How to Have a Successful Nursing School Experience During COVID-19

Amanda Ghosh

Amanda Ghosh

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Due to COVID-19, students about to start nursing school will experience an adaptation of the nursing school they thought they were entering when they applied. With more programs moving to online learning platforms, new students will probably learn more through online simulations than in-person patient care. Limited opportunities for real-life learning experiences is understandably worrisome for incoming students; after all, nursing is a “hands-on” profession. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate anxiety and ensure a successful experience.

Adapting to a “New Version” of Nursing School

  1. Adjust Your Expectations 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

— Reinhold Niebuhr

COVID-19 has forced everyone into a new way of life, and the nursing student is no exception— unless you defer your acceptance, you will probably experience a modified version of your nursing program. 

Adjusting to a variation of nursing school that is vastly different from the version you had in mind when you applied will be the first challenge to overcome. If you do not make this mental adjustment at the start, you will probably experience excessive frustration and wind up with low morale.

When you start school, I suggest that you use this sequence of strategies to adjust your expectations: LET GO – REDUCE EXPECTATIONS – COPE – PRACTICE GRATITUDE – CREATE NEW GOALS.

  • LET GO- Let go of any notions about what nursing school was supposed to be because you cannot change the situation you are facing. Avoid getting hung-up on should-based thinking (e.g., “nursing school should be like this, and it’s not.”)
  • REDUCE EXPECTATIONS- While you do not want to reduce the expectations you have of yourself as a nurse, you will probably want to lower your expectations about the skill level your program will be able to confer to you. Hands-on practice is still the best way to prepare for nursing because nurses have a hands-on job. It will be hard to become 100% proficient at hands-on skills less hands-on practice. Reduce your expectations to match the situation and be compassionate with yourself when you make mistakes.
  • COPE- Learn healthy coping mechanisms. Nursing is a challenging profession, and this will not be the first time that you will need to cope.
  • PRACTICE GRATITUDE – Almost all situations have a silver lining. You will have a more positive experience if you can identify the positives.
  • CREATE NEW GOALS- As you reduce expectations and let go of how you think nursing school should be during COVID, you will need to create new goals. Establishing and meeting manageable and realistic goals is one way to stay motivated and build confidence.
  • Put Grades into Perspective

COVID-19 will affect students differently. Some will score higher with more content delivered online, while others will struggle. If you fall into the latter category, keep in mind that grades are not the end-all-be-all. 

You do not need to get straight A’s to be a good nurse. Usually, students who score B’s become the best nurses.

Your future employer is going to care more about how you will fit into their culture and how you will respond to a crisis. They are not going to put as much emphasis on your GPA as you think. 

Nursing school does not prepare you for the reality of the nursing profession. Your orientation will require skills and abilities that have nothing to do with memorization and test-taking.

So, while you need to focus on passing your classes, do not get discouraged by a B or C grade. Focus on developing the skills that you will use on the job—time management, prioritization, decision-making, interpretation of vital signs, and so forth.

  • Ask Veteran Nurses for Advice

Build your network and get to know your future colleagues. They are a tremendous resource. 

Ask them about what you should prioritize in nursing school at this time, especially if you are struggling with the online learning format. They will be able to help you see the forest through the trees.

Some professors will be excellent; they will have in-depth practical knowledge. Others will be focused on grades and will seem disconnected from the reality of nursing. 

It is okay to “check the box” and limit your focus to turning assignments in on-time with a grade-driven professor if it means you get to spend more time focused on skills that will transfer to the job.

  • Seek Additional Practice Time

Online learning may mean less time spent doing clinicals and in-person simulation labs. However, there are still ways to get some in-person practice. 

Ask your professors if you can use the lab on your own time when social distancing will be possible, practice taking vitals on family members, and if you and a fellow student pose no risk for spreading COVID to each other, practice together.

  • Prioritize What You Will Take Away 

Knowing what is most important to take away from school should be a priority for every nursing student, especially during COVID-19. 

Hire a nursing career coach if your professors and senior nurses cannot give you a definite answer about what to concentrate on during nursing school to ensure you are prepared as you can be before you start your first job.

You Can Do This! 

The nursing profession needs new graduates—COVID made that clear. Although your school experience may be different than you expected, you will find that if you play your cards right, you will turn what seems like a disaster into an opportunity for growth. Who knows— maybe going through nursing school during COVID will make you a better nurse?

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