Post-secondary education can be a life-changing experience for most people. It is a challenging but exciting time to gain knowledge and develop professional skills for a successful career and for life itself in the long run. Nursing school is no different. It shapes the minds of nursing students, challenging them to give it their all to ultimately become great healthcare workers and better human beings for their future patients.
To dig deeper into the post-secondary experience in nursing schools, we recently spoke to Skye Moore, a fourth-year full-time nursing student from Toronto who walked us through a day in her life, both pre and post-pandemic. She also shared recommendations based on her experience to help other students and future students to succeed in a university-level academic setting.
Pre-COVID, I was in-person full-time in my first and second year of the program. On the days that I would have classes, I would wake up probably around six, get ready to have breakfast, pack my stuff and run out the door and then spend a number of hours on campus.
I live fairly close to campus. (My commute) was maybe about half an hour, 40 minutes on the TTC, depending on traffic.
Whether that was for a full day of lectures or a lab day or a mix of both. In between, I would go to the library, study, panic over deadlines, or also just have a cup of coffee with a friend in between. You know, just hanging out around downtown I guess if there were larger breaks.
I would go to my clinical placement in the first two years of my program. In your clinical placement experience, you're in a group of eight students with one clinical instructor and you all go to the same practice about once a week, every week, for 12 weeks. Back in those times, you did not have to wear a face mask like a surgical mask unless it was warranted for if the person was on some kind of contact precaution or even just there was something that smelled unpleasant and you could just pop that on.
Skye explains that she is currently in her final semester and that all of her classes are virtual because of the pandemic.
"I am only taking two courses right now. One is my nursing practice course, and then the other one is a professional nursing elective course. And I'm taking women's health. So currently Monday is my, I guess, school day. So I have my women's health class early in the afternoon and then my conference group for the practice course late afternoon, early evening," she says.
"And then the rest of the week I'm at my clinical placement. I'm at a long-term care home this semester. It's a very different experience than my past, my past clinical rotations mostly, which is in acute care and like medical, orthopedic, rehab," she adds.
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Honestly, this is an unconventional answer. I think most people go with "oh, my mom or my sister or grandmother, whoever was a nurse, and I wanted to do that." That's not really the case for me. My mom and my grandmother did work at a big downtown hospital a long time ago, and they always liked that, so I guess there was some of that influence growing up.
But honestly, I want a good job after graduation, something that's "pandemic proof", "recession-proof", that you can, I guess, take anywhere. And just knowing that I'm doing something good with my life and impacting the lives of others in a positive way. Yeah, I guess that's why. I try to be practical whenever I can.
I want to say maybe yes and no. I would say no because I found that high school did not prepare me at all for university. It didn't prepare me for the practicalities of starting my adult life. So there was a significant learning curve in that respect.
Also, in high school, I was pretty much a straight-A student, I finished high school with an 85 average; and when I was in my first year, you know, getting like a B-minus was considered great. And I know myself and a lot of my peers had a hard time. We would study so hard for a test and then get like a B-minus or a C plus, and be like "how is this even possible." Post-secondary is completely different from high school.
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Honestly, I think finding a few really good friends within the first maybe month or two of classes, you know. You form a group, not necessarily just as a study group, but just a few really good friends that can help you when you need it. You can help them when they need some more support, but also just to make their quality of life better.
Navigating the intricacies and the complexities of post-secondary life and trying to join student support groups, if they're offered at any given college or university, as a first-year anatomy group. They had that when I was in the first year, and each week they had a senior student from the program come in and talk to us about what the professor talked about in the last week, broke it down, and just helped to put it into more plain English if that makes sense.
I did, yes. When I was in my first year, the school was offering a mentorship program so you could be matched with a third or fourth-year student from your program or a program within the same faculty. And they were like a big buddy almost. They would answer questions to tell you about their experiences and it was kind of like a big brother, little brother kind of thing. You could go and they would take you up for lunch or coffee or just hang out on campus.
So my first clinical placement was at a long-term care home. This was March of 2018 as a first-year nursing student. We didn't have training for more of the advanced skills like injections, medication, administration, wound care, that kind of thing. It was mostly like therapeutic communication, how to transfer someone from a wheelchair, wheelchair to bed, feeding personal care, that kind of thing.
In the lab, you have mannequins and you can use your friends to play a situation. But when you're in real life and you're dealing with older people in long-term care... you don't know these people, they are strangers to you and they have different physical issues, being older. Maybe they have arthritis or a hip replacement that makes it harder for them to get around in comparison to someone who's 22 and they don't have any issues getting around.
I guess the real world, what you do in your clinical practice setting and then when you graduate from what I've heard from other people, is totally different than what you learn in school.
That's a loaded question. I wish I knew what were good study methods. I didn't have that opportunity to be given those tips and tricks in high school. And then when I started university, it was pretty much "figure it out yourself." So definitely that and how to do scholarly writing and do AP formatting. I really struggled with that for my first two years of the program.
Then once I kind of, humbly say, mastered it; still not perfect but close. When I started school, they were using the 6th edition for AP, and then this year, some of my nursing classes wanted us to use the AP 7th edition, but we were never really given a formal interactive classroom... It's not for the faint of heart.
Another thing that might be totally new when you make the jump from high school to post-secondary would be time management. That's something I've struggled with on and off for a good chunk of my teenage and adult life, especially in post-secondary. A lot of people have part-time jobs. They have lots of other personal relationships that they're trying to balance in addition to being a full-time or part-time student, tests, readings, homework practicum. So it's actually very overwhelming. But when you have the right support system and you're able to dedicate time for certain things, balancing your professional life and your personal life, you'll have a more successful result in the end.
I would say really make sure that you research the programs you want to apply to, whether that's the university, college, or the collaborative programs where a university has partnerships with college sites. If you're able to go to an open house, whether that's virtual or in-person, speak to the faculty; maybe they would have some representatives from student groups, like a first-year student rep, for example.
And honestly, if there's a way to even connect through social media with students in whatever nursing program that that person is interested in, to really get a real-life sense of what an individual's experience is like. However, also being mindful of just because someone has a good or bad experience doesn't mean that you're going to have the same result.
It's just realizing that it's a very personal experience for you becoming a nurse and going through that kind of health science program. And even in my time in the program, I've also met some adults who it's a second career for them that are in their maybe late thirties, early forties. They've got a couple of kids, they're married, they've got a home, so really making sure that you're supported through family and friends and that the schools also do have quite a number of supports for people, of mature students, international students, a second career that you're not going to be alone and that there are lots of supports in place. You just need to know where to look.
I will be done in April. Thankfully, I don't have any final exams and very grateful for that. But once I get my degree, I plan on writing the NCLEX, which is the board licensing exam. So once I pass that, I'll be a registered nurse. I'll register with the College of Nurses of Ontario and then I can practice anywhere in the province.
My dream job would be to work for public health for the city of Toronto. Maybe outpatient care and some kind of clinic at a hospital or community. But other than that, I guess down the road I'd like to go back to school and do something else in the future. But that's a while away.
As a final comment, Skye gave us her impression of the Caring Support platform. "I appreciate the support and the care, no pun intended. Caring Support is a great platform for people of any, I guess, health care background, looking for more flexible employment," she said.
To listen to this interview on our podcast, click here. Feel free to leave your comments about your nursing school experience, a regular day in your life, if you're a nursing student or a nurse already, and any questions you may have about this topic.
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