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Challenges Faced by Nursing Students and Solutions

Challenges Nursing Students Face

Academic Workload

Nursing students face an exceptionally heavy academic workload that is extremely demanding and time-intensive. The nursing curriculum covers a vast breadth of complex scientific and medical topics from areas like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathophysiology, medical terminology, patient care skills/procedures, and more. Students must gain in-depth knowledge across all these subjects.

In addition to attending lecture courses, nursing students spend many hours per week in lab settings where they practice hands-on clinical skills and techniques using simulation models. They learn crucial skills like inserting IVs, giving injections, reading EKGs, operating medical equipment, and more. Labs allow students to make mistakes and receive feedback from instructors before working with actual patients.

Nursing students also have clinical rotations at healthcare facilities like hospitals and nursing homes. During these rotations, which can range from 8-12 hour shifts, students get real-world experience providing supervised care to patients. They apply their knowledge and skills from lectures and labs in these patient care settings.

The combination of lectures, labs, clinicals, studying, and assignments means nursing school easily totals 40-60 hours of work per week or more for most students, essentially equating to a full-time job on top of their full-time coursework.

Example: During a typical week, a nursing student may have 12 hours of lectures, 6 hours of lab time, two 12-hour clinical shifts (24 hours total), plus at least 25 additional hours spent on homework, studying, and review. This equates to over 65 hours dedicated solely to their nursing education.

Clinical Responsibilities

While clinical rotations provide invaluable practical experience for nursing students, they also present significant physical, mental, and emotional challenges. Students take on many of the direct patient care duties that licensed nurses handle, like bathing, dressing, feeding, repositioning, and moving patients. These hands-on care tasks require stamina and the ability to follow proper technique to avoid injury to themselves or the patient.

In addition to basic care, nursing students are responsible for taking patients’ vital signs, inserting catheters, administering medications and injections, monitoring IV lines, cleaning wounds, and more. They must rigidly adhere to strict procedures and protocols for all aspects of patient care. Any lapse in technique or mistake can potentially cause serious harm.

Students need to remain focused and attentive for extremely long shifts, often 12 hours straight. They take directions from nurses and physicians overseeing their work. Making care decisions, prioritizing tasks, and dealing with emergencies or high-stress situations adds further demand.

The clinical experience can take an emotional toll as well. Students may encounter traumatic injuries, terminal illnesses, painful procedures, patient deaths, and the grief of families. They need to maintain a professional demeanor and not let their own emotions negatively impact patient care.

Example: An 8-hour clinical shift could involve bathing, repositioning, and feedings for 4-6 patients, inserting catheters, administering oral and injectable medication to numerous patients following strict protocols, cleaning and re-dressing wounds using sterile technique, updating patient charting, and more –all while taking direction from supervisors and handling any urgent situations that arise. Trying to complete all required tasks properly while staying attentive and compassionate for an entire 8-12 hour stretch multiple times per week is grueling.

Financial Strain


Pursuing a nursing degree, especially a 4-year Bachelor’s program, creates significant financial hardship for most students. Tuition rates and academic fees at many public and private universities total $25,000-$55,000 per year for their nursing programs. These high costs result in graduates routinely facing $80,000+ in student loan debt.

At the same time students are incurring this debt, the intensive time requirements of nursing school make it extremely difficult to maintain any sort of part-time employment to offset expenses. The rigorous schedule leaves little flexibility to work while attending classes full-time.

Unless students have family assistance, scholarships, or substantial savings, they are typically forced to take out large

Solutions and Strategies

Develop Strong Study Habits and Techniques With the vast amount of rigorous material, adopting effective study strategies is essential for nursing students to optimize their learning and retention. Specific techniques include:

Active Recall – Studies show actively trying to retrieve and reconstruct knowledge from memory leads to greater comprehension and longer-lasting learning than simply re-reading. Make flashcards, cover up information and try reciting it, explain concepts out loud, etc.

Spaced Repetition – Reviewing information repeatedly over increasingly longer intervals (e.g. studying again in 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, etc.) reinforces it more deeply in long-term memory according to cognitive science research. Create a spaced schedule for revisiting key content.

Create Visual Study Aids – Supplement notes by making visual aids like charts, diagrams, process maps, anatomical models, etc. Visual cues tap into additional neural pathways to solidify concepts. Color-coding, drawing diagrams, and mapping relationships between interconnected ideas are especially helpful techniques.

Teach Concepts to Others – Deeply engage with material by explaining it out loud as if teaching to a friend or study group. This exposes gaps in understanding that need revisiting and solidifies knowledge through the cognitive work of coherently conveying concepts aloud.

Take Handwritten Notes – Physically writing out notes rather than typed can improve comprehension and retention by engaging multiple senses and encouraging summarizing over verbatim transcription. Diagram illustrations as a visual aid.

Master Strategies for Tests/Exams – Like any skill, effective test-taking requires specific techniques. Key strategies include carefully reading all instructions, actively monitoring comprehension of questions, deconstructing multiple choice questions strategically, managing time properly, employing tactics for prioritizing topics/questions, and more.

Cultivate Time Management Abilities Nursing school’s rigor necessitates exceptional time management abilities. Effectively deploying organizational and productivity techniques is crucial:

Use a Dedicated Calendar/Planner – Maintain a centralized physical or digital calendar blocking out all commitments – class times, clinicals, study sessions, work shifts, etc. Review it frequently and visually allocate time for responsibilities to minimize scheduling conflicts.

Adhere to a Weekly Routine – Beyond just scheduling, establish and follow a reliable weekly routine for recurring items like meals, classes, study times, workouts, etc. Routines reduce daily decision fatigue and increase efficiency.

Prioritize Tasks and Plan Ahead – Each day, week and long-term, proactively make a plan prioritizing most important tasks and responsibilities. Build in buffer time for unexpected delays.

Limit Distractibility and Procrastination – Identify personal patterns of distractibility and procrastination. Implement strategies like turning off notifications, working in dedicated distraction-free environments, using website blockers, rewarding progress, etc.

Focus with Time Blocks – Increase productivity by allocating focused time blocks for specific tasks without juggling multiple priorities. The Pomodoro method of 25 minutes of focused work followed by a brief break can be effective.

Prioritize Self-Care to Prevent Burnout Nursing school demands can be relentless, making self-care an essential requirement to avoid mental, physical, and emotional depletion. Critical practices include:

Get Adequate Quality Sleep – Sleep deprivation severely undermines functioning across all areas of life. Maintain a regular sleep schedule aiming for 7-9 hours per night. Good sleep hygiene like limiting screen time before bed is also important.

Eat a Nutritious, Balanced Diet – Proper nutrition provides energy, improves focus and mood, supports the immune system, and prevents long-term health issues. Meal prepping, keeping healthy snacks accessible, and limiting fast food supports this.

Exercise Regularly – Physical activity relieves stress, regulates sleep quality, boosts endorphins and overall mood, prevents health issues from sedentary study habits, and improves cognitive functioning/retention.

Practice Relaxation Techniques – Make time for stress-relieving activities like yoga, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, journaling, etc. These habits counteract burnout and re-center the mind.

Nurture Supportive Relationships – Maintain strong supportive relationships outside of nursing to retain emotional balance and a broader perspective. Loved ones reduce isolation and provide grounding.

Schedule Periodic Breaks – Ensure adequate rest by scheduling true breaks without any study commitments. Use this time to completely disengage through hobbies, entertainment, etc.

Create a Support Network A robust support network is invaluable for helping students navigate nursing school’s challenges:

Form a Student Friend Group – Within the first few weeks, develop study partnerships and groups with fellow nursing students. Regularly collaborating, quizzing each other, sharing notes/insights and moral support maximizes learning.

Utilize Campus Resources – Take full advantage of any tutoring services, academic coaching, writing centers, student counseling, skills labs, and other university resources.

Join Student Organizations – Nursing student associations, sector-specific interest groups or honor societies provide mentorship, networking, professional development, and supportive community.

Build Relationships with Faculty – Proactively build rapport and seek out nursing faculty during their office hours or review sessions when you need extra guidance, mentoring, or advice.

Don’t Go It Alone – Be proactive about voicing any academic struggles, mental health challenges, or other issues with instructors, advisors, counselors or other support staff. More assistance is available than students may realize.

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