*Original post released on 7/21/20
We’re about to have a conversation, about balancing life and nursing school, that may be difficult for some (…or most) to hear. Keep in mind that I have no idea what your current situation is, nor do I pretend to understand. So please take these talking points with a grain of salt. This post is by no means meant to offend anyone, I promise.
Balancing nursing school is hard in and of itself. Add family, friends, kids, and work in the mix? Now that’s just plain complicated. It feels as though everyone is after your time; meanwhile, you’re struggling to keep up with nursing content and keep everyone else content as well. What about yourself? Have you forgotten that key piece of the puzzle? I know I did quite a few times. Here are some tips I’ve come to realize along my journey, and although I don’t have kids yet, I’ll share some tips from other moms who have made it through. Always remember that you can do this! You wouldn’t have made it THIS far and have been given a spot in your program if they didn’t think you would excel. Now, you just have to find that elusive balance to make it through the journey to graduation.
First, we’ll discuss tips that don’t involve kiddos (that way if it doesn’t apply to you, you can skip that section). I’m sure by now, your family and friends either know that you’re planning on attending, have been accepted into, or are currently enrolled in nursing school. One thing that is incredibly important is to set their expectations accordingly from the very beginning. Let them know what your schedule looks like, how much you’ll be studying, that clinical days and times may vary from one semester (or even one week) to another. If this doesn’t help, try sharing your “why” with them, especially if you have a unique story that led you to choose nursing. Perhaps being vulnerable with them and honest about why you’re putting yourself through all of this will give them perspective and may even enhance your relationship.
I think it’s incredibly important to take inventory of your current situation and evaluate what is truly important to you. Make time for the things and people who matter most to you. If something takes up your time and isn’t worth the hassle, ditch it. If the person isn’t understanding and supportive, or the relationship isn’t reciprocated equally, consider taking a step back in that relationship during school. It will be easier to cut back on those negative aspects in your life if you do it sooner rather than later.
Something you can always do is get your friends and family involved! They don’t need to have any specific knowledge to be a “patient” for you, to quiz you, or help you study from flashcards. To be honest, you’ll likely end up explaining a lot of terms and concepts to them in layman’s terminology which might even enhance your understanding of the material! Plus, they’ll get a chance to see exactly what you’re learning and what it takes to truly learn the material at hand. I know our program strongly emphasized community involvement and service opportunities, so I would even take my husband out to those events with me. We attended farmer’s markets and awareness 5Ks, participated in food/supply drives around the holidays, assisted local shelters, and so much more. He loved seeing me in my element and helping as well. Getting your loved ones and friends involved in what you’re passionate about will only fuel their support for you.
Now that I’m on the topic of significant others, let’s talk about one of the potential consequences of nursing school that may be all to real for some of you. I’ve heard of students having their significant other leave or threaten to leave them while they’re going through school because of the amount of time it takes away from the relationship. Remind them that you’re pursuing nursing to better yourself and your life, establish a rewarding career, and stabilize your situation. A good partner will lift you up during this time and not make you feel guilty for furthering your education. At the same time, be a good partner to them as well and do not dismiss or belittle their feelings; their feelings are valid and dismissing their concerns will not help the situation. I’ll talk about some things you can do to try and make the situation seem like less of a hurdle in the next few paragraphs. However, the last thing I’ll say about this topic is that you have to know your limits. It can be hard to hear and harder to do, but a relationship requires compromise. After putting in the effort on your part to improve things, it may be time to let the relationship go if it continues to be a negative influence in your life.
Now, let’s talk about some additional actions you can take to try and balance your relationships/life during school. Purchase a planner and get organized with your time. Organization of your time will help your sanity, trust me. You will occasionally forget things even if you’re organized, so try not to be too hard on yourself for it. Learn how to study and complete tasks more efficiently because your time is precious and there are only 24 hours in a day. Nursing school is all about working SMARTER NOT HARDER. Avoid sacrificing your sleep. Your body needs rest to recover and re-energize. I understand the demands of nursing school make this difficult, but you know your body best. Figure out how much sleep you need to function, and never drop below that. For me it’s a firm five hours minimum. On the subject of self care, find a consistent day and time to devote to self care and STICK TO IT. Maybe it’s a Sunday night at 10pm, and you have a glass of wine while you sit in a bubble bath? Maybe it’s a weekly walk in the park with your dog. Do it, and don’t compromise. One final *unpopular* suggestion…strongly consider taking a break from social media during the semester and only re-activate your accounts during breaks throughout the program. Social media can be quite the rabbit hole to fall down, and it’s not always a source of positivity. Just some food for thought.
I understand that not every student can afford to solely attend classes during nursing school. I’ve been there, and it’s extremely tough. Consider finding a flexible job that will best fit your schedule. Keep in mind, this may mean odd jobs but it’s completely doable. At one point I was working four different jobs while in school – I mucked horse stalls, mowed lawns, tutored (gradeschool) students, and had a customer service job in the evenings. Once nursing school started, I no longer kept my scheduled customer service job because it wasn’t realistic. Instead, I made a Rover account and started dog walking on my lunch breaks. I scheduled my classes for the early morning and late afternoon for as many classes and days as I could (Hint: Rovers are most needed around noon and on the weekends). It started slow, but after a few reviews, I had to start turning people away. There were times when I’d walk multiple dogs at the same time when the owners/dogs were okay with it. Another perk of being a Rover? You can study while you do it! I would always play a lecture through my earbuds while we walked. If you house/pet sit, you can even consider that a get-away full of secluded study time! The pay isn’t bad either. In one year’s time, of part time walking/sitting, I made enough to cover a full semester’s expenses.
If you’ve tried going down the odd jobs route and it still is too overwhelming, I completely understand! Exhaust all your resources by looking into scholarships and grants. Look locally for these by asking credit unions, banks, chambers of commerce, lawfirms, realtor agencies, local grocery shops and restaraunts, etc. The opportunities are there if you look for them. If a location doesn’t offer a scholarship, let them know you’re a nursing student and ask if they’d be willing to sponsor a scholarship or grant to help cover educational expenses. If you’re going to do this, always have a copy of your resume/transcripts handy because it will only help! As a last resort, turn to government assistance such as student loans. Always apply for the FAFSA even if you don’t think you’ll need it. If you qualify for the Pell Grant, take it! This is FREE money!!! To qualify for the Pell Grant and government-based (not private) student loans, you’ll definitely be required to file the FAFSA. These resources are there for a reason, so use them. I have student loans as well…despite working as much as I did. There is no shame in having loans, but if you can afford not to have them, more power to you!
Now, let’s move on to the family aspect of nursing school. Always use any free time wisely so that you can get studying out of the way and spend more time with family. If you have little ones, study when they sleep or when they’re doing homework. Make it a family commitment to study together, have dinner together, and then have *free* time afterwards. Doing these tasks together reinforces your presence, dedication to education, and enhances the quality of time spent with them. Set incentives or plan trips for the breaks to keep yourself motivated and to reward you and your family after a stretch of school has come to a close. By doing this, you’re conveying to your kiddos that work comes first; but after you work hard, you play even harder.
I said it above, and I’ll say it again, it’s important to set expectations…especially with kids. Look at your schedule (remember that tip?), and set aside at least one day a month where you’ll devote your undivided attention to them and/or your significant other if you have one. Tell them which day it will be, mark it on the family calendar, and avoid changing it at ALL costs. Then for the rest of the month, let them know that you’ll try to be present and participate in as many activities as possible, however studying has to be made a priority. There will be times when mommy/daddy has to do homework while we watch a movie (or whatever the situation may be). Set these expectations from the very beginning and keep your promises as much as possible. Their time matters too.
Have children but no support system? Do whatever it takes to make it through. Take them to class. See if the school offers free or discounted daycare for non-traditional students. Remember that you are being the best role model for your kids by pushing through and never giving up. If something is worth doing, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Always ask for assistance when you need to; you’ll be surprised to find out who is willing to help! I know some of these seem impossible with kids (…like maybe the “take them to class” suggestion), but let me tell you, I’ve experienced it. My mother was one of those strong women who had to take her child to school with her. I sat in lecture, participated in her anatomy class, copied notes about calculus problems I knew nothing about that were written on the chalkboard, etc. I think the situation worked because she introduced her professors to me, disclosed her situation, and gave me plenty of things to keep myself entertained during the lectures. Snacks help too! Her professors engaged me when it was appropriate, and it fueled in me a love for education. I don’t think I would see my mother as the person I do today if I hadn’t experienced that with her.
Finally, never forget why or who you’re doing all of this for. Maybe it’s just for yourself and that’s okay. Maybe it’s for your family, to get out of a bad situation, to make something of yourself, etc. I have no idea why you’re pursuing nursing, but YOU do and that’s what truly matters. If, after reading through this article, you’re unsure about being willing to make sacrifices and about finding solutions to every obstacle that comes your way, maybe nursing school isn’t for you…at this time in your life. The answer you may need to hear or see is that it’s okay to wait until you are ready. Maybe you need “permission” to wait a little longer so you are more prepared. That’s okay. I’m giving you that permission. Each person is ready at different times in their lives. I graduated nursing school at 25 because I waited until I was healthier and absolutely sure it was the career I wanted. However, also keep in mind that nursing school is a SHORT-term commitment for a LONG-term rewarding career.