Sunday, March 30, 2008

When A Nursing Student Is Not A Nursing Student

I had another one of those conversations the other day.

Random Person: How are things going?
Me: I'm getting ready to graduate in a few weeks.
RP: Really? You know I'm going to nursing school too.
Me: Oh really? How much longer do you have?
RP: Um. Well. I haven't actually applied yet, so what, two years?

I hate to break it to you, my brother, but it's actually more like four to six years.

I can say this now because I've been through it. I made this mistake. I woke up one day and decided I wanted to go to nursing school. I thought I would waltz over to my local community college and sign up to start the next semester. Little did I know it would take four years before I was accepted.

It's not easy getting into nursing school. Every school has its own set of criteria for accepting students. If you are someone who is thinking about nursing school, get in touch with that school and find out what their criteria are. Pay very close attention to every detail and even closer attention to deadlines. For example every school will have some sort of admission packet that must be submitted. One year I missed the dealine by SIX HOURS and so had to wait another year to try again.

Pay close attention to what the criteria are and make sure you can meet them. For example, the school I am going to requires that one take an entrance exam as part of the admission criteria. Here's the rub. You can only take that exam once a year, so if your score isn't all that great, you have to wait another year before taking it again. Even if you have everything else in order and ready to go, that's another year of waiting to get in.

My sister-in-law decided she wanted to go nursing school about the same time I decided to go, but first she decided to try some other things and see how that worked. So about a year ago she finally decided to get serious about applying and working on pre-regs. She spent all of last year working on pre-regs. Meanwhile the school she applied to told her there was a two-year waiting list. She decided to pay $75,000 and go to a private school.

After finishing the her pre-regs the private school informed her that they were full and couldn't accept her application and were now using a lottery system. In other words, names are drawn at random. You could get right in or you could never get in. It's all chance. Meanwhile, you guessed it. She took her name off the waiting list for the other school because she was so sure she would get accepted by the other one. If she had left her name on the list she'd only have to wait another year, which isn't that long when you remember, or if you read my earlier post, we made the decision six years ago to go to nursing school. Now she has put her name back on the list and they tell her now the waiting list is 3 years.

So children, if you think you want to be a nurse, get busy NOW finding a school and working on getting accepted. No whining about the admission criteria, the wait time, the tuition, the entrance exam. All of us who are nursing students had to go through it. If you really want to go, you need to understand right now, up front, that it's time consuming and difficult to get in. Otherwise do something else and quit complaining.

Oh, and another thing. If you aren't currently attending nursing school, stop telling people that you are "going to nursing school". Yes, and I'm going to die. I don't mean right now, but someday I'm going to die. But imagine the different reaction if starting tomorrow I told everyone I met that I'm going to die. There's a big difference between going to nursing school now and going to nursing school.........someday. And shame on you for making people think otherwise.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Of Flash Cards and Powerpoints

As we close in on the final 5 weeks of nursing school, I am struck with the irony that now, after all this time, I finally figured out how to study.

I bought this book and it has been a godsend. Every topic on everything we ever learned in nursing school is covered. All the information is formatted into nice outlines. That way you only see what you need to know about the topic at hand.

If you are a nursing student, your instructors will encourage you to buy some kind of NCLEX review book to practice test questions. That way you will have the chance to see the information given to you in a bizarre and obscure fashion so you can rattle those peas in your brain. Hopefully a couple of them knock together and shake the information loose, so it will float to the front of your brain and you can choose the right answer.

I wish I had bought this book a year ago. I could have saved myself hours of pointless studying, trying to learn stuff that I will never see on a test.

Then there is that 10-inch high (I measured it) stack of Powerpoint presentations we've been given throughout the program. I was commisserating with one of my classmates about this stack of dead trees and wasted ink and he pointed out something I hadn't thought of. He said "When we first started school I was thinking how lucky we were to have those Powerpoints and we could just read those instead of the book. Now that I see how much there is I figured out it's easier to just read the book."

No kidding.

This book is even easier than that. The information is in bulleted lists. No having to tease the information out of a paragraph or table. It's the facts whittled down to just what is needed.

The authors of this book has not paid me anything to say such nice things about the book. This is one of those "I coulda had a V8" moment.

With 5 weeks to go I'm also reminded of things I meant to do during nursing school and never did. And it's too late to start now. Things like,

1. Exercise regularly.
2. Make flash cards.
3. Take stress breaks.
4. Network with nursing organizations so maybe some mucky-muck would remember by name and face and possibly hire me.

I found a stack of flash cards I started the first week of the first semester of nursing school. I laugh now at the folly of thinking this would help.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Do The Hustle

I haven't been feeling so great about nursing school lately.

In spite of studying harder than I ever have in my life, I have the worst grades I've ever had too. I have had this creeping dread that I couldn't name.

Then I read this thread and it made me smile.

It seems that during the last semester of nursing school, all order breaks down, that bonds with classmates begin to unravel and nerves begin to fray. This comes from the competition to get internships and jobs in the area. Whenever a classmate announces their accomplishment, the rest of us die inside a little bit.

It was getting to me for a minute, but then I read the open letter above and I felt a lot better. I suppose it happens to everyone their last semester of college in whatever field they hope to enter. A gaggle of graduates tries to squeeze into a small pool of available positions. It reminds me of a National Geographic special where increasingly desperate crocodiles are writhing around in a muddy lake that is shrinking by the day.

I decided to pull myself out of the pond and stay focused on what is in front of me. Yeah I should be shopping for shoes to match my slacks. And yeah, I should be schmoozing and networking to try and get a nice internship of my own. But frankly, I don't have the stomach for it right now.

I'm worried about passing the exit exam. If I can't do that, the nicest, cushiest internship in the world won't make a difference. Besides, I've gotten reassurance from all around, from friends, coworkers, my partner and online acquaintances that I'll be fine. I've been told to just chill out; that I won't have a problem finding a job no matter what. I'll be a nurse, and even without an internship, I'll get to work with a preceptor no matter where I go. They aren't going to let me drown my first day, or week, or month on the job. I'll have support and help, and even though it may be shorter than if I had an internship, I'll still have help just the same.

Even though I have to hustle to get through these last 70-odd days of school, I'm not going to worry so much. I'm going to stop eating my heart out and be genuinely happy for my classmates who score jobs and internships. I'll be okay.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

If You Aren't Part of the Solution, You're Part of the Problem

Doncha hate those catch phrases? I hate shiny, happy motivational-type messages. You know the ones. "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger." Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just give me more money and turn your stereo down.

Truth be told I could use a motivational kick in the pants now and again. I was just reading this blog post about a hospital that instituted a "no complaining" policy and how it helped with staff morale. Some people responded in the negative, saying that complaints are justified and nurses should be treated better and paid well, etc., etc.

Then I felt guilty. You see. I am a complainer. I'm whiny. I'm self-centered. I don't like conflict. I don't like to hear babies crying at the next table when I'm eating in a restaurant. In other words, I'm perpetually 4 years old and emotionally retarded.

But I'm working on it.

Pastor Will Bowen appeared on Oprah recently to talk about his anti-complaining campaign. I didn't see the show, but I can get behind this idea. I have been a complainer for years and I'm not sure when I first realized how bad I was about it. It was probably when my girlfriend called me "whiny-ass baby" to my face. Since then I've been putting serious effort into changing. I'm working on finding the line between valid complaint and emotional immaturity.

I never realized how badly a negative attitude affects other people until I started working with someone who complains more than me. I dread it when I see I'm on the schedule with her. I know that at some point during the day she's going to corner me and go on and on about her life. I can be a supportive, good listener if I'm having a pretty good day myself. What gets to me is that this person has been complaining about the same problems for the two years that we have worked together. I had heard of energy vampires, but didn't quite get the concept until I worked with this person. Once I read more about energy vampires, I was horrified to think that I might be an energy vampire too. I have been quilty of several energy vampire actions from time to time. But knowledge is power it. Naming it means I can change it.

Anyway I haven't figured out how to tell my co-worker that she needs to make some different choices. Well, actually I have told her, but it hasn't worked. She makes the same mistakes over and over then wants to whine about it. If I came in feeling good that day, it isn't long before I feel depressed from talking to her. The good thing is now that I know how it feels to be the victim of an energy vampire, I know that I don't want other people to feel emotionally drained by me. I'm insecure enough that I want other people to like me. There. I said it.

This is what I call universal justice - something that you have done to other people comes back to visit you. Luckily I got the message and I'm working on staying positive and not drag other people into my misery and problems. But here's the thing - I have a great life. I have a lot of love and support from the people in my life. I'm lucky enough to have financial support so that I can go to nursing school full time. My children are happy and healthy. I have siblings who adore me. I attend the best nursing school hands down, and don't experience many of the horrible nursing school experiences other people have told me about. Why do I want to make myself miserable?

Because it's a bad habit. I would like to blame it on my mother, but she's not alive to defend herself. She was a miserable, unhappy person and I suppose I learned the art of complaining at her knee. But there is nothing that says I have to keep doing some 25 years since leaving home.

So I support people who are working to remind people to quit complaining. It doesn't hurt me to be reminded that complaining is a waste of energy and it drags other people down. If I want to complain that nursing pay and working conditions are wretched and we deserve better, I have options besides complaining. I can get involved politically and work on changing laws to make our job safer and our patient loads more sane. I can tell myself that it could be worse; I have worked harder for less money. I can even make the choice to not go into nursing at all.

I won't go so far as wearing the purple bracelet, but I vow to take other people into consideration before I start complaining. And thanks for reminding me. Now would you stop slurping your coffee and leaving your empty sugar packets on the counter? Thanks.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Two Roads Diverged In A Yellow Wood

With 67 days to graduation, the push is on to find nursing internships.

I'm in a quandry. I can't decide if I want an internship or not.

Oh, an internship is sort of like a job orientation, but you get more one-on-one help with an experienced nurse preceptor, some extra classroom time, and also forgiveness if you don't get the hang of the job as quickly as one might expect.

You also have to commit to giving the hospital 18 months to 2 years of your life for this blessing.

I applied for an internship at a Hospital That Looks Like A Hotel. A couple of years ago I left my appendix there and, all things being equal, it was a great experience. As a patient it was great. As a nurse I'm not so sure. I'm spending my clinicals in this hospital my last semester of school. The halls are carpeted. I had no idea what a nightmare it was to try and push a bed down a carpeted hall until last week. I'm thinking if I had to do this on a regular basis, my poor old body won't make it to retirement.

I can't decide if this is what I want to do. I like the idea of having the equivalent of nursey training wheels. On the other hand, I want to be able to job hop for more money, or if the place I'm working is a hell hole I can't tolerate being there another day. Besides I already have the dialysis gig and it's pretty sweet. Once I get the RN license I will get a big pay bump. Plus I will be a little closer to my ultimate goal - travel nursing.

But there is that "med-surg or not med-surg" dillema. Some nurses feel that a stint in med-surg is essential for anyone starting his or her nursing career. Still others say that going right into your specialty is the way to go.

Dialysis is a specialty but I wouldn't say it's something I want to do the rest of my life. But if I am to think of it more deeply, I never set out to be a nurse in the first place. I found myself in middle age with a dwindling income, no retirement savings and a skill set that people on the other side of the world will do for half what I made. My goal is to ride this thing out to retirement and hope I arrive in one piece. Hopefully I won't be a physical wreck and I can actually enjoy my retirement. I've been in dialysis a few years now. As nursing goes it's a fairly easy job. I've already been through the fire and experienced the long learning curve.

I hear dialysis nurses are in huge demand among travel nurse specialties. Then I'm hearing more and more about nocturnal dialysis where patients come to the dialysis clinic and get their treatment overnight while they sleep. As people on dialysis are living longer, and as people are developing renal failure earlier all the time, nocturnal dialysis the way to go if you're young and want to keep your job. It's a pretty easy gig, I'm told.

For now I just need to focus on finishing. I'm getting the worst grades of my entire college career this semester.

And I don't even care.

I just want it to end.