Finding A School/Work/Life Balance in Nursing – Is it Possible?

Finding A School/Work/Life Balance in Nursing – Is it Possible?

One of the toughest things anyone in school or with a career has to navigate is the fine line between enjoying their personal lives and achieving success either professionally or academically. In fact, you’ll often see hordes of people drop out of school or leave a position at work because, for whatever reason, they can’t find that balance.
Finding A School:Work:Life Balance in Nursing
Kate Johnson

  ·  

February 8, 2024

Table of Contents

This is especially important for those in nursing school. It is no secret that nursing school is demanding and can be overwhelming. It is ultimately why many students each year drop out of nursing school. Before you consider that route, let’s dive more into the subject of finding a balance between your personal life and nursing school. Is it even possible? 

Some may say no, but spoiler alert! The short answer, in my opinion, is yes; though it’s important to note that it definitely takes some effort and intentional action on your part. Don’t fret, I am here to help you navigate it with all of my best tips that have helped me maintain and balance a full-time job, social life, family time, and good grades while in nursing school. 

Read until the end because we will also talk about how to keep the balance you have created once you graduate and take on your role as a professional nurse.  

Life Responsibilities While in Nursing School 

Your individual responsibilities in everyday life may already feel overwhelming, and nursing school just adds further complications. 

Everyone’s responsibilities look a bit different, though I am sure that you have family, friends, or loved ones and a social life. You might also have children and a job to contend with. Now that you are in nursing school, you also have clinical rotations, lab simulations, coursework, and studying added to your list of responsibilities as well. 

Unfortunately, our life responsibilities do not go away just because we are in nursing school. This can be a lethal combination that impacts your mental, physical, and spiritual health if you don’t actively seek ways to manage, cope, and balance it all. 

Tips for Finding Balance in Nursing School

As you may have seen, Liz, one of the educators at Lecturio, has shared her thoughts on this topic in the video above. She emphasizes the fact that you “can’t do it all” because there is only so much time in the day, so you’ll always have to sacrifice something. While I agree that you might not be able to do everything you’d like while in nursing school, it is completely possible to find a balance that keeps you sane and happy. It just requires thought and preparation, though you are already on the right track since you are here seeking a way! 

Here are the top 6 things I have done to handle all of life’s responsibilities, do the things I love, and still keep up with the mountain of work nursing school requires.  

1. Clear communication

The first thing you’ll need to focus on to find equilibrium is clear communication. Communicating your needs and struggles to each of your circles is vital. 

Tell your family when you need quiet time for studying. Ask your friends to send that invite anyway even if you haven’t been able to attend the last few events. Don’t be afraid to discuss how to complete your school work more efficiently with your instructors. Have a job? Be clear with your manager about what kind of time off you might need and how they can help. 

Those around you can’t read your mind, so to avoid friends feeling like you are ignoring them, family interference, and rocking the boat at work, make an effort to communicate clearly and often with everyone involved in your life. 

2. Ask for help/delegate

Building on the communication aspect, you will also need to ask for help and delegate any responsibilities that you can. Of course, you’ll have to communicate specifically what you need help with and see who can take the various things off of your plate. 

Maybe you ask your kids to take on an extra chore or see if a friend can come over to help you study so that you can socialize and work on school at the same time. Whether it’s big or small, it doesn’t hurt to at least evaluate whether there is anything anyone else can do for you.  

When you are juggling so many things, it is immensely helpful for those around you to handle just one of your responsibilities, if they are willing. This is one of the quickest ways to begin to build that balance between nursing school, work, and/or life.  

3. Prioritization

Another essential tip is prioritization. Though you may have a list of 50 things you need or want to do, each has a varying level of importance. 

However, keep in mind that the importance of anything is not determined by societal standards or any other external factors. You are the only one who gets to decide how important something is, based on how much it means to you and your own goals, happiness, and values. 

To aid you in achieving that balance we keep talking about, reflect on what elements in your life are the most vital, then prioritize those before taking on anything else. For instance, if your schooling, work, and family are most essential for you, then focus your time on those, and then any other time can be used for something else that might not be as high on your list. 

4. Plan, plan, plan

If there has been any one thing that has helped me the most in nursing school, it is to plan every little thing ahead of time. 

Make a list of all your tasks and responsibilities each week, then designate specific times for all of them on your calendar. Schedule anything and everything you can from study time and any work shifts down to when you will do laundry and make dinner. Ensure you leave a bit of a buffer in your timeline though, in case life throws a curveball! 

However, if looking at a schedule with too many tasks on it seems overwhelming, consider habit stacking instead. For instance, instead of scheduling out dishes and laundry, get in the habit of doing laundry during each study session you have scheduled, or make it routine that you always do the dishes before heading to your scheduled work shift. This way, you can thin out your calendar with only your major responsibilities while still ensuring you get the smaller tasks completed. 

5. Get comfortable with “No”

Truth be told, I am a “yes person”. Can you help me with a project on Thursday? Yes. Can you pick up this extra shift at work? Yes. Will you plan a party to celebrate? Yes. 

When asked, I can be notorious for saying yes even when I am already overwhelmed with responsibilities because I instinctually always want to help people. Since most people that go into the healthcare field have that same natural drive, you may be guilty of the same. Unfortunately, in nursing school, saying yes to every request is asking for disaster. Something will fall through the cracks, and in my experience, it’s often the one thing that causes 1,000 other problems. Okay, maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but the point stands. 

You have to learn and get comfortable with saying “no” to propositions when you truly don’t have the bandwidth.

If you are going to find any balance in your responsibilities while in nursing school, saying no to extra responsibilities is a responsibility in itself. Taking on something that will derail you is irresponsible, so avoid it at all costs.  

6. Pick a program wisely

The nursing program you choose or have chosen, depending on your situation, can make or break your school/life balance. Some programs are notoriously less flexible than others. 

If you haven’t already started nursing school, I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to investigate what the culture, standards, requirements, and schedule are like for each of the programs you are considering. If you are already in a program and haven’t been able to do anything in your life except school, transferring to another more reasonable nursing school may be an option you should at least look into.

What To Do When Overwhelmed

You might be reading this article because you are overwhelmed, feeling like you are drowning, and grasping at anything to get yourself out of it. Even if you haven’t reached that point, it is still good to be prepared in the event that one day it does happen. 

Survival guide rn

Online Nursing School Survival Guide

Learn how to thrive in nursing school with Nurse Liz

Let’s talk about what to do when nursing school has completely consumed your life and you need to get back to equilibrium. Here is my go-to recipe for digging myself out of a dark place so you can apply it to your own situation:

REST – RESET – RETURN

Rest

The first thing you need to do when you are feeling like this is drop everything you can to rest.

Your body is sending you a message loud and clear. If you don’t listen to it, everything will just be downhill from here. If you are anything like me, who has trouble resting or relaxing because their mind just won’t shut off, let me share the way I have managed to get better at truly resting. 

First, I do a brain dump where I write down anything that is on my mind. That might be a to-do list or thoughts about something I am struggling with. Regardless, the goal is to free up that mental space. Once I do that, I set a specific amount of time that I am going to practice my favorite self-care activities. Setting a specific time allows me to avoid feeling guilty that I am not getting my tasks done so I don’t stress myself out while I need to rest.  

Reset

Once you have rested your mind and body, it is time to reset.

My personal process is to assess what the biggest roadblocks are, come up with a few solutions, or at least consider what options I have, and re-prioritize my responsibilities. I also set new, realistic goals.

Return

The final step is to return to your daily responsibilities; except this time with a new plan based on your reflections from the reset period. Clearly, the plan that was in place before is not working, so pick a fresh direction. Then, with your revamped plan, you’ll be able to return to your day-to-day life and get back on track to success. 

Bonus Tip: Always make your return plan start with the most time-sensitive task! 

Balance as a Nursing Professional

So, you’ve graduated and now have started your professional nursing career. How are you going to balance your work and personal life? Luckily, it likely won’t be as hard as when you were in nursing school. 

Remember the tips from school

First, remember the tips from above. Many of my tips for finding a balance while in school can be applied to the professional world as well. Start by working through those, delegating where you can, communicating, planning, and prioritizing. You’ll be surprised at the difference it will make!

New options with a “real job”

Additionally, now that you have a “real job”, you have a lot more flexibility in ways to achieve a healthy balance between work and personal life. As a nurse, the bedside isn’t the only opportunity you have. If a traditional nursing job isn’t fitting well into your life, consider switching to one of the many alternative nursing careers.

If it is not the position that is the problem, most places of employment offer multiple resources you can use to have more of a fulfilling life outside of work. These include resources such as paid time off, free or discounted mental health support to work through strategies specific to you, and self-scheduling opportunities. Though it will vary depending on where you work, it doesn’t hurt to see what they offer that might help with balance.  

Work/life balance compared with other fields

As you know, it can be difficult to have a well-rounded life as a nursing school student, but I am sure you are wondering whether a career in nursing will be the same way. Compared with other industries, nursing can offer both a better and worse work-life balance depending on how you look at it. 

Nurses frequently work three 12-hour shifts rather than five 8-hour shifts, which means that you end up with more days off. Looking at it this way, nursing offers a greater opportunity for a life outside of work. 

However, the weight of the job as a whole is much heavier, and understaffing is more widespread than in other fields. So, in this way, achieving a work-life balance can be more challenging because you’ll often bring the emotional weight home and/or have to take on more during your shifts.  Ultimately, every industry has its pros and cons. Nursing overall is far from the worst career for a good work-life balance, and if you make it a priority, it’s absolutely attainable.  

Final Thoughts

Though some people might say that you won’t have any life outside of nursing school or as a professional nurse, don’t let them discourage you! 

I am living proof that with a little help, organization, planning, and diligence, you really can maintain a social life, family time, job, relationship, and all of the things that are important to you as a nurse and in nursing school. Start with implementing a few of the ideas we have talked about here and just keep working toward it from there.

Further Reading

NCLEX Changes 2023: All You Need to Know

From the moment we start nursing school, every piece of knowledge and skill we master is geared toward one goal: earning our nursing license.

How to Get a Nursing Job with No Experience: Tips for New Grad Nurses

Despite the high demand for nurses, nursing can still feel like a competitive profession.

A Day in the Life of a Nursing Student

As someone who has completed both a B.A. and a full-time nursing program, I won’t hesitate to say it: being a student nurse is significantly more demanding than pursuing a regular undergraduate degree.

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