Military-Inspired Tips for How to Survive Nursing School

If you are thinking about attending an ABSN program, we have eight military-inspired tips for you on how to survive nursing school from mental preparation to staying organized to forming a camaraderie with your peers. We can also connect you to an accelerated nursing program that best suits your needs.

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Given the intense, fast-paced nature of a 16-month ABSN program, you could easily consider it the "Navy SEAL training" of nursing school. Because to succeed, you must be willing to put your blood, sweat and tears into your education. But don’t worry; here are 8 military-inspired tips on how to survive nursing school.

1. Mentally prepare yourself before nursing school.

Through mental preparation, we, as human beings, are better capable of enduring and surviving tough situations. That’s why it’s important for you to wrap your head around the challenges of nursing school before applying to an ABSN program.

It also helps to read as many nursing student blogs and relevant articles as you can before classes begin. In doing so, you’ll gain a true sense of what nursing school is really like and be able to plan accordingly.

This kind of mental preparation isn’t all that much different from how Navy SEALs condition their minds in advance of emergency situations. Known as emergency conditioning, this mental preparedness tactic enables soldiers to produce the psychological strength they need in times of crisis.

Nurse helping patient with monitoring blood pressure

Aside from being mentally prepared, you must be prepared to put your best foot forward on your nursing school applications if you want to get in. See our five hacks that will help you get into the ABSN program of your choice.

2. Visualize a successful future in nursing.

If you’re like most ABSN students, there will be times when you feel like succumbing to the stresses of nursing school. This is where thinking like a Navy SEAL can help you stay the course.

As part of their mental fitness regimen, SEAL candidates develop what’s called a trigger image — a mental picture of the single most important thing in their lives — to help get them through “Hell Week,” the toughest stint in their Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training.

Over the course of 110 sleepless hours, these aspiring SEALs face insurmountable challenges, many of which induce panic and thoughts of death. In times of darkness, these men look to their trigger images to ignite many of the essential qualities needed for survival.

As an ABSN student, your trigger image could be a vision of you holding your nursing degree amid a cheering crowd of friends and family. When times get tough, visualize this scenario to help remind you that 16 months of accelerated study is a small price to pay for a highly rewarding nursing career.

3. Stay positive while in the throes of nursing school.

While in the throes of nursing school, be sure to practice positive self-talk because it’s a great way to boost your confidence, and it’s one of the most important tips when it comes to how to survive nursing school. Think of positive self-talk as the optimistic voice inside your head that looks on the bright side of life, telling you that you’re going to ace that exam. The story of “The Little Engine That Could” is the perfect example of this philosophy.

nurse walking to clinicals

Positive self-talk can be useful anytime, anywhere. In his book “Barking Up the Wrong Tree,” Eric Barker writes, “When the Navy started teaching BUD/S applicants to speak to themselves positively, combined with other mental tools, BUD/S passing rates increased nearly 10%.” While there may not yet be an equivalent study done on nursing students, it would make sense that they might experience similar results.

4. Keep your ABSN coursework highly organized.

At the start of nursing school, you’ll probably feel like you’re drowning in a sea of reading assignments, lab activities, exams and the like. There are, however, things you can do to stay afloat, such as planning ahead, staying organized and fine-tuning your schedule.

In fact, a physical planner, along with the time-blocking method, is one of the best tools you can use to effectively manage your time while in nursing school.

You might also try channeling the meticulous planning skills of Navy SEALs. These military members focus on the importance of time management, on-target execution and completing the mission. They also have a backup plan in place for almost every scenario. Following their example will ensure that you have everything in order, even when life doesn’t go as planned.

5. Embrace change for ABSN program success.

Whether you’re an ABSN student or a SEAL candidate, to be successful in your endeavors, you must be able to easily adapt to new information, different environments and evolving scenarios. Consider the following quote from the late author and LSU professor Leon C. Megginson: “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”

Nursing school will be unlike any other educational experience you’ve ever had. It will be intense, and the curriculum style will likely be new to you. And while this may be initially a bit of a surprise, you’ll find that this change will prepare you for your dynamic career as a nurse where you’ll find no two days are ever the same.

track and field runner jumping over a hurdle

It is without question that you will face some challenges while in nursing school, but exactly how hard are accelerated nursing programs? We explain how these programs work and what you’ll need to do to succeed.

6. Form a camaraderie with fellow ABSN students.

It’s important to form a camaraderie with others in your nursing cohort. Because, more times than not, your fellow classmates are experiencing the same struggles and frustrations as you.

Not to mention, unless they’ve been one, your family and friends can’t relate to what it’s like being an ABSN student, which makes it impossible for them to offer you the same level of support and encouragement as your peers.

Even the Navy encourages those in BUD/S training to form bonds with one another and function as a single cohesive unit to get through the darkest moments of SEAL preparation.

7. Don’t shun sleep when you’re a nursing student.

To thrive as an ABSN student, you’ll need to put certain aspects of your life on hold, so that your studies can become a top priority. However, that’s not to say you should eat, sleep and breathe nursing school. Because, if you do, you just might find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster fueled by caffeine, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and the like.

Much of the exhaustion nursing students face stems from self-neglect, which is another reason for getting a physical planner and using the time-blocking is important. By allotting time for every aspect of your life, you can keep up with your studies and self-care.

Think of it this way; the more sleep you get, the better nursing student you’ll be. Your mind and body just can’t function properly without sleep. When you’re tired, you’re less likely to remember important facts and comprehend complex concepts.

You might also consider the fact that the patients you encounter during your clinical rotations could be at risk if you’re low on rest. Lack of sleep, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, hinders your ability to make good decisions as well as slows down your reaction times.

Nurse walking through hallway

8. Practice self-care throughout nursing school.

When the Navy recommends its aspiring SEALs to get massages outside of training to help their bodies recover quicker, it’s easy to see just how important self-care becomes when you’re pushed to the limit. Getting a weekly massage is also a great self-care ritual for ABSN students.

There are, however, plenty of other ways you can relax and recharge your mind and body so that you can stay focused during your studies. From taking a walk to watching a movie, your self-care ritual can be whatever you want — just as long as it leaves you feeling refreshed and grounded.

No pain, no gain.

While nursing school and BUD/S training are taxing in very different ways, both are intense paths that challenge participants in ways they never thought possible. And the result? Only the best of the best makes it to graduation.

Just know that if you’re passionate about becoming a nurse, the 16 months you’ll spend in an ABSN program will be well worth it. By earning your BSN, you’ll be able to pursue employment in one of more than 100 nursing specialty areas, care for patients in any number of health care settings and secure employment pretty much anywhere in the country — all while earning a decent salary.

Need help finding an ABSN program?

Ready to put these tips on how to survive nursing school to the test? If you have an undergraduate education outside of nursing, we can help connect you with accredited ABSN programs that align with your qualifications. Simply complete our online form. We offer this as a free service, and you are not obligated to attend any of the nursing schools that contact you.

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