In February, I celebrated being halfway through my degree. I had calculated on the train home from placement that day that I was exactly a year and a half in, and I had a year and a half to go. Where had that time gone? I felt elated, skipping home from placement, and even went out for dinner!
And then it hit me, once the pudding had settled and the eyelids started to droop – I’m halfway through! What do I know? Next summer, I’ll be qualified. I’ll be twenty-one and an NQN, experiencing things that my friends from school who did ‘normal’ degrees couldn’t even dream of witnessing. I don’t feel like I’m halfway! Every time I start a placement, it’s like walking into a brand new job; I start to get the hang of it and then I leave again. The imposter syndrome was real. And then I thought more deeply – so much has to happen in the next year and a half, and it feels like a mountain to climb whilst watching people in third year receive job offers and attend their last lectures.
If you’re a second year student nurse, or you’ve made it out the other side, you can probably relate to the above. Google ‘second year student nurse blues’ and you’ll find a whole host of blog posts and articles on the topic, and it’s not just a student nurse thing. The Guardian reported in 2015 that “a third of undergraduate students experienced a reduction in their academic progress during the second year,” due to feeling “lost, perplexed” and satisfaction in their course drops too. It has also been referenced in academic works. Tower (2015) et al. noted that the “sophomore slump” for student nurses was down to a lack of self-efficacy with regards to their academic work. More anecdotally, third years will tell you that you’ll pinch yourself in August – just checking that yes, you have made it out alive.
Granted, this all sounds a bit bleak. But there are definitely ways in which you can help yourself to make second year more bearable, and less like a mountain to scale. Whilst it feels like a long road, thousands of student nurses have gotten to the finish line before us and we can too.
- Plan your time! And plan your down-time!
Use diaries, wall calendars, apps – whatever you have to do to make sure you can identify that time you’re not in lectures/placement and then plan accordingly. Schedule in any extracurriculars, then identify where you can study/work on that essay/reflection etc. But remember, it’s all about balance. Block out time for a gym class, dinner with a friend, or a simple Netflix night for some ‘me time’. A good rule of thumb is sticking to a normal working week of 9-5 (when not on placement!).
- Keep home for home and the library for study
What I have found has really helped this year, is utilising the library and keeping home for home. By creating this divide between a study environment and somewhere to relax, my brain switches off for bed much easier, I’m not tempted to do work after dinner if I’ve already had that planned productive study block in the library that day.
- Eat, sleep, exercise, repeat!
Look after your body, and your brain. Meal prep, healthy snacks e.g. fruit/nuts, bringing a lunch instead of getting a meal deal, are all habits that are handy to develop if you want to nourish your brain for all that study! If you’ve got a period between a lecture and dinner or waking up and a lecture then get active; book a class at the gym, go for a run, walk with a friend or the dog. This is my tactic now to prevent myself from feeling like I’ve ‘faffed’ in between things and instead, I’ve done something positive for my body. It’s not always easy, but start small. Sleep-wise, the one thing that has helped me this year is listening to audiobooks/the headspace app before bed. I set a timer for 15 minutes and after 5, I’m usually out for the count! By focussing on the words, instead of what is whirling in my head, I get to sleep much quicker and feel better for it.
- Prioritise – say no…
I’m much better at this now. It’s only taken me 18 months! If something is not inspiring me, if I don’t feel excited about participating, I don’t feel I have much to give, or I’m simply tired and run down – saying no is the best thing you can do for yourself but also for the sake of others.
- Seek assistance with academic work
At year 2, you’re expected to be writing at level 5 with more critical analysis in your work. This is something that’s not expected in year 1 and hence you could expect to see a drop in your marks in that first year 2 essay. Try to seek assistance with your academic work if you feel you may benefit, such as seeking formative feedback, the learning development or equivalent team at your university, your personal tutor – there will be lots of resources available to you.
- Life isn’t all about nursing…
It may come as a shock, but when you sit down and realise how you spend your time and who you spend it with, it can be 99% nursing! From your extracurriculars to your friends, it’s important to realise that life isn’t all about nursing and keeping those friends around that are non-healthcare has been important for me to gain some perspective, to unwind and get my head out of the game for a bit.
- Keep and cherish your feedback
Any cards, comments, feedback from extracurriculars, anything – keep them and stick them up somewhere where you’ll see them every day e.g. the back of the bedroom door. This isn’t big headed, but builds you up before you crack on with your day, reminding you why you’re on this journey after all and that you’ll be a fab registered nurse in eighteen months’ time!
- Order your lists
Prioritise! I have a bad habit of making a to-do list, and then doing all the little, non-important jobs first in order to seem more productive, but then a whole day goes by and I haven’t worked on the big things. Order your lists in terms of importance and when you feel yourself becoming unproductive/distracted, do a ‘little job’.
- Don’t be afraid to speak about the bad stuff, but try not to catastrophise on social media
Twitter is a great place to feel supported, to seek advice, to engage with likeminded people, but what is also important is not ‘catastrophising’ and building something up to become a situation far worse than it is. For me in my second year, this has made me feel down and like things are futile when they’re not. Being a student nurse is hard, but it’s a team sport.
- Keep in touch with your personal tutor
Your personal tutor is there to support you too! Let them know about all the wonderful things you’ve been getting up to, but also when you may not be feeling your best. They are the best people to give you targeted advice.
Remember that we all end up at the same point, as a registered nurse with a beaming smile. Give yourself the best chance of enjoying the road by applying some of these tips. See you on the other side!
Written by Rachael Palmer (@PUNCrachpalmer on Twitter), 2nd year Adult Nursing Student at the University of Plymouth.