Why You Aren't Making the Grade

Learning how to effectively study in nursing school can be more of a daunting task than learning the actual content in class.  If you find yourself questioning the effectiveness of your current study method or you aren't satisfied with your grades, read on for 6 actionable study tips that will help you make the grade!

Are you disappointed with your grades after investing long hours and hard work? Click through to discover the 6 study methods you should try before your next exam to not only boost your grades, but also improve your understanding!

What is truly the key to better comprehension and higher test grades? Actively studying. Throughout my years of attending school, no one ever taught me how to truly study.  Before going off to college, I remember frantically scanning Google's search results for the best study tips.  I wanted to finally pinpoint a specific study routine that would generate the best possible grades, especially in nursing school.  However, I quickly learned that my study routine would differ slightly for each course.

The most important thing I learned is that it's not really about the amount of hours spent studying, but rather the way you study.  I'm sure you've seen this scenario unfold before:  A disappointed student holds a test with an unappealing grade in pure disbelief.  You hear them say that they read the chapters that were assigned in the textbook and reviewed the study guide and notes but they can't understand why their grade doesn't reflect their efforts.  In this scenario, it's questionable whether the student actually studied.

Too often students spend the bulk of their time reading the same material countless times, hoping that the repetition will force the content in their long-term memory (or long enough to pass the test).  But reading something over and over again isn't really studying, and yet this is a popular study method.

Well then, what is a better way to study?  Hands down, the more actively and attentively that you study, the more likely you are to remember what you are learning.  How do you study actively and avoid falling into the trap of mindless, passive studying?

Pay attention in class.

This is common sense, but I can't tell you how many students in my classes I would see tuning out the instructor, deep in a conversation on their cell phone or browsing the internet during lecture.  Isn't it important to spend the most attention when you are learning something new for the first time?  If you pay attention in class, you will actually know which sections of the book are worth reading when you review your notes later.

Rewrite your class notes.

During lecture, in my attempt to keep up with the instructor and capture all the main ideas, my notes would frequently look messy and unorganized, especially when I wouldn't print the accompanying powerpoint slides.  Going back sometime after lecture (ideally the same day) and rewriting your class notes is one wonderful example of actively studying because you are taking the time to organize your most important information.  Take the time to really think about what you are writing and why it does or does not make sense.  Incorporate symbols and pictures that can fit in your notes to help make the main ideas stick.

Find a youtube video that relates to the content.

It's easy for your eyes to glaze over and lose focus reading a gigantic, boring textbook that lacks colors and images.  Try to find a video online so that you can watch the information be presented in a different way. It's even better if the video features animations that you can reference when you're faced with a difficult question about the content.  And honestly, sometimes hearing someone else besides your instructor explain a concept can make a big difference in your understanding.

Challenge yourself by answering questions.

This study method is one that should not be overlooked.  Before each exam, you should dedicate time to soley answer questions related to the content that you learned.  Answering questions forces you to think critically and can reveal any weak areas that you otherwise may have missed. Your nursing school toolkit should have quality study resources that will boost your chances for success. Invest in Q&A books for each nursing subject or a few NCLEX review books and commit to answering at least 50 questions before each test.

Teach someone else what you've learned.

This is another powerful, active method that reveals whether you truly understand the content.  If you can teach someone else in a simple way that they can understand, you likely have a firm grasp of the concept.  This is where having a study buddy or group (link) comes in handy, so don't be shy!

Make your own study guides, tests, and quizzes.

I once read that you should be able to condense your notes to one page for each chapter. Sometimes this was possible and other times it was not.  However, if your notes are short, sweet, and to the point, it will be much easier for you to identify the main ideas and make your own study guides and tests with those main ideas.

As you can see, there is so much more to studying than just reading the same content repeatedly.  The more effort you put in, the stronger connections you will make with the content and you will have the knowledge and critical thinking skills to perform well on your tests.  Strive to incorporate most of these methods into your studies for maximum results.  It is no secret that the more unique exposures (audio, video, text, image) you have, the stronger memory of that concept will be established.

Be on the lookout for more in this how-to study series and let us know if you found this article to be helpful.  How do you choose to actively study and what results have you seen?

How to Study Anatomy

Hands down, anatomy is one of the toughest pre-reqs for nursing!  Learning anatomy is all about memorization and with bones, organ systems, veins, arteries, nerves, and muscles, there are easily hundreds of terms and structures you will be expected to learn.  But you can do it!  The best way to study for this course is to use multiple resources in order to commit what you’re learning to memory both faster and easier.  Read on to find out which study methods you can begin implementing right away to pass your anatomy course with flying colors!

Are you overwhelmed with anatomy? Click through to find out which study methods you can begin implementing right away to pass your anatomy course with flying colors!


Live in the Lab

Because there is so much that you are responsible for learning, students are usually allowed to visit the lab during “open lab” or “extended study” hours to get some time with the cadavers and models on their own.  Take advantage of this time!  Find the open hours that fit into your schedule and commit to going at those times each week.  The lab will be packed right before upcoming practicals/finals, and you don’t want to make that the only time that you try to study, because it will be a disaster!  When Kendra and I took anatomy, there was a clear difference between the students who spent more time in the lab compared to those who only went before test day.  Spending more time in the lab is even helpful for your lecture portion of the course because you’ll have those visual and hands-on experiences to guide you through the content that you’re learning.

Check Out Your Local Resources

Make sure that you are aware of what resources your school has to help its’ students.  I was halfway through my nursing program before I realized that there was an anatomy program loaded onto all of the computers in the medical library on campus.  No one had mentioned that this resource even existed!  Always check and double check your school’s library for resources like computer programs, human atlases, or study guides that would be helpful to you as you’re studying anatomy.

Create Your Own Models/Replicas

It is highly likely that you’ll have to build at least one model as an assignment, but why stop there?  If there is a topic that you’re having difficulty mastering, why not get crafty and design your own model to study from at home?  Taking the time to build your own cell, heart, kidney, brain, etc is a fantastic way to learn all the structures you’ve got to have down before your next exam.  Power tip:  Build your model loosely out of a substance like Play-Dough so you can easily take it apart and put it back together again until you’ve mastered that structure.  And don’t forget to show off your awesome work!  Have a parent, sibling, or friend admire your art and explain to them the structure as a whole and its varying parts.  Teaching your model to someone else will only further solidify that information into your memory!

Grab Your Crayons

You’ll need to make sure you’ve got your favorite coloring tools handy for our next study tip, which is to get an anatomy coloring book!  Coloring the parts that you’re learning is not only a fun way to study (hey, it beats reading that textbook again, right?), it’s also great if you are a visual learner.  Power tip:  Color code the similar structures to memorize them even more easily!  Students also like the coloring books because sometimes the diagrams are a lot clearer and easier to understand than the images in your textbook or lab book.  You can purchase an anatomy coloring book from major bookstores like Barnes and Noble, and Amazon also has a ton to choose from!

Make Online Flashcards

Because your success in anatomy is dependent upon how well you can memorize, flashcards are ideal study tools to use throughout your course.  Your flashcards should be very brief descriptions/functions (if you’ll also be responsible for some physiology) of the structures that you need to know.  In addition, if there is something that is unique to a particular structure, you definitely want to commit that to memory too (ex: The femur is the longest bone in the body).  Those unique facts are very easy to derive exam questions from!

So why do we recommend that you make your flashcards online?  The online cards are a much more efficient use of your time!  With a website like Quizlet, you can turn those online flashcards into tests/quizzes and even games from information that you’ve entered once.  You have the choice to study just like you would traditional flashcards, and then you can test yourself later to see how well you’ve mastered the material.  You can make “sets” of flashcards for each chapter that you cover, so it’s not like you’re scrolling through hundreds of flashcards to find what you need.  You can organize the cards to your liking.  You also have the option to study on your laptop/tablet, or on your phone.  So you can study while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store or whenever you have some down time.  I’m pretty sure that we owe the A’s we earned in anatomy to 1) living in the lab and 2) using Quizlet, so I promise you won’t regret trying it out!

Those are our five easy ways that you can effectively study for your anatomy course.  Anatomy is a tough class, but it can be mastered!  Which methods are you exciting about trying out?  What other ways are you studying?  Let us know in the comments below!

Common Nursing Interview Questions and Answers

So you’ve landed an interview (yay!), read through our epic interview tips, and now you want to know which questions you’ll have a good chance of hearing when you sit down with your interviewer!  Well, we’ve got you covered!  Read on to begin familiarizing yourself with some common nursing interview questions and ideas for how to answer them.

Are you wondering which questions you'll face in that nursing interview you have coming up?  We've got you covered!  Click through to read the common nursing interview questions with sample answers!


What are your strengths/weaknesses?

With only 30-45 min for the actual interview, it is very important that the interviewer quickly assess what you bring to the table and a fast way to do this is by having you identify your greatest strength and weakness.  This question showcases how well you know yourself.  For your greatest strength, reflect on what things you do well.  What do other people consistently say about you?  What have your patients said?  Identifying and speaking about your weakness must be approached with caution.  You certainly want to be honest, but you also want to make sure that your weakness has a positive spin on it.  For example:  As a new grad, I don’t have much experience, but I am committed to learning everything that I can and I look forward to beginning my career as a nurse here at XYZ Hospital.

Where do you see yourself 1 year from now; 5 years from now?

Your future employer wants to know your short and long-term goals, and more importantly for them, what your timeline is for going back to school to know when they’ll have to hire again.   If you plan to go back to school quickly, express your desire to continue your education in the near future.  As far as a 1 year plan, a very realistic goal is to be comfortable in your role as an RN on the unit.  Your 5 year plan could include aspects such as:  a desire to obtain a MSN or DNP/PhD, serve as a clinical instructor or mentor for a nursing school, obtain a professional certification, be an active member of a specialty organization, advance the clinical ladder, or orient new hires.

Tell me about yourself.

I dreaded this question the most because I never knew what exactly the future employer was looking for.  What they aren’t looking for is your life story over a 5 minute tale.  You’ll definitely want to be brief with your response!  If you are stumped about how to answer this question,  you can voice the basics regarding your qualifications.  For example:  “I’m a new grad from ABC University, and I’ve passed the NCLEX (or am waiting to take the NCLEX).  I completed my senior practicum on X unit at Y Hospital, and I am passionate about Z nursing.  I am excited to deliver innovative, patient-centered care here at ABC Medical Center.”

Why should we hire you?

Your future employer is likely interviewing multiple candidates for the position, and this question allows them to hear directly from you as to why you should be the top consideration to fill the vacancy.  Just like with the “tell me about yourself” question, you can answer this one by stressing the qualifications that you have for the job along with something that is unique to you and will leave a lasting impression.  Maybe it’s your ability to empathize with even the most difficult patients that you care for.  Maybe you are a fast learner.  Or, maybe you are the opposite and although it takes you longer to learn skills, perhaps you really take the time to perfect what you’re doing and you seek out opportunities relentlessly until you’ve mastered a skill.  Maybe you are a natural leader and whenever you were in clinicals, you were the one that your peers would always go to for help.  Perhaps you are a team player and never let a clinical day go by without checking on your peers or nurses other than those you were assigned to and assisted them with tasks instead of sitting idly by.  Demonstrate to the employer that you have both the qualifications and the characteristics to be successful on the unit and it will be no surprise when you are offered the position!

Why are you interested in this hospital?

When an employer asks you this question, they want to reveal whether or not you are truly interested in working at the institution, and what your perception of the institution is.  Make sure that you actually know something about the hospital you are applying to.  Take the time to research the mission statement and values of the hospital and let the employer know that they resonate with you.  Maybe the hospital has been the site of several groundbreaking studies and you’ve been inspired.  Perhaps you’ve heard repeatedly that the hospital is a great place to be.  Its’ Magnet status appeals to you.  You had clinicals there and admired the work ethic of the nurses and other members of the health care team.  Those would all be great answers to this question.

Tell me about a time when…

We hope that you’ve put your clinical journal to use because the bulk of your interview could be behavioral interview questions such as:  “tell me about a time when you had a difficult patient, worked with a lazy team member, had to call the doctor about a patient, had to work under pressure, faced a lot of stress, etc”.  When you are presented with a behavioral interview question, you’ll want to answer following the PAR method.  P is for problem.  You’ll want to briefly explain the problem that you faced.  A is for action.  Next, describe the specific action that you took.  R is for result.  You’ll then explain the result of your action(s).  You could also include whether or not you were satisfied with that result, and what you would do differently when you are faced with that situation again.

Seriously, we cannot stress enough how important it is to be prepared for these behavioral questions.  Never rehearse for an interview without throwing a few of these questions into the mix because these are the questions that your potential employer is going to use to differentiate you between the other candidates for the position.

Do you have any questions for me?

You certainly do!  Never let an interview conclude without asking questions!  If you don’t, you risk seeming uninterested in the position.  You should ask at least 3 questions.  Here are a few powerful questions that you should not leave the interview without asking:

Why is this position vacant?  If you could only remember one question to ask your interviewer, it should be this one, hands down!  There could be a multitude of reasons why your potential employer is hiring.  Perhaps there have been many nurses leaving on maternity leave or heading back to school.  Or maybe this unit characteristically has a high turnover rate (and you would certainly want to know that, because that could have a lot of implications if you are hired).  Trust us, this is a question that you’ll definitely want answered!

What is your policy for scheduling? This question will give you insight into whether nurses on the unit can choose their own work schedules or if it is assigned.  You’ll also find out if there are any scheduling patterns that must be followed.  Your potential employer may even go into more detail and explain how holidays are scheduled, and if they don’t, please ask!  You don’t want to have any surprises around the holidays!

What quality improvement measures is the unit currently working on?  This question will reveal to you the challenges that the unit is facing and how they are handling them.  It’s a great idea to ask this question because if you are hired onto that unit, you will be a part of those QI projects immediately!

What is an example of a recent patient complaint you’ve received?  This is such an important one to ask!  Not only does this question give you a sneak peek into what problems/situations you may face with patients on the unit if you’re hired, you’ll also learn how effectively your potential manager handles these difficult situations.  You could also ask the flip side of this question:  What is an example of a recent patient praise you’ve received, so that you can hear what nurses on the unit are doing well!

How will I be evaluated and supported during my orientation?  If the interviewer hasn’t already told you this, definitely ask!  You’ll want to know an estimate of how many preceptors you’ll be learning from, who are your additional support persons on the unit such as the unit educator, and what to do in case any problems arise.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of which questions you can begin rehearsing for your upcoming interview, and how to answer them.  These are questions that both of us were asked during our interviews and Kleneice had the fortune of being asked entirely behavioral interview questions!  As always, feel free to comment below and let us know which questions you’ve been asked!



5 Things to Consider About Nurse Residencies

If you haven't had any luck applying to traditional job listings online, there is another option that you may have overlooked.  As a new graduate nurse, you can apply to nurse residency programs, which are designed specifically for new nurses with less than a year of experience to ease the transition from student to professional nurse.  

If you're a new grad nurse preparing for the job search or you haven't had any luck yet, you may want to turn your attention to nurse residencies! Nurse residency programs are extended versions of orientations that have so many resources to offer for new graduate nurses! Click through to read about the top 5 things you should consider about nurse residencies!

More Thorough than a Traditional Orientation

One of the top benefits of nurse residency programs is that the training session of a new hire is much longer than a traditional orientation.  A typical orientation spans 6-12 weeks, which for a new graduate, can feel too rushed when there is so much to learn. In most nurse residency programs, training is spread over the course of a year to ensure a successful transition as a registered nurse.  Nurse residency programs understand that one of the main stressors for a new graduate nurse is tackling the learning curve on their unit of employment.  Between learning new skills, communication techniques, equipment, and developing organization and time management habits, it is easy for new grads to get overwhelmed in the orientation phase.  Nurse residency programs help new nurses tackle the learning curves they face by allowing a longer orientation that facilitates learning not only on the unit, but also in the form of workshops and simulations.  It is common for residency programs to divide your days between working on the unit and classroom time, especially during the beginning of your program.

Designed Specifically for New Graduates

Most nurse residency programs are meant solely for new graduate nurses or nurses with less than 2 years experience.  Nurse residency programs automatically level the playing field for new nurses because prior experience does not make one applicant more favored than another.  Because nurse residency programs cater to new graduate nurses, you can relax because you know that you won’t be the only new hire on the unit.  You will have an entire cohort that you can relate to (especially those that are also on your unit) just like when you were in nursing school.

Gateways for Those Interested in a Particular Specialty

A significant benefit of nurse residencies is that they can provide a pathway for those interested in a particular specialty.  Oftentimes, new nurses know which area of nursing they like the most after several clinical rotations and a senior practicum. However, it can be disheartening when it is time to apply for jobs and the specialty you are focused on is only hiring experienced nurses at the time.  At this point, a decision must be made whether to fight for a position in the desired field or settle for a job in a high turnover specialty like Med-Surg.
Within a nurse residency program, however,  you will often see a variety of positions such as OR, pediatric, oncology, ED, women's health,  etc.  If you are serious about starting your career in a certain area, then applying to a nurse residency program could be an excellent strategy to land your dream job.

Automatically Locked in for 1-2 Years

Because hospitals are investing a lot of money and resources into nurse residency programs to provide quality mentors, classes, and opportunities, you are usually expected to agree to a 1-2 year term of employment at the completion of the residency.  While the extensive "orientation" in a nurse residency can provide comfort for a new graduate, it is also important to think about what could happen if you do not like your new job as much as you hoped.  Be sure to find out if it would be possible to swap to another specialty or if you would be trapped in something you aren't fond of for a minimum of two years. A 1-2 year term of employment may not seem like much, but including the time it takes in the actual residency program, that is a minimum of 3-4 years at a particular hospital.  It is EXTREMELY important that you research the working conditions of the hospital(s) you choose to apply.  Don't torture yourself by investing 4 years into a toxic work place.

Taking the time to answer these questions is a good start:

Do the nurses feel like they have the support of their nurse manager and the higher level nursing administrators?
Are there opportunities for advancement for bedside nurses?
Is the workload safe and fair?

Very Competitive

Nurse residencies can be extremely competitive.  It is not uncommon for nurse residency programs to attract a significant number of both local and distant applicants, especially at the most renowned medical facilities.  In order to have a solid chance of being accepted into a residency program, you need to do your research and apply early.  Check out the websites of the hospitals you want to work at and search for any mention of a new graduate program.  

Ideally, you will want to start hunting for residencies available to you a year before you graduate. This will give you more than enough time to learn about the mission and values of the organization so you know what they are looking for in an applicant.  You can also usually find the name of the coordinator or recruiter involved with new graduate nurses and it would be an excellent idea to contact them as early as possible with questions about the application process. If you are interested in applying to a residency program at a hospital where you did not have clinicals or just aren’t familiar with, definitely set aside a day where you can go visit the institution, either formally or informally!

Nurse residency programs are truly wonderful options for new graduate nurses that make a significant difference in job satisfaction and the retention of new nurses.  The extra support and training that nurse residencies offer can help new nurses feel more confident in their transition from student to professional nurse and provide an environment where new grads can comfortably ask questions and develop their skills.  

Whether you choose to apply to a nurse residency or not, above all, take the time to investigate the places where you want to work.  Make sure that you will have the support of key nursing staff like your nurse manager, nurse educator, and higher level nursing administrators.  Your first nursing job may be exactly what you want or it could be in a totally different area, but it is not to your benefit to settle working in a toxic environment. You deserve to work in a place where you feel respected and supported as a new nurse! 

Best of luck to you in your job search!  Have we convinced you to check out a nurse residency program?  What have you heard about nurse residencies?  Did this post help you in any way? Let us know in the comments below!  You know we would love to hear from you! :)

10 Tips for an Epic Nursing Interview

Congrats on landing your interview, RN!  Because of your amazing resume and cover letter, you've piqued the interests of the nurse manager or nurse recruiter and you don't want to disappoint.  You definitely need to be prepared to make a stellar impression during your interview! Not quite sure how to leave a lasting impression that leads to a job offer?  No worries! Read on to learn our top 10 tips for an epic interview to seal the deal.

Congrats on landing the interview, RN!  Are you ready to make an amazing impression during the interview and earn the job?  If you're not sure how to leave a lasting impression, no worries! We've got 10 of the best tips for a great interview to seal the deal! Click through now to read!

Before the Interview

Scope out the Location

A few days before your interview, make sure you take a test drive! The last thing you want to do on the day of your interview is show up late because you were unfamiliar with how to get there.  While you're on your test drive, scope out your parking options!  An even better idea is to actually find the HR office or wherever your interview will take place if you have the time so that you know exactly where to go the day of your interview.

Practice, practice, practice!

An interview is all about execution!  Google some of the most commonly asked interview questions and jot down your ideal answers. You will also want to devote time specifically to researching and answering behavioral interview questions, which require much more thoughtful responses than traditional interview questions. (Hopefully you took our advice and avoided making the big mistake that most nursing students make each semester) Take the time to analyze what your strengths and weaknesses are and practice talking about yourself in a positive way. Practice answering questions aloud with a friend or family member a couple days before your interview.  When you are asked similar questions during the actual interview, your mind will be at ease because you'll already know how you want to answer the question.  Don't forget to practice "behavioral" interview questions!

Review your Resume and Cover Letter

Give your resume and cover letter a brief glance over to be sure that it is up to date, and that it accurately reflects the position you are being interviewed for (addressed to the correct person, objective statement is for the right position).  Once your materials are ready to go, make sure you print at least 3 copies to take with you.  Don't assume that you'll only be interviewed by 1 person! If there are 2 interviewers, you'll want to be prepared with enough materials. 

The Day Of the Interview!

Dress Appropriately

This one seems pretty common sense, but people still show up to interviews wearing the most casual of clothing options.  Do yourself a favor and dress nicely for the interview.  Don't be afraid of wearing a suit! Put some effort into your appearance by ironing your clothes and styling your hair neatly.  Keep jewelry to a minimum.  A nice watch is more than enough.  If you look amazing, then how can you not be confident? :) 

Be Prepared

Walk into the interview with a simple black portfolio with copies of your resume inside.  I also carried a small legal pad with me to jot down notes during the interview (mainly the answers to questions I asked at the end) You also want to take some notes of how you think the interview went so that you can use that information to guide your follow up email.

Arrive Early

Use that test drive you did the day or two before to arrive early. You'll want to show up at least 15 minutes prior to your scheduled time to show that you are punctual and professional.  You don't want to keep your interviewer waiting!

Collect Your Thoughts

Even if you've rehearsed for days on end, you will be asked a question that you haven't practiced. Don't panic! If you cannot immediately think of the answer to a question, give yourself a moment to think with a pause.  It is better to respond after a brief moment of silence than to stammer over your words.

Ask Questions

Don't let the interview conclude without asking your own questions.  Have a few questions memorized and ask about 4-5 at the end of the interview.  This will show the interviewer that you are truly interested in the position and that you care enough to seek more information about the opportunity.  Not sure what to ask?  Here are a few sample questions to get you thinking!

What is the typical nurse/patient ratio on this unit?
What are some quality improvement projects the unit is working on?
What is an example of a recent patient complaint?
How long is the orientation phase and how is it structured?

After the Interview

Send a Thank You

We cannot emphasize this enough! This is probably the key to how we both earned our jobs! You should absolutely draft a thank-you note when you are back home from your interview! Not only is this a great opportunity to talk about the highlights of the interview and reinforce why you would be a good fit for the position, but you will stand out even more.  People do not tend to follow up after interviews, which is a terrible mistake.  Send your note a couple hours after the time of the interview, and be sure to express your gratitude for the interviewer taking the time to meet with you.  It is also a good idea to mention something that you discussed during the interview in your thank you note to refresh that person's memory.  Lastly, you will want to state your excitement about working in the role you interviewed for.

Follow Up!

If you haven't heard back within two weeks, be sure to contact the interviewer directly either by email or telephone!  Let them know how excited you are about the position and that you are looking forward to learning of their decision.  You definitely want to reach out to keep yourself in the running for the position, especially if the recruiter or nurse manager has several candidates to consider.

Well, you're all set for an amazing interview!  Above all, the most important thing you can do during any interview is to be honest and portray your true self!  The nurse manager knows the characteristics of the employees on the unit, and can tell if you would be a good fit based on your answers to the interview questions and an assessment of your personality.  It is in your best interest to represent your true self instead of trying so hard to be an ideal candidate that you falsify or exaggerate information about yourself.  Trust us, being yourself will serve you well in a job interview!!  Good luck! :)

How are you getting prepared for your interview?  Did you find these tips helpful?  Be sure to let us know by commenting below! We would love to hear from you!