How to Be Successful in Nursing School

Applying to nursing school is an exciting first step on your journey to become a nurse, but what should you consider to ensure success?

Nursing school admissions have become increasingly competitive over the last three years. From limited clinical placements to the nurse faculty shortage, colleges have had to place restrictions on the number of applicants accepted, which means aspiring nurses run into obstacles before they even get their foot in the door.

In a NurseDot Podcast episode called, “How To Be Successful Through Nursing School” host Cara Lunsford, RN, Vice President of Community at Relias, and Kimberly Dunker, DNP, CNE, CNECL, Dean of Nursing at Pacific Union College, discussed how nursing students can succeed despite the barriers they face.

“Everybody’s nursing school journey is a little bit different,” said Dunker, who has over 20 years of nursing experience. Despite barriers like income limitations, medical conditions, or personal circumstances every student deserves an equal opportunity in nursing school. And although every student’s nursing path may look different, understanding your needs and prioritizing your well-being can make your nursing school experience a success.

Choosing the right nursing school

Narrowing down what college or university you want to attend can be difficult especially considering factors like tuition, length of program, and grades. Try to find a school that fits your requirements (e.g., cost, location, and full-or part-time enrollment) and one that will ultimately help you achieve your goals.

Student loan debt is an unfortunate reality many students face as they prepare to enter college. According to NerdWallet, as of 2021, more than 70% of nursing students used loans to fund their education. However, there are other pathways to offset the costs of nursing education, such as scholarships, to help reduce or avoid student loans altogether.

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However, according to Dunker, state schools or state-funded schools like community colleges are options that prospective students can consider. She added that these schools can be good options because they are more affordable, receive more state supplements, and have quality programs. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics highlighted that first-year students paid between $3,300 and $3,900 per academic year at two-year public schools, which is much lower than the cost of four-year schools.

Looking at accreditation

Another element to consider is accreditation. Maintained by organizations like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, accreditation is a non-governmental, peer-review process that ensures schools and academic programs are providing quality nursing education by meeting certain standards. With the recent nursing diploma scandal top of mind, this is an important component when considering colleges.

“There’s a lot of programs, especially two-year tech programs, that are not accredited, and that lack of accreditation means something,” said Dunker. “For a student that knows nothing about nursing school, it means [unaccredited schools] are operating without a standard in faculty, resources, support for the student, and outcomes.”

Selecting an accredited school or program not only gives you more certainty about the quality of your education but presents more opportunities to further your nursing career, including transferring or applying credits toward an advanced degree.

Support for students

Every student learns in their own way. And sometimes circumstances like medical conditions, disabilities, or other situations can add challenges that affect a person’s education. Nursing students have a lot to accomplish, including completing clinical rotations, participating in simulations, attending lectures, and more.

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And if you have a medical condition or time-consuming responsibilities or disruptions in your personal life, your education could suffer, which is why accommodations are inherently important to students’ success.

“There’s a lot of rigidity in nursing school, and I think there’s a place for that,” said Dunker. “But there’s a place where we need to work with accommodations.” Adding that college programs are rigorous enough and making space for students’ needs is essential.

Examples of accommodations are American Sign Language interpreters, test-taking accommodations, modified courses (or substitutions), or written materials in an alternative format like Braille or larger print. These modifications allow students to achieve the same educational goals as their peers.

Asking for support

Although legislation and policies exist to protect and advocate for people with disabilities and medical conditions, some students may not want to disclose their need for accommodations for various reasons. But to get the most out of your education, it’s OK to have assistance.

Dunker described an example of this with a former student. “I had a student that was having a med change. They didn’t want to disclose it,” she said. The student eventually shared their situation.

“We went from, ‘You’re going to fail because you’ve been late twice’ to ‘Let’s get you an accommodation and help you through,’” said Dunker.

As a nursing student, you invest so much of your time, money, and energy into your program, so don’t be afraid to ask for support.

“We have a huge responsibility to take every student very seriously,” she said. “Hopefully, the majority of them are going to cruise through, and there’s not going to be issues. But when we’ve admitted you, we should have a commitment to your success.”

Stay committed by refueling yourself

While burnout is an ongoing problem, studies have shown that students aren’t immune to this condition. Amid strenuous course work, clinicals, and exams, nursing students are at risk of experiencing academic burnout. To be successful through your program and avoid the pitfalls of burnout, it’s essential to take care of yourself and remember that nursing school is only a fraction of your life.

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Self-care for nursing students has become as necessary as it is in the profession itself. And according to Dunker, schools recognize the value of self-care and are now trying to infuse it into their curricula more. In fact, one study highlighted that when student nurses were taught self-care behaviors, their self-awareness improved and they had better clinical outcomes.

Keep in mind that self-care isn’t linear and what works for you may not work for someone else. You might enjoy spending time in nature while your friends love an afternoon at a coffee shop. What’s most important is allotting time to do activities things you love.

Forcing yourself to disconnect and make room for things that bring you joy is a way to refuel, said Dunker. So while your time in nursing school should be a priority, don’t forget to prioritize yourself.

Final thoughts

Being successful in nursing school doesn’t have to be based on your grades alone. Recognizing your circumstances, understanding your needs, and prioritizing your well-being will set you up for success to achieve your education goals on your path to become a nurse.

Whether you’re looking for educational support, mentorship, or career insights, connect and network with fellow nurses on the app.

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