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Supporting Nursing Students: Overcoming Challenges and Providing Resources

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Before I became a Professor of Nursing, I served as a Completion Specialist at my college. In this role, I had the privilege of working closely with nursing students who faced various obstacles that affected their academic performance and overall well-being. It became apparent to me that nursing school, with its demanding curriculum and rigorous expectations, can be especially challenging for individuals dealing with personal struggles such as being a single parent, working full-time on night shifts, experiencing an unstable home environment, going through a divorce, facing transportation issues, or struggling with financial constraints.

 
 

When students face additional responsibilities and hardships outside of the academic setting, their ability to succeed can be significantly impacted. Students miss classes and are late the clinical, students perform poorly on high-stakes exams, and their mental health is significantly impacted. When we are lucky enough to catch these hardships early and connect students to the help and resources they need, they can bounce back from the bottom of the class. I witnessed firsthand the immense strength and resilience of these students as they persevered through adversity. They WANT to be nurses. They WANT to succeed. It is essential to acknowledge, validate, and help address the unique struggles they face, as their determination to pursue a nursing career while juggling multiple responsibilities is truly remarkable.


I want to shed light on the additional burdens that nursing students may carry and emphasize the importance of support and available resources to help them thrive despite these challenges.


1. Supporting Working Parents:

For nursing students who juggle the demands of full-time work and parenthood, a well-structured weekly schedule can be a game-changer. Providing assistance in creating a manageable schedule that accommodates work, classes, clinicals, and personal responsibilities can help alleviate the overwhelm. I've frequently assisted students with multiple responsibilities in creating a weekly schedule like this one:

When creating a weekly schedule with busy students, start with non-moveable commitments like class, clinical, dropping up and picking up kids, and work. Then add in study time, free time, and important activities for mental health like going to the gym/exercise, meditation, walking the dog. Of course, the more the student works, the less time there will be for free time since we would like to aim for 4-6 hours of studying per day.


Additionally, offering transparency by providing all due dates, class/clinical/exam times, assignments, and readings well in advance, and minimizing last-minute changes or additions, allows these students to plan effectively and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Planning ahead is VERY important for these students, especially if they really on help for watching their kids.


2. Accommodating Anxiety:

Anxiety can be a significant barrier to success for many nursing students. Anxiety is debilitating. I've seen students break down and cry because they forgot their exam log-in password, I've seen students hyperventilating during an exam because they were running out of time, and I've seen students fail exams because they were so afraid of their anxiety that they doubled their anti-anxiety medication dose and couldn't focus.


Recognizing the impact of anxiety, it is crucial to inform students about available accommodations. The most helpful in my experience, is extended time on exams. Connect students with anxiety to services available that can get them extended time. Most colleges and universities connect students with a disability support service that can assess their need for extended time.


While providing all due dates in advance, avoid last-minute changes. This is especially anxiety provoking and unfair to all students who plan ahead.


Sometimes it is also helpful to simply be available to students when they need to talk, to listen to their concerns, and tell them when their concern is based on a false belief/rumor. Many times students hear things from other students or previous cohorts that are simply not true and they need to hear it from you. Be patient and clarify misunderstandings- it goes a long way.


3. Addressing Financial Troubles:

Financial challenges should never hinder a student's ability to succeed in nursing school. It is crucial for educators and institutions to understand the financial struggles that some students face and provide appropriate support.


Students should feel comfortable reaching out to their professors and discussing any financial difficulties they may be experiencing. By establishing an open line of communication, students can inform their professors ahead of time about their financial constraints, such as not being able to purchase a required uniform or textbook immediately. This proactive approach allows professors to differentiate between students who genuinely can't afford the necessary items and those who are noncompliant.


Encourage students to explore various financial aid options that can help ease their financial burdens. Students may be eligible for scholarships, grants, or loans specifically tailored for nursing students. By providing information and guidance on how to access and apply for these resources, students can tap into additional financial support that can cover expenses like textbooks, uniforms, and other necessary supplies.


Colleges often have emergency textbook funds or student assistance centers that can provide financial assistance to students in need. These resources may offer financial aid or loan programs specifically for purchasing textbooks or uniforms. Students should be encouraged to inquire about such funds and explore the available options to reduce their financial strain.


Libraries or student assistance centers may have copies of textbooks that students can borrow, relieving the immediate financial burden of purchasing expensive course materials. Additionally, exploring alternative options with textbook providers, such as textbook bundling or e-books, can significantly reduce costs and make education more accessible for students with limited financial means.


4. Overcoming Internet and Power Outages:

In today's digital age, access to the internet is vital for research, assignments, online learning platforms, and even taking exams. However, some students may face difficulties due to limited or no internet access or power outages. This honestly came as a surprise to me when I found out how common this issue was. To support these students, consider providing information about free Wi-Fi hotspots on campus. Some colleges have entire garages where students can park and do their work with free Wi-Fi 24/7. Ask about extending library hours to accommodate their needs and don't forget to direct students to campus or community food banks for assistance during challenging times.


5. Establishing a Supportive Network:

Encourage nursing students to build connections with their peers, faculty members, and support services within the college or university. These networks can provide a sense of belonging, emotional support, and valuable resources. Office hours should be posted as soon as possible, create sign-up sheets to form study groups, connect students to mentors- faculty or student, and encourage formation of different groups during class activities.

 

Nursing students deserve every opportunity to succeed, regardless of the additional challenges they may face. By acknowledging and addressing the unique burdens they carry, we can create a supportive environment that fosters growth, resilience, and success. Together, we can make a difference and nurture the success of every nursing student on their journey to becoming compassionate and competent healthcare professionals.


Good luck!

Professor C.


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