Jokes aside, dating a nursing student can be an arduous task. Nursing school’s double workload and emotionally-intense nature don’t blend well with the traditional college dating experience. But should that sentence you to four years of singledom?
The answer is no. You just need to find the right person (but isn’t that true of all relationships?)
Relationships in Nursing School: What Makes Them Vital
Relationships – and not just romantic ones – are vital during nursing school: they help you keep connected to the “real world” and play a significant role in protecting your mental health.
As future nurses, many of us are pushed to the limits of our psychological resilience. There are many reasons for this. First, most nursing students feel attracted to the profession because we are empathetic and somewhat extroverted. We tend to care, but we may not always know how to disconnect from what we see in our clinical rotations.
Plus, the healthcare industry has a penchant for sucking you in and taking over your life. Many professional nurses, doctors, and hospital technicians hang out almost exclusively with fellow healthcare workers.
If you grew up with a doctor at home, as I did, you might have noticed that it’s hard for them to carry on a conversation without mentioning their work.
Add to that the ongoing cycle of lectures, exams, “skill checkpoints,” and lack of sleep, and you have a recipe for burnout. Ultimately, we can’t give from an empty cup. Maintaining a network of loved ones (whether boyfriends, girlfriends, or just confidantes) outside of healthcare will help you build a “safe haven” where you can recharge.
Jumping Through the Hoops of Dating in Nursing School
Let’s focus on what we first mentioned: romance in nursing school. There are three main routes you can take, each with pros and cons.
Dating a fellow nursing student
Dating a classmate is an all-time classic for people of any major, and for obvious reasons: you will have many chances to meet and get to know one another. As a nursing student, this approach will come with two additional advantages:
- They know what it’s like: you won’t need to explain why performing a simple task next to that preceptor is so stressful. They’ve been there, so you won’t need to over explain your rants or jokes.
- You could turn into a power couple: you could get a study buddy, simulation dummy, and cheerleader all rolled into one (assuming you both have similar study ethics)
The downside? Well, there is such a thing as spending too much time together, especially if the relationship is still new. If things go south, you could also be making any future lab groups or clinical rotations awkward.
Plus, although things are slowly changing, nursing schools remain overwhelmingly female. For straight women, this could mean a relatively limited dating pool, especially if you try to avoid classmates from within your own cohort.
There is a “compromise avenue” for dating a nursing student: try to find a fellow future healthcare worker from a different program or year. In this way, you will still have a lot in common but can easily avoid each other or keep separate friend groups. Suppose you choose someone studying for a different profession altogether (medicine, radiology, or occupational therapy). In that case, you will also gain a different perspective on health that you would otherwise have less access to.
Nurture your pre-existing relationship
Many of us started nursing school already paired up or even married. This is more likely to be the case if you opt for nursing later in life or as a career change.
In this case, the main challenge is caring for that relationship throughout the coming years. The right way to do this will depend on your existing relationship dynamics.
Someone who already knows you and is invested in a long haul relationship will likely be willing to be extra flexible with your weird scheduling. Plus, after a particularly rough day, coming home to someone utterly untouched by the healthcare industry can often feel like a breath of fresh air.
On the other hand, your other half may feel left behind by your workload and healthcare colleagues. Often, we cannot choose our clinical shifts freely, which may get in the way of special events such as anniversaries. In these cases, I find it’s better to be upfront and proactive: warn your significant other of any possible clash as soon as possible first, and then try to trade shifts or reschedule deadlines.
It’s also good to be deliberate about making them feel like a priority. As soon as you get the schedule for each rotation or exam, make time for an afternoon together. Put it on both of your calendars, and take the time to daydream and discuss what you would like to do with it.
Whether it’s a dating app, a separate hobby, or a group of friends from a different academic department, you can also date someone who is completely outside healthcare.
If they are a fellow student, then you will probably still deal with similar crunch times. After all, midterms and final exams tend to be somewhat similar across the country.
This option is also great if you want to meet new people who are not future nurses and doctors. On the other hand, it can be tricky to get them to hang out with your nursing school friends.
As you move through the program and your conversation becomes more peppered with medical acronyms and “hospital humor,” your S.O. may feel left out.
If you are organizing a night out or house party, make sure to involve a good balance of friends from both sides.
There’s More to Love than Romance: Nurturing your Other Relationships
Romantic relationships are not the only ones that risk falling to the back of the priority queue during nursing school. After all, four years is too long to rely on only one person – so what about your other cliques, crews, or Sunday football mates?
Getting through nursing school will require a more comprehensive support network than just a partner. Although your odd hours may make “regular” socializing challenging, try the following tips:
- Cultivate an outside hobby: board games, hiking, stargazing or collecting celebrity cameos. Dive into an outside activity purely for the fun of it, and get to know the people who come along.
- Schedule “friend dates” with your main circles: Whether it’s your favorite cousin or your old teammates from high school, don’t put them off until graduation. Call them up every once in a while and hang out.
- Make a social round during the holidays: The summer and Christmas seasons are an excellent opportunity for fun and to thank the people who have stood by your side over the past year. Why not call them and let them know?
- Keep the hospital outside the club: if you are partying with fellow nursing students (especially after finals), make a “no hospital talk” rule. This will help you know them better as people, not just future colleagues, and create more lasting friendships.
Allies and Mentors: Leaning on Other Nurses
As important as having a circle outside your profession, fellow healthcare workers – and especially other nurses – can be instrumental for your mental health.
This is especially true nowadays, when many hospitals still oscillate between regular periods of “lean staffing” and pandemic-related surges. Ultimately, all the members of a healthcare team (and as a nursing student, you are a part of it) need to rely on one another.
Whenever possible, try to ease other people’s workloads. If you have any downtime during your clinicals, try to shadow one of the CNAs or patient care techs. Their contributions often go unrecognized, plus you’ll gain the chance to practice some of your basic skills (or even develop an ally if things ever get hairy).
You should also consider approaching an older staff nurse you admire or have worked with in the past. After that rotation is over, keep in touch and ask them as much as possible about their speciality. Go to them for advice if you ever feel shaken over something you saw.
Despite the stereotype of “nurses eating their young,” many nurses out there are happy to help students, especially if you approach them respectfully and in private.
As for your fellow students, especially those in your cohort: they are your allies, not your competition. Ultimately, their success will increase your school’s reputation, and there are enough nursing jobs and license numbers for all of you. Help each other out when it’s time for a practical exam, help them make a good impression when a preceptor or head of department is visiting, and check in on them after work hours.
Relationships during nursing school can be a lifeline, and they can provide you with a safe space to leave work and school behind. Dating as a nursing student, and keeping in touch with your old friends, will require you to seek out the people you care about – even if you are not available during “regular hours.”
By the end of the journey, you will have gained a richer life, plus a good outlook on the people who seem to be in it for the long haul.