HealthOctober 15, 2020

Helping students who are active on campus be successful in the classroom

By: Shena Williams, MSN, RN
Band, Cheer, Tennis, Bowling, Football, Student Government, Sororities, Fraternities! Many students enter college on scholarships for certain sports or activities.

Some students are excited to take in the college experience of a “sisterhood” and “brotherhood” by joining sororities and fraternities, while others find various on-campus organizations, clubs and places where they can socialize and have an active social presence. Many of these students are caught by surprise by the rigor of the nursing program when they are accepted, and in turn, they often struggle as they matriculate through the program and try to remain active in their extracurricular activities.

In schools of nursing that require pre-requisites such as the basic English, Math and Science courses, it can be easy for students to enter with a false sense that the study methods they previously used will help them be successful. While some may have mastered their study techniques, others are reliant on the testing style that consists of only knowledge-based questions, allowing them to do minimal studying and often memorization. Many students have also expressed their difficulty finding balance in their schedules. Many nursing students have problems planning when to study, complete assignments, prepare for clinical, participate in extracurricular activities and actually rest. This lack of ability to adequately plan their time and activities could prove to be detrimental to nursing students. It is imperative that those students understand the demands of nursing school early on. One of the most important things nursing instructors and advisors can do for these students is to provide them with early thorough advisement.

Advisement topics

Goals

One of the most important conversations that nursing students who are active on campus need to have with their advisors is about their goals. While it is important to never discourage one from his/her dream, it is also important to help them determine their goals and map out a plan to accomplish them. Goal mapping is a practice that could help the student to realize what they are embarking on and how realistic their immediate goals are while allowing them to take control of their destiny. Goal mapping also will allow the student to see the big picture and see what it will take to achieve their goal. This can also help the student make critical decisions on what should be completed first when looking at class assignments versus extracurricular activities. Ultimately, it will provide them with a visualization of what’s important for them to do at the moment.

Balance

All students, whether they are active on campus or not, need to find a sense of balance. Students must have some form of outlet to decrease stress, therefore persuading them to get rid of all of their extracurriculars may instead have an opposite effect on their grades. Studying for exams, completing care-plans, and doing other class projects, takes a lot of time. Some students may begin to feel overwhelmed, and as if they have “bitten off more than they can chew”. It is important when advising that we discuss with the students their hobbies, activities, and other methods of handling stress, including organizations they may be involved in outside of nursing. If they are able to identify one or two hobbies, they can incorporate it into their schedules, it can be encouraged to be used as their outlet at their most stressful moments. Of course, when talking to them about finding their balance, it’s important to discuss time management as well.

Time management and organization

When talking to the students about their hobbies, activities and finding that balance with studying and completing schoolwork, it is imperative to discuss how everything will be organized. Many students entering nursing school have not previously used calendars/planners and some have not realized the importance of time management. Personally, I have had to show students how to create a basic calendar on Microsoft Word using the templates, as many students would express that they did not want or could not afford the added expense of a store-bought calendar. It is also good to advise on resources they may not realize they already have. Many cellular phones have built-in calendars that are often underused by students. The school’s learning management system (LMS) often have calendars that are built into the systems and even connected to their email to which can send reminders. A key point when helping the student become organized is to ensure that they have a realistic idea of what it will take to be successful. Some of the things the student will need to plan include the number of hours they will need to study based on the courses they are taking, the dates when they have clinical and pre-clinical and the dates they will need to commit to practicing in the skills lab. Letting the students know and actually see the importance of planning ahead of time, will help them balance the extracurriculars and their courses more efficiently.

Study habits

Many students do not know how to effectively plan out their time to include adequate time for studying. When advising students, I have often found that they planned to study one day a week, or between classes. Many students also expressed that they would use the first exam to “see” if they need to change anything. This practice definitely needs to be ended. It needs to be explained to students the importance of studying more than one day a week and based upon the number of courses/credit hours they may be enrolled in. Ideally, they should shoot for two hours of studying per credit hour. Students also should be encouraged not to study to memorize content but to instead apply what they have learned. Supplying information regarding services that the school may offer, such as tutoring, library resources and other resources that can aid the student in studying and preparing for exams is also key. There are many organizations that students are involved in that also may offer additional help and resources to the students. Often, it is as easy as directing the students to the resources or mentioning what they need to ask for.

Keeping in contact with other advisors

Students who are active in athletics, student government or other university organizations often have advisors in those areas. As advisors and instructors, it’s key to know who those contact persons are. They can often add insight into additional resources available through their organizations and/or departments that are available to help keep students on track. Many of these organizations, especially athletics, actually track their students’ grades as a requirement and prefer to be warned ahead of the student “failing” courses. Of course, when consulting other advisors, organizations, and departments, it’s important to make sure we as instructors are following all laws, and not sharing personal information without the proper consent. I would highly recommend getting flyers, pamphlets or some form of services in writing from these areas stating what they have available so that they can be passed along to the students. This would ultimately put the students in control of seeking the assistance they need, while also avoiding any potential conflicts or violations.

Limits

College is a time where many students feel they are invincible. They are coming into their own, finding their independence and in the words of many students, “living their best life”. As advisors, it’s important to make sure that we help the student know their limits. While we want to encourage them to find balance, with their hobbies or activities, it’s important to make sure that students realize that there are only so many hours in a day. Students have to learn that they will not be able to do every activity or attend every event that is happening on campus. A prime example of this is during the college Homecoming week. This has definitely been found to be one of the most challenging times for nursing students. During homecoming week, each day events happening often from early in the morning until late at night. While many students were able to balance attending all of these events and still doing well in while they were in their pre-requisite courses, they need to be warned that they may need to scale back a great amount. Students are often pressured by their peers to “study later” or told that they’ll have time to complete assignments when they “get home.” It is important to have these advisement sessions with students so that as previously pointed out, they will be able to map out their goals. Sometimes showing the student the “big picture” will help them decide what’s best to do. It is also a moment that you can let them know about your past experience as a nursing student, or how previous students handled particular situations. Making the situation more personable is a major way to gain the students’ trust as well as let them know we as instructors are human and trying to help them as students. This is especially important while advising on limits because students often think we as instructors don’t want them to have fun. That we only want to see them study and have a hate for anything outside of nursing, while in reality, we really just want to see them succeed.

College is the prime time for many students’ lives. It’s a time when students are building new relationships, exploring their independence, and simply discovering who they are as adults. At this critical time in their lives, it is often hard for students to find a balance between studying and their extracurricular activities. Therefore, it’s imperative that we as instructors effectively advise students on how to find and maintain that balance. Using these tips should help to keep students on track and support them to be successful in nursing school while maintaining their social life.

Shena Williams, MSN, RN
Nursing Education Author, Wolters Kluwer Health
Solutions
Lippincott Nursing Education
Preparing today’s students to become tomorrow’s nurses.