It is late at night in my apartment and I am in week one of my third clinical semester out of five. It feels surreal because I feel like it was not too long ago that I was in Semester One. My first nursing clinical semester was September 2019. That semester is probably the most stressful semester I have ever experienced. I say this as someone who has survived 3 degrees.
Surviving Your First Nursing Clinical Semester!
From the onset, I was not sure if I was going to make it to the beginning of the semester. Honestly, I had given up on some level because of money. I could not see how I was going to afford to pay for school. Then, at the last moment with support from my friends, I was able to put together funds to buy my uniform about a month before school started. Then I put my textbooks on a credit card. I figured I would work extra hard doing the semester to pay the balance on my tuition and fees.
On the first day of the first nursing clinical semester, I show up nervous at my clinical site. The instructor tells us to expect for the semester. I was so overwhelmed that I called my mom and I was panicking on the phone. The next day in school, one of my friends dropped out of the program. Then, we went for labs and I felt like a fish out of water.
I have never worked in a hospital or clinical setting of any kind. It seemed like everybody was already a CNA or Home Health Aide that was working in a hospital. During labs, I had to learn how to use a stethoscope. I had to learn how to take blood pressure. I felt like I was so behind.
A year later, I am still learning so much and building my confidence. But the thing I have taken away from that first nursing clinical semester might help you in your own journey. I have distilled them into short points.
A. Don’t Compare!:
There were two girls I constantly compared myself to in the program. They just seemed like they knew everything. One of them showed me how to use the stethoscope. I felt so dumb. But a year later, I am starting my 3rd semester and they are not. The two girls did not pass all the classes for the first semester. I am not gloating in their situation. I am just pointing out that comparing is a bad idea because you don’t have the full picture. Passing nursing school is not just about one singular skill, especially in the first clinical semester. If your program is anything like mine, it is the most demanding semester. It is demanding because it forces you to start to think like a nurse. This can be a hard adjustment for many people, especially when it comes to taking exams.
B. Find Your Network:
During my first nursing clinical semester, I was lucky to find a group of like-minded people in my program. As an older student, I was happy to find other women in my program in my age range. It was good to find people to talk about the challenges of working and going to school full time.
In particular, I found an accountability partner. We share notes and tips for each class. My partner and I reminded each other of homework and exams. We sit together during lectures and share commentary. I could talk to her about a bad day and find a sympathetic ear. We promised each other that we would pass so that we won’t leave the other one to struggle alone. So far, we have kept our promise. The network I formed in my first semester has been essential in keeping me motivated in school.
C. Lean on Your People!:
I won’t have survived my nursing school journey without my close friends. This is especially true about my first nursing clinical semester. My Goodness! Just thinking about it makes me want to cry. My tribe showed up in so many ways for me. I remember going to my friend’s house and leaving with cooked food. She just knew that I did not have the energy to cook. My mom would send me texts before big exams to cheer me on. My sister always checked in after exams to boost my morale. The tribe kept me keeping on. I really learned to let others take care of me. It felt weird sometimes but I learned to relax.
D. Be Strategic:
During my first nursing clinical semester, I was also going through a bad flare-up of chronic pain and fatigue. I did not know at the time that I had fibromyalgia. My saving grace was learning to be strategic with my limited time and energy. One of the tough choices I made was to stop attending my Friday lecture. My instructor did not require attendance and the lecture was recorded. Instead of waking up early to go to class, I would sleep in and go to work.
During the weekend, I would watch the lecture. When I had exams, I attended class long enough to take my exam then leave before the lecture. I firmly believe that this is one of the things that helped me survive the semester. Skipping class gave me extra time to rest and recover from my stressful week before working the weekend. Skipping class might not be practical for all. But, you have to find ways to get rest and use your time wisely.
E. Be Organized:
In my real life, I am not very organized. For nursing school though, I am super organized. During my first nursing clinical semester, I had to track homework for four classes. One class had a lab and a clinical component that had separate schedules and assigned work. The other class had weekly labs with notes due 72 hours after. Then I had multiple exams for each class. I still don’t know how I did it but it got done.
Most of the credit for that goes to my little black organizer where I noted everything down. Merging my multiple schedules allowed me to take a glance at my week and month ahead easily. This let me figure out what I needed to be doing every day to stay on track. If you are tempted to skip out on an organizer in nursing school, don’t do it. Get that organizer and save yourself a few tears.
If you are just starting with nursing clinicals, I wish you the best ahead. This is the best and the worst part of nursing school because it demands so much. The fact is that not everyone will survive the clinicals. Not because they are not good enough. Just remember as you face this challenging semester, you have everything it takes to be a nurse. Be kind to yourself. Be open to learning. Find moments of wonder in the midst of so much pressure.