Overwhelmed? What to Do When Your NP Program Becomes Too Much

I follow many nursing blogs and frequently have readers contact me seeking advice on how to make it through their NP programs.  I have observed one major theme in my online interactions with other nurse practitioners and NP students: a lot of us are overwhelmed.  Making it through your nurse practitioner program is frustrating, time consuming and challenging.  The fast pace of the NP education can leave you feeling as if you are drowning.  So how do you make it through?

Based on my own personal experiences as a nurse practitioner student and the fact that I was able to complete my NP program without completely losing my mind (some of my friends and family may not agree), I would like to offer a few words of advice to struggling NP students.

1. Have Reasonable Expectations of Your Performance

Ever heard the phrase 'sink or swim'?  This pretty much describes the NP clinical experience.  You preceptors are asking you to do things for which you are not adequately trained.  You feel like you have to know how to treat every medical condition known to man day 1 at the clinic.  When you start feeling the frustration and pressure your clinical hours are heaving upon you, do a reality check. "Even though my preceptor is a physician, I am not nor do I want to be, therefore I do not need to learn as much as them".  Or, "my preceptor has 15 years of experience working as a nurse practitioner, no matter how late I stay up studying, I will not learn all of this information in my first 15 days of my clinical experience".  You will learn slowly and it will be frustrating- but you will get it!  Even after you graduate, you will still be green and need to get some experience under your belt before you feel confident and competent in your work.  Keep your expectations of yourself and your abilities reasonable and the crushing feeling of your NP program obligations will begin to lift.

2. Prioritize

Now that the school year is in full swing you are probably balancing clinicals, paper writing and test taking.  Thanksgiving break cannot come soon enough.  Take your work one thing at a time.  Swamped with a list of questions you scrawled down during your busy day at the clinic?  Ignore most of them and pick the 2 or 3 that you feel are most important.  Don't waste your time looking up things that are probably insignificant.  Did you tell yourself you would do 2 hours of independent study every day so you can become a more proficient practitioner?  Well, you might not make hit your goal everyday.  A very wise high school teacher I once had drew the following table in teaching me to prioritize:

Place your daily or weekly tasks into a similar table.  Complete the 'Urgent and Important' box first, follow it with tasks falling under 'Urgent and Not Important', then make your way to 'Not Urgent and Important'.  You may not have time to get to the unimportant, less pressing things on your to do list but that's OK.  It is better for you to keep your sanity!

3. Make Time for Yourself

I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but if you don't take some time to your self every once in a while to relax and do something you enjoy, you will become stressed out, burned out and pooped out.  You have to get away from your nurse practitioner obligations on a regular basis.  Take a long walk, read a book or buy your favorite trashy mag and flip through it while you watch TV.  Cleaning your house does not count.  If you don't take a little time to get away I can guarantee you will not be successful in your NP endeavors.  You will end up bitter and frustrated.

Are you an NP program graduate?  What tips do you have for current NP students who are under stress?  Share with us by commenting below.

Comments

Hi Jennifer,

Just remember, all NP's, MD's and PA's had a huge learning curve too!  No one was perfect right away.  The most crucial advice I can give is to ask when you have questions.  Asking is always OK.  This prevents making mistakes that could negatively affect a patient's health.  Secondly, work hard!  Even if you don't know a lot, the recognition of an eager student and hard worker should be universal among your preceptors.  They will appreciate your positive and willing attitude overlooking your knowledge gaps and recognizing your potential.  

Erin Tolbert

Thanks for the advice. I tend to be a perfectionist which makes this whole process way more frustrating. I like what you said about keeping my expectations realistic. In nursing it seems that people expect you to know everything and are more critical of you when you make mistakes,etc. This is one of my biggest fears starting clinicals.I have to not compare myself to a physician or NP that has years of experience to myself however I feel a lot if pressure to know what they know and based off experience as a nurse a lot of them expect you to. I pray my preceptor has a realistic idea of what a beginning student knows and needs to learn. Any other advice is appreciated. Thank you:-)

Jennifer

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