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How do I keep my self-esteem up when nursing school is so hard?

Nursing school is hard. It’s meant to be hard. We wouldn’t want to be cared for by unprepared nurses, so at Nightingale, we strive to teach nursing learners to be prepared. It’s no secret that nursing school is a lot of work for learners, and, if they aren’t performing as well as they would like, this can lead to low self-esteem.  

Why is it important to have a healthy self-esteem?

Learners can sometimes feel like they’re not good enough, not strong enough, not awake enough, not smart enough, or not patient enough to become a nurse, which ultimately can injure their self-esteem and academic performance.

But do you know what is more stressful than nursing school? Being a nurse. In school, you take the class, get the grade, rinse and repeat. As grueling as school may be, in the workplace you’re dealing with people’s lives.

This is why it is important to set a pattern of healthy self-esteem early in your nursing education, so that when time comes to move into more stressful situations, your self-esteem doesn’t hold you back.

Psychologist Dr. Ken Shore wrote, “A student’s self-esteem has a significant impact on almost everything she does — on the way she engages in activities, deals with challenges, and interacts with others. Self-esteem also can have a marked effect on academic performance. Low self-esteem can lessen a student’s desire to learn, her ability to focus, and her willingness to take risks. Positive self-esteem, on the other hand, is one of the building blocks of school success; it provides a firm foundation for learning.”

Have you ever heard a little whisper saying you’re not good enough inside your head? Do you get especially down on yourself after an exam, and maybe have trouble making the feeling go away days or even weeks later? 

Here are some tips you can try to increase your self-esteem in school.

Make yourself a checklist of achievable tasks.

Have a lot of things to do today? Write them all down. Clinicals, homework, discussions…even getting coffee, no task is too small for this list. Put a nice square checkbox by each one, and check it off with a red pen when you’re done. At the end of the day, you can look back and see all the things you have accomplished. Plus, it feels really good to check boxes.

Study in groups.

If you don’t understand something, studying in a group can really help. You can also keep track of the classes, the assignments, and the schedules that are respective to each class. Surrounding yourself with people to encourage you will help you stay positive about your academics. Annie Dilling, the Summer 2017 valedictorian, said she uses small groups to be able to teach the content, because that’s how she learns best. She said if those aren’t available, she uses her husband as her guinea pig. 

Dispel that little whisper.

Whenever you think a negative thought about your achievements, think of something that you have accomplished. Replace the thought, don’t just push it away. Pay special attention to the thoughts that are broad and negative. If you’re having thoughts like “I’m an idiot” after a low score on a test, realize that you are generalizing. It is okay to accept that you may not be the best at one thing, but don’t let those thoughts broaden to everything.

Challenge yourself.

Once in awhile, do something a little outside your comfort zone. If you don’t achieve it on the first try, try again. Challenging yourself can expand your horizons and your capabilities. By increasing just a little each day, imagine what you could accomplish over a semester.

Remember to be grateful.

It is easy to think of things that are hard, the things that frustrate us, make us look bad, or catch us off guard, but we also have to remember those things that are going right. So you might not have straight A’s, but you are in school. You have your health. You made it this far. Think of the things that are going right in your life too.

Realize that no one is perfect.

Sometimes low self-esteem is a result of comparing yourself to others. Make sure to remind yourself that no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Everyone has weaknesses. Everyone is miserable at math (well, most of us anyway). It will do you no good to hold yourself to an unachieveable standard.

One of Nightingale College’s Values, Respecting Humanity, is defined as “A commitment to honoring and accepting every individual.” That includes yourself! Respect your own humanity, and realize that you will never be perfect at everything. We all come with strengths and weaknesses, and to be prepared as a nurse, we need to accept them.

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