Got your shoes ready? Got your pens and pencils? Paper? Xanax? Good.
Following is a list of tips drawn from what I remember of my own school experience, back when the earth was still cooling:
1. You are smart enough to get through this.
You got in, right? That's no small task in a field where there are anywhere from 30 to 200 applicants for every slot in nursing school. Rest assured that if you were smart enough to get in, you will be smart enough to finish--and finish *well*--provided you remember one thing:
2. This may be the hardest work you've ever put in in your life.
I've heard from doctors who became nurses and nurses who became doctors that nursing school is harder than med school by a country mile. This is not because doctors don't learn as much, but simply because nursing school is compressed into about half the time. Even if you're getting a BSN, the nursing-clinical-focused coursework will only take up about the last three semesters of your schooling. If you're going through a bridge or two-year program, you'll have to hit the ground at a dead run. Therefore...
3. Do a little every day. Do a lot when you can.
I cannot stress enough how important time management is for nursing students (and nurses!). Set up good habits early on and they will see you through the last semester when you can't eat, can't sleep, and can't remember who that person is that you promised to love and cherish until death. Do Not Put Off Studying. Also, Don't Study Too Far Ahead. Set yourself a goal of, say, three chapters of thus-and-so every night--one review of the last class period's material, one of today's material, and a quick run-through of next week's--and stick to it. Do this every damn night. No exceptions. It's only for a couple of years; you can go dancing later. That said,
4. Schedule something non-nursing related every week, even if it's only a movie.
Otherwise you'll turn into a Nursing School Automaton like I did. You'll lose weight, sanity, sleep, and perspective. That last is most important, because...
5. No matter what they tell you, this is not the be-all and end-all.
You get brainwashed into thinking, in nursing school, that this is the most noble, valuable, challenging (morally, ethically, intellectually) thing you could do; that it's the pinnacle of everything everybody everywhere has ever done.
I call bullshit.
Nursing school is a weird cross between professional training and entering a convent. You get your own language, clothing, and ceremonies, true...but there is a world out there outside of nursing. Try not to get so buried that you lose the ability to laugh at yourself, your professors, and the utter silliness of most care plans.
6. You will meet asshole instructors.
Unfortunately, (and here I put on my flame-proof Big Girl Panties), there are nursing instructors out there who either got totally disgusted with the profession and are bitter, or who couldn't make it as floor nurses for one reason or another, and are bitter. With luck, you'll only run into one during your schooling--but you *will* run into one. Keep your head down, do your work, and try to avoid antagonizing that person. He or she can't help what she or he is.
7. You will meet crazies.
Both in school and out of it, you will meet people who are absolutely mad as pants. If that person is a classmate, try to be polite but distant: You do not need any emotional drama while you're going through school. (Also, avoid gossiping and joining one faction over another. It's lonelier, but you'll be glad you stayed aloof when the crap hits the creamer.) If that person who's crazy as a pet raccoon happens to be a floor nurse or a patient to whom you're assigned, see tips from #6 for conflict avoidance.
8. If you meet a nurse whom you'd like as a mentor, say so right then.
I get requests from nursing students for my email address after I've worked with 'em a couple of days. I always give 'em the address. Having a shoulder to lean on, a more experienced person to bounce things off of, or a mentor can make a hell of a difference in your sanity. And please be aware, beloved students, of this caveat: If I tell you you shouldn't work with me after you've worked with me for three sessions, it's not because I don't like you. It's because, this early in your training, you need to see a variety of work styles, time-saving tricks, and management skills. Don't get into a rut too soon.
9. Along with "Don't get into a rut too soon", don't make up your mind what you want to do too soon.
I was *sure* I would be the world's most ass-kickingest women's health NP when I finished school. I interviewed at Sunnydale General on a total lark and ended up taking the job, also as a total lark. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made--probably not as smart as leaving my husband, but certainly in the top five. Go on at least one wacked-out job interview that you'd never consider actually accepting, be it to Medecins Sans Frontieres or to County General Hellhole. See where that takes you. You might find that you were really cut out to be a neuro nurse rather than an oncology nurse, or that working in the jungles brings you great joy. And, keep in mind that if you hate the whole process and are miserable,
10. You can always leave. Leaving nursing does not mean you're a failure.
Nursing is not for everybody. Every student finds him/herself dreading clinicals and tests, yes, but there's a general consensus that the end result will be worth the trouble. If you find yourself contemplating a career in nursing with nothing more than misery and despair, for God's sake get out now and find something else to do. It will not necessarily make you as much money or give you as much prestige (stop snickering), but money and prestige are empty cups when you cry every morning as you slap on mascara.
If you *do* get partway through your training and decide to quit, everybody you're leaving behind will look at you with pitying incomprehension. You won't be able to speak the same language as they do any more. You might not keep in touch with all your old buddies. Don't let it get to you. The important thing is that you do what makes you look forward to getting up in the morning.