A reader recently requested that I cover some tips on how to manage family and course-work for the student who is coming to nursing school later in life. Since this page is all for you, readers, I am happy to oblige!
Keep a Calendar
You will have tons of reading, homework assignments, clinical days, and meetings. On top of this, you will have appointments, family affairs, errands, etc., etc., etc. Begin with a calendar, preferably a small one you can keep with you. Many people choose an electronic calendar, such as one on a smart phone. However, a paper calendar can give you a quick glance of the entire month, rather than switching from day-to-day. On the other hand, your phone can alert you to important engagements. Whichever one you choose, start out by putting in the most important appointments, the ones you cannot or should not change. This will include class days, clinicals, and assignments for school. Additionally, you want to make sure you put in any doctor's appointments, dental appointments, etc. For the time being, nursing school will have to come first many times. You won't always have to sacrifice, but I recommend putting it high on your priority list. Which brings me to my next topic...
Family is Always Important, But...
...you want to succeed, so don't push nursing school to the side. I know this sounds terrible, so let me explain. I'm not asking you to forget about family and friends at all. However, I AM asking you to let your friends and family know how important nursing school is to you so that they won't push you to spend unrealistic amounts of time away from your studies. Nursing is intense (you will have lives in your hands upon graduation), so you have to know your stuff. This leads to my next point.
Create Study Time
Some people do well just by asking their family members to give them some time to study. However, this doesn't always work. Just ask my old classmate. She had 5 children, and when mom wasn't around (she was in her bedroom studying), they missed her so terribly that they would knock on her door until she let them in. Talk about distraction. Yes, love your children, and please don't ignore them. Spend good quality time with them. Actually build that time into your schedule. Write it on your calendar. But also schedule in study time. My old classmate put a sign on her door that let her children know that it was study time and that they were not to disturb her unless (insert emergencies here). This was difficult for her husband, however. He ended up having to deal with all of the "smaller" catastrophes.
Let Your Spouse (or Significant Other) Deal With It
That is....if you have a significant other (SO). If you do have someone living with you, nothing says your husband, wife, or SO can't handle some problems without your input. Many of you have handled "it" often enough that your spouse can take the wheel for the moment. My advice? Talk to your spouse or SO. Let him or her know that you have to have so much time of uninterrupted studying, and ask if he or she would please handle things until study time is over. Yes, you will still contribute to the household, but don't let your spouse or SO think he or she can't handle some things alone. Let your family know specifically what you need, and it will cut down on a LOT of frustration and irritation. I cannot stress how important it is to have support from your SO. If you do not have the support of your SO while going back to school, there is an underlying problem that must be dealt with, and that is beyond the scope of this blog. Professional help is likely in order. If you do not have a husband, wife, or significant other, your situation will be a little different, and is not really the focus of this post.
Use Study Time for Studying
This should go without saying, but I had to say it anyway. Why? Because some people have taken advantage of their alone time. If you want your family to respect your alone time, you must respect them by showing them that you are doing just what you said you would do with that time. If you have set aside time for studying, then study. If you set time aside for writing a paper, then write the paper. Another reason why this is so important is that if you use your study time for something else, will end up needing more time to do your actual studying. This means you will be taking time away from your family that is NOT study time, so you can study or write your paper. That isn't fair to your family. Everyone around you will have to make sacrifices, so please don't make it harder on them than you have to.
Find a nice, quiet, comfortable place to study. If possible, make your study environment away from the rest of the family. Nothing is worse than trying to study in the kitchen surrounded by bored kids. Make your study spot your own by finding a comfortable chair, a desk or table, and study supplies (e.g., pens, pencils, highlighters, sticky notes, markers, tape, stapler, paper clips, etc.). Make sure you have adequate lighting. You don't want to get a headache from trying to read in dim lighting.
Schedule your study dates and times. Actually put them on your schedule, and stick to it. Make studying a priority and do not deviate from your plan unless it is an emergency.
Take breaks often while studying. If you're feeling "antsy", get up and walk around, go get something to drink, or just relax for 15 minutes. But then go back to your studies. You will have to have a lot of willpower, but you can do this!
Eat healthy foods and don't neglect your body. Your brain works much better on healthy foods and when your body is in good shape. So many people give up everything while they are in nursing school, but it just makes things harder. You may have to cut down on the time you exercise if you used to work out for hours at a time, but 30 minutes a day is adequate to help you stay in shape.
Get plenty of rest. Don't stay up until 4 am every morning. It will start to wear you down, and you will be irritable and forgetful. Those are two things you don't want to happen to you in nursing school.
Think about what is important for the nurse to know. Is it really important that you know what is happening on the cellular level? Probably not. Get a good general understanding of the disease process and what signs and symptoms to look for. Then know the usual meds given, nursing interventions, and what will tell you if the things you are doing are working to help the patient. That's all the nursing process is. Study by the nursing process and you have it!!
The best thing you can do is sit down with your family and friends and tell them what is expected of you and what you need from them. DON'T neglect them, but make sure you take time for yourself as well. It take a lot of willpower, organization, time management, and inner strength, but with your family and friends behind you, you can make it through with support, caring, and understanding. Best wishes.