Nursing student graduation cap

How to Survive Your Last Year of Nursing School

Nursing school is tough, and nursing students must be even tougher to make it out with a degree in hand. Careers protecting and advocating for the health of the public must be tough to ensure that patients receive safe, effective care from dedicated, trustworthy individuals. Nursing school is full of lectures, skills tests, clinicals, role transition, and long hours of studying after each one of these. Not to mention, getting into nursing school can be highly competitive and many students take several additional semesters of waiting to enter nursing school.

Nursing is a wonderful profession for compassionate people, and the rewards of graduating nursing school are tremendous on both personal and professional levels. However, nursing school progressively gets more difficult the further you get. By the last semester of the final year, students are balancing role transition, where they partner one-on-one with a registered nurse who supervises the student while they perform the role of a nurse, one final semester of lecture, comprehensive exams over all material studied in nursing school, and preparing to take the NCLEX, the nursing licensure exam - an intimidating task in itself.

If you’re a nursing student wondering how on Earth you’re going to make it out, we have a treat for you. Here are a few tried and true methods to help you survive your last year of nursing school and preserve the majority of your sanity!

Take Care of Your Own Health

It’s well known that anyone in a caring profession needs a strong, healthy body to carry out their job well. Under times of stress (like your last year of nursing school), it’s so easy to neglect proper care for yourself, sacrificing the time it requires for extra study time, or even a few extra moments of relaxation in front of the TV.

While it’s not necessary to cut out all downtime and relaxation time, it’s important to make sure you’re taking the time to care for yourself. Eating right and exercising are often the first self-care tasks thrown out the window in times of stress, which is not the right move to help you make it through nursing school. Here are a few tips to help you maximize your time while caring for yourself.

Exercise Your Body and Mind

Nursing students can always benefit from better time efficiency. Need to study? Put on an audio or video lecture while you exercise at the gym. Some people have a kinesthetic learning style and find that they actually retain information better while moving! Combining study and exercise can both help you learn better and give you more time to relax once you’re done. Exercise also helps reduce stress, which is abundant in nursing school.

Exercise forms that can help facilitate study as well are walking or running on a treadmill or track, using an exercise bike, or an elliptical machine at the gym or rec center. If you don’t have a gym membership or would like to save some cash, check out your nursing school’s facilities. Many colleges and universities have a recreation center that is available for student use.

Try a Meal Prep Plan

While you find yourself short on time in nursing school, you may also find yourself short on cash. Trying a meal prep plan can help you save both time and money while helping you eat right throughout the week. Meal prep plans often involve taking several hours one day of the week to prepare and store fresh vegetables, grains, and meats the make several healthy meals quickly throughout the week. This helps cut down on both meal prep time throughout the week, the amount of unhealthy food you eat, and also the amount of cleaning up required after cooking.

Understand Your Learning Style

If you’re reading an article about surviving your last year of nursing school, chances are, you’re already in your last year of nursing school and feeling the pressure. Understanding your own learning style is ideally discovered earlier in your education to make the most of it, but it’s certainly not too late! Even in your very last semester of nursing school understanding how you learn and study best is helpful. It’s more important now than ever!

There are a few different types of learners, some verbal, who learn most effectively through writing and speech, visual learners, kinesthetic learners, who find is easier to learn through physical action, and aural learners, who learn best through sound and music. Some people may also have a combination of learning styles. If you’re not already aware of your learning style, there are plenty of inventories and tests on the web to help you analyze your preferences.

Knowing your learning style can benefit you by helping you save time through more efficient study, using the study tools and methods that help you best.

Kinesthetic learners:

You may find that you process and retain information best while moving. Compared to your classmates with other learning styles, you may have found those high stakes nursing school skills tests easier to pass because of your physical learning style. When studying for tests, try moving around the room while reading your notes, or even take your study material to the gym to review while you walk on a treadmill or ride a bike.

Visual learners:

Visual learners tend to learn best when presented with visual aids, such as diagrams, charts, and pictures. When creating your study material, try incorporating these into your notes. They may help you retain information better. You may also benefit more than others from slideshow presentations due to the organization of the material and graphics. Flashcards are also helpful for visual learners. There are plenty of flashcard apps that you can use on your phone. This also allows you to take your study material with you wherever you go.

Auditory learners:

You’re in luck, auditory learners, because many of the teaching techniques used in college and university courses are geared toward your learning style. Auditory learners also have the benefit of being able to study while driving, or completing routine tasks because they’re able to learn easily from listening to someone speak. If you’re not doing this already, consider recording important lectures to listen to and review at a later time. If you’re struggling with a few specific areas of knowledge, try searching for videos or lectures online that review the topics.

Aural learners:

Aural learners learn well using sound and music. While it might be tricky to put all of your professors’ recorded lectures to a tune, you will probably benefit from listening to music in the background while studying, and using rhymes or acronyms to help you retain information.

Balance School and Your Social Life

It’s difficult to balance nursing school, especially the last year, with social time. However, spending time with your loved ones is important to maintaining a healthy mental state during this tough time. Spending time with your friends and family can help you relax, and feel encouraged and supported. However, balance is key. Depending on your own tendencies, it can be incredibly easy to isolate yourself while trying to keep up with the demands of nursing school, or on the flipside, spend too much social time and neglect your studies. Both of these extremes are unhealthy.

It may help to schedule specific study blocks throughout the week to help hold yourself accountable. If you prefer a more unstructured method, it can help to set a weekly time goal for your studies. For example, if you choose 10 hours of study time per week, you can cross off hourly blocks as you find time to study throughout the week. This method is especially helpful for students whose schedules aren’t regular.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

The last year of nursing school is tough, especially the last semester. Just when you think things couldn’t get any more difficult, somehow they do. However, it’s only temporary. It can be easy to lose sight of your goals when you’re struggling to keep up in the moment. Just as athletes visualize themselves winning the race, achieving new personal records, or scoring that goal or touchdown, it can help you, a nursing student, just as much to picture yourself after graduation. You’re on the path to fulfilling your dream of becoming a nurse, of working in the profession that has called you to it.

Remembering your goals and how close you are to achieving them helps you find the motivation necessary to continue studying, continue preparing for clinicals and role transition, and going to lectures, while you may even continue working your regular job. Maintaining a strong personal vision is important to your success as a student and as a professional once you’ve graduated and passed the NCLEX to become a registered nurse.

Keep a Strong Support Network

Nursing students benefit from having a support network within nursing school. Keep your nursing school friends close, and keep each other accountable for studying and achieving high. Support from your nursing school friends can help keep you motivated. It’s good to be around motivated individuals with the same goals as you. Whether you consciously notice it or not, their influence affects you. Who you surround yourself with can either bring you up or bring you down. Keep the individuals close who motivate you to keep moving forward.

Having a good support system within your nursing school group also provides you a much-needed outlet to let off a little steam. Every nursing school student experiences frustration, a lack of motivation, and it’s nice to know that nobody is alone in their struggle.

Nursing school also provides plenty of pleasant experiences worth sharing with your group. You may connect with a patient that you were able to help, and the experience resonated with you. Focusing on the positive results of what you’re going through and sharing them with others can help you remember why you (and they) are putting themselves through the struggle of nursing school.

Get Enough Sleep

Nurses and nursing students understand better than most that plenty of rest and sleep is important to maintaining your health. Sleep is just as important for your mental functioning. You’ll be able to learn and retain information better when you’re getting enough sleep. It’s recommended that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. While that may not be possible every night for nursing students, especially those who continue to work through school, it’s good to try for as much sleep as you can, even if it means sacrificing a few hours of Netflix.

If you’re not able to get more sleep, it can help to try to improve your quality of sleep. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule, make sure your bedroom is dark, and even consider keeping the lights low and avoiding screens several hours before you go to bed to help keep your circadian rhythm even. Stress and anxiety can make it difficult to sleep, too. If you’re feeling particularly stressed, do something that helps you relax before bed. Maybe take a gentle walk, do some yoga, talk with a loved one, or enjoy a cup of tea.

Pulling it Together

Keeping these tips in mind will help you maintain a healthy balance between your personal and professional life, even after you graduate. That last year of nursing school is beyond tough, and some students don’t make it. If you’ve made it this far, keep your goals in mind, and remember what drew you to the nursing profession in the first place. Above all, remember to care for yourself. Nurses know very well that in order to take care of others, you must take care of yourself first.


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