nursing student

Hi, my dear readers and fellow pandemic survivors. To give you all a better view of nursing school through the eyes of a student, I decided to interview a rising CSU nursing school senior about her first year of the grueling yet rewarding journey that each of is interested in nursing is bound to undertake. Without further ado…

What is your year classification in nursing school now?

Senior year, [graduating] class of 2021.

Tell us a little about yourself. Any fun facts?

My name is Jessenia Rodriguez, and I am 32 years old. I am a U.S. Army veteran, and now a military spouse. I am a mother of two beautiful children, Marco (four) and Eva (two). I am a post-baccalaureate student, with a Bachelor’s in Mathematics (class of 2009). Growing up, I always wanted to be in the healthcare field. A few years after college, I joined the Army as a combat medic and got my EMT license. After having our kids, I decided to go back to school to finally get my nursing degree, and I am happy I did. I am the student president [of the CSU] BSN class of 2021. I wish you nothing but the best, and I am excited to see a new class coming in. I am always willing to help anyone, so do not hesitate to ask any questions if you see me around. Have a great summer break and come back ready to kill it!

If you could put your first year of nursing school into only a few sentences, how would you sum it up?

I would have to start by saying that it was challenging, but certainly doable. It takes a lot of time, effort, and energy; therefore, scheduling your week/month is a must. There were many times when I felt so overwhelmed and drained, but I took a step back to remember what is my end goal and the many reasons why I decided to be a nurse, and that gave me the strength to push forward.

What are a few things that you learned about nursing school while in it that you hadn’t known before? Anything surprising?

There was not much that I would say I didn’t know about nursing school because I went in with an open mind and ready to face whatever came my way. But I did learn that after one semester of nursing school, you can apply for a [nurse technician] job in the hospital. Many of my classmates went this route to gain experience and also make extra money.

What is the hardest part of nursing school?

I would have to say the tests. From all my previous classes, I have only experienced one type of question, [for] which there was only one right answer. After seeing my first nursing school test, I quickly learned that there are many possible answers, and you have to pick the most correct [one]. This is certainly challenging because sometimes, I would think one answer was more important than the other when in fact it wasn’t. This takes lots of practice and learning how to change your way of thinking. Pretty much, think, “What would kill the patient first?”

What about the most rewarding part–the part that keeps you focused and determined?

The most rewarding part has to be when someone, a patient or family member, is going through a health issue and you are more knowledgeable about the subject. You are able to give pointers of a few things that could be done to provide comfort. So, I would say clinicals keep me focused and determined to be the best nurse I can, not for me but for those I could help in the future.

If you are comfortable with sharing this, how are you paying for nursing school? What other options are there that you know of?

I am a U.S. Army veteran. I am using my Post-911 GI bill to cover tuition and books. I was also a recipient of a nursing school scholarship in the year 2019-2020. But there have been quite a few expenses that my husband had to cover out-of-pocket. I know there are several scholarships that students could apply for, and also student loans.

How do you personally study for your classes? Any important tips?

I am very old school, and I like to have hard copies of everything. Therefore, I purchased a hard copy of all my books. I read the chapters that are covered on the taught lesson and highlight important information. I do not take notes because I soon came to find out that it was very time-consuming for me. I [instead] highlight my book and PowerPoints and study directly from there. We had a great online source called The Point where we had access to PrepU quizzes from each book chapter, so I would read/study the chapters until a couple of days before the test and then focus on taking numerous quizzes for the last couple of days so I could apply what I learned and also check to see if I missed any important material. Everyone is completely different, so don’t feel bummed out if whatever you try first does not work out. Just re-adjust your strategy. One last thing, and maybe one of the most important tips I could give you, is to join a good study group. Do not join a group of friends; that will keep you distracted. Join a group that is striving to do good and that is willing to put in the work.

How did your first exam in nursing school go? How did you adapt to the outcome?

I made a 100% on my first exam. But this is not to say that it was easy at all. Due to my good study habits, and the large amount of hours I dedicated to study for it, I did great. From that first test, I was able to see that my study plan was working, so I decided to keep on doing the same throughout.

What are clinicals like? How do you get the most out of those experiences?

When you first start your [patient-centered nursing] class, you will learn a number of nursing interventions during lab time at the school. Practice, practice, practice! This will only ensure that you truly learn your steps and prepare you for check-off days. After you are successful during the check-off, clinicals begin. The instructor will assign clinical groups and determine what hospital and what floor each group will be going to. You will meet your clinical instructor on your first clinical day and have a walkthrough of the area you will be working at and also cover the expectations of that clinical time. Each instructor is different, and so is each hospital. Don’t focus on what other groups are doing and what you don’t get to do, but find the positive [of] the opportunity that was given to you. I would say [to] make sure you are always on time and eager to learn. Showing how dedicated and willing to learn you are will open opportunities for you.

Do you have any advice for nursing school students who are also parents or have similar full-time obligations?

I am a mother of two, a two-year-old and a four-year-old. Once again, it is not easy, but it is doable. Stay motivated and focused the best you can. My husband is a drill sergeant at Fort Benning, so he is also very busy with work. Communication and planning are key for us. Good time management is also crucial. We plan out every second of our day, up to a month in advance. It is very exhausting, but it helps us both achieve everything we need to accomplish. Always make time for “family time” or whatever is important to you. This will help you stay sane.

What is your final takeaway message that you would like to leave everyone reading this post with?

I first would like to congratulate each and one of you for coming this far. It is a difficult journey, and you should be proud of everything you have accomplished. Stay focused [and] motivated, and remember that a positive attitude goes a long way. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Study hard, and you will see great outcomes. Always remember what made you choose this career and how close you are to the finish line. Time flies faster than you can think, and soon, you will be a nurse. Do not hesitate to ask any questions you may have to any of us (seniors). We were once as anxious as you all may be and are willing to help in whatever [way] we can.

As always, I hope that you found this post informative and encouraging! However, I urge you to do as much research as possible, to ask nursing students that you know or reach out to some that you may not yet know, if you still have questions regarding nursing school (or even if you have any doubts about it). And at the end of the day, the most important takeaway is that no single journey is representative of each and every person’s, so keep in mind that your experiences, effective study and coping skills, and outcomes will vary according to your unique circumstances and personality. What may be most helpful as you prepare from nursing school is to gain a better understanding of your identity, how it impacts your life–to note what works for you and what doesn’t–and to assess how it aligns with nursing school. Fully understanding your needs and preferences is key to minimizing the obstacles you will encounter later on.
My heart goes out to all of you struggling during this time, and it is my sincere hope that you find consolation and support of some form. Unfortunately, at this time, I will no longer be uploading regular posts. I hope to produce more during my time in nursing school so that I can recount my own experiences for all of you, but only time will tell if I am able to do that… So until then, stay strong, resilient, passionate, and determined. Continue to face your battles head-on and to surpass the troubles that you never imagined you could; you are all stronger than you give yourself credit for, and I hope that if you gain nothing else from this, that you can come to recognize that hidden strength.

During this time more than ever,

Nursing students unite!