At first, becoming a nurse practitioner is this noble idea motivated by compassion, benevolence, autonomy, ambition, and a lot of other feel-good stuff. You study tirelessly for the Graduate Record Exam, apply to stretch schools and back-up schools, anxiously prepare for interviews, and cross your fingers. A few months later you tear open a letter from the admissions department and read, “Congratulations!” A wave of excitement, joy, and pride washes over you. You did it!
Seconds pass and you realize, this is just the beginning. Next thing you know you’re in the thick of it: balancing clinical with simulations with patient logs with papers with capstone projects with major pathophysiology exams. How will you survive?
This is how. (I would highly recommend using this as background music).
First and foremost, take advantage of every clinical opportunity you have. This is your chance to try it all under the guidance of an expert. Ask your preceptor every question you can think of. Come prepared. Bring a tablet or pad of paper to take endless notes. So your school only requires a set number of clinical hours? Do more. Ask your preceptors for extra opportunities. You’ll gain additional knowledge, and a strong reference. Don’t just practice skills; practice empathy.
During my education, I carried a legal pad with me everywhere and wrote down everything. Did I look like a nerd? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. There was so much to learn in so little time, and I knew I might forget something. At home, I rewrote the most important notes on a separate legal pad. I was also fortunate to meet an extremely progressive and intelligent psychiatrist. She agreed to have dinner with me once a month to review cases.
Immerse yourself in the literature of your specialty. Order extra books off the internet to supplement your assigned readings. Get excited about what you’re doing. Whatever your specialty, consume it, absorb it, and be enthusiastic about it.
During my program I spent one night per week going to the university library and pulling nursing and psychiatry books off the shelves. I’d haul the fresh stack over to an empty table and just read. During these quite late nights I came to understand the vastness and importance of what we do as advanced practice nurses.
Being in school is an awesome opportunity to network. You are constantly surrounded by scholars and professionals , so make sure you get out there and form connections. Networking can develop relationships that will lead to employment and learning opportunities after graduation. Consider creating simple business cards to exchange at conferences or an online professional profile to meet people nationally.
Aside from networking, leave good impressions everywhere you go. The adage “it’s a small world” is certainly true. You’ll be amazed at how connected all the people in your field are. Out of school, I applied for a job across the country, and my reference turned out to be very close friends with my future employer. This definitely helped me land the job and was not an anomaly.
Don’t think you’re in this alone. Start a study group or invite fellow students over for dinner. You can help each other with assignments or discuss the pros and cons of different clinical sites. Sometimes you just need to relax. Having a support system of friends who understand exactly what you’re going through will make it much more enjoyable. Also, ask a professor for advice and consider seeking a mentor.
I was lucky enough to attend nurse practitioner school with my best friend. We both had our strengths so we pulled each other ahead using those. We sought creative ways to study and reminded each other to take care of ourselves, which included 5:00 AM text message reminders to get up and iron our lab coats. The buddy system is really a no-brainer.
Don’t forget why you wanted to become a nurse practitioner. For many of us it’s a desire to serve and care. It’s also a job with excellent opportunities that stretch around the world. When the exams get hard and the clinicals get harder, remember that your knowledge, understanding, compassion, and competence will change the lives of many, many people in the future.
Any other advice? Email me or comment below. I love hearing from you all!