Prep Tips: the Summer Before Nursing School
OMG! You did it! You got into nursing school. Summer has just begun but already you're feeling nervous and excited for fall. The biggest adventure of your life is coming.
You're not alone. New nursing students everywhere are in the final stages of prep before starting their programs - getting health records submitted, going through orientation, making sure they're signed up for the right classes. Simultaneously, they're all trying to enjoy the summer before they settle in for the long-haul on the road to RN.
If you're an incoming nursing student, you probably already know the benefits of working ahead. Here are some things you should think about while sitting by the pool or hiding in the AC between now and August.
1. Review metric system conversions: For those of us living in the U.S., these conversions don't always come easily. As a nurse, I'm working with the metric system every shift, calculating dosages and drawing up medications, weighing patients, measuring wounds, etc. It's helpful to know how the metric system works and to have some basic conversions memorized. If you want to get started, here's a video to help refresh your memory. There are lots of resources online, so go find one that works for you.
2. Review medical terminology. Speaking the language helps get you off to a running start. You may have taken a med terminology class, or at least have seen some things in your pre-requisite classes. Review things you may have had trouble with during Anatomy, or challenge yourself with more complex terminology. There are lots of free and paid apps for medical terminology on your smartphone, as well as flashcard sets online.
3. Review fluid and electrolytes. Ok, people, this topic is never going away. Ever. So get to reviewing. I’ll never forget how many of my classmates drove themselves crazy panic-studying before bombing the fluid and electrolytes exam first semester. Avoid being in that group with some solid review of the material. While they panic, you can pat yourself on the back for being one step ahead.
4. Get Organized. This is the time to nerd out with office supplies, folks. Get those big ring binders, fancy tabbed dividers with pockets, and five-pack of highlighters. You’re going to be given a forest’s worth of paper in the next many semesters, and being able to find something at a moment’s notice is going to make your life a lot easier. I went to every class with a portable 3-ring punch and a stapler. Everyone always asked to use them, so clearly they were money well-spent..
5. Learn about common medications. I don’t expect you to dig into cardiac meds the summer before your program starts but you can set yourself up for success. Know something about the ones we all take at some point in our lives: aspirin, acetaminophen, Benadryl, etc. Your program is most likely going to make you buy a drug handbook. Get familiar with how the book and each entry are laid out. I like reading the special notes on each medication. You can learn some strange and useful things.
6. Show up for orientation/info sessions (and network). Your program is going to have some sort of orientation or new student info session - perhaps more than one. These sessions are simultaneously the epitomes of excitement and boredom. There’s usually lots of information provided, including any important dates or last-minute details not included in the mailed paperwork. They often will give greater detail on the overall structure and expectations of the program.
It also may be the first time you get to see and interact with teachers and faculty in person. Use the opportunity to get questions answered. Even if you don’t have questions, listen to other peoples’ in case they thought of something you didn’t. Lastly, smile and be generally kind to those also in attendance. You may not make a bff during these gatherings, but these people will likely be with you in classes for years, so start off on a good foot.
7. Learn how to read a textbook. You’re going to be assigned hundreds of pages a week and you are not going to have the time to read every word and still live your life. So check out this video that I used to guide my reading habits in school.
8. Familiarize yourself with textbooks and resources. Now that you know how to read a textbook, make sure you spend some time with the ones specifically for your program. Flip through each one, look at the structure of the text, or watch a tutorial on how to use the text (Ackley’s nursing diagnosis handbook made me a little cross-eyed at first). Focus on the book’s highlights - often important information can be gleaned from the chapter objectives, summaries and review questions.
Do the same with your school’s online resources like textbook publishers’ online companion sites or the library’s database, for example. My school used a couple apps I was able to download to my phone. Find everything available to you, keep what is useful and eliminate things that aren't.
9. Review the APA citation handbook. This topic is boring and I’m not telling you to read and memorize a bunch of citation stuff. But this book is not your usual book, and you’re going to use it forever (especially if you go to grad school). Make friends with it now. Learn how to find what you need inside of it - I've got lots of tab markers hanging off of mine. Also, did you know that there is a totally separate handbook for citing electronic sources?
10. Start doing NCLEX-style questions. Go to your app store and download every free NCLEX app you can find. Do all of the questions, some every day, until you run out of free apps. Do questions standing in line, laying on the couch, sitting on the potty, riding shotgun in the car, etc. If you find a paid app you like, buy it. Whatever you do, practice questions every day until you think you'll lose your mind. Even if, starting out, you have no idea what the correct answers are, long-term exposure to the way they word questions and what their rationales are will help you do well on the actual exam.
These are just ten ideas from one nurse, but I believe that periodic attention to these things over the next couple months might actually help smooth out the rocky start that can sometimes occur with these very technical programs. There's a lot of information to absorb, so any head starts you can give yourself are going to pay off.
New nursing students, what are you doing to prepare for fall?
Nurses, what things did you do (or wish you did) before you started your nursing classes?
I'd love to hear your opinions.