Passing the NCLEX

Start preparing early.
Your NCLEX test date can creep up on you. It seems so far away and then….PANIC…it’s right around the corner. The earlier you begin studying, the less overwhelmed you’ll feel. Start small by buying a review book and trying out a few questions each day. Familiarizing yourself with the style and content of questions will help you figure out where you need to spend the bulk of your time when you really get into study mode.

Be consistent.
It takes a few weeks for something to become habit. Make NCLEX studying part of your daily schedule. Spend the same time each day and if possible, in a specific study spot. Having a regimen will give you a greater chance that you’ll stick with it.

Take that review class.
Review classes are worth it. Where else are you going to find someone who will condense an enormous amount of material into a need-to-know review book? When else would you sit in a room for eight hours doing nothing but NCLEX review? Nowhere! Review classes are worth the money.

Questions, questions, questions.
There’s no doubt the NCLEX has a distinct question format. In many cases, it’s more important that you catch on to how they want you to think things through than that you know all of the content. Sometimes you can go the other extreme, though—thinking into things too much can actually confuse you. The only way to find the balance is to do as many questions in advance as you can find. Your scores really will improve with time.

Practice deep breathing.
No matter what you do to prepare, sitting at that test station on the day of your NCLEX exam is completely anxiety provoking! “How many questions will I have? When will it shut off? I have no idea what the right answer is!” One of the best things you can do is stop every few questions to take a few deep breaths. You can’t do your best thinking in that worked up state. Make deep breathing part of your NCLEX review practice so that it’s second nature by the time you’re up at bat.

Scared to go Back to School for your Nursing Degree?

Going back to school when you’ve been in the real world for a while can seem completely foreign. Some subjects have been given a bad reputation over the years, but not to worry! Don’t let your fear of these 5 courses hold you back from pursuing your nursing degree.

Statistics just sounds frightening. But with a solid foundation of algebra knowledge, a good portable study guide, and a low threshold for getting some one-on-one help, it doesn’t need to be. Be proactive, have a plan, and you’ll fly through basic statistics.

Most nursing research classes serve to give you a basic overview of how research is conducted and interpreted so that you can effectively use research in your practice. Everyone worries about the papers they’ll need to write. The NSNA has a helpful guide to help you through a literature review. And Cincinnati Childrens has an online Power Point presentation with tips for forming sound research questions.

The key to mastering anatomy is memorization, memorization, and more memorization. Cramming for exams isn’t going to work. Setting up a calendar with the materials you need to study will. Buy a set of anatomy flash cards, like these from Elsevier Health and keep a stack with you to look over during your lunch break or while in a grocery store line.

Physiology can be challenging. It requires the memorization that anatomy does, but it also requires that you understand how cells, organs, and muscles function. It’s a wide range of complex information, so make sure you have a comprehensive study guide to help you focus on what you really need to know. Finding a few classmates for a study group can be a sure way to get through the material, answer questions, and cheer each other on.

Chemistry isn’t as scary as it seems! Once you get over the new terminology and that darned table of elements, chemistry principles are actually fun. For a quick free overview of a basic chemistry lesson, take a look at Pink Monkey and get familiar with all things atoms and electrons.

Forensic Nurses

It’s probably because I’ve based my understanding of how sexual assault victims are examined on what happens in episodes of Law and Order SVU or NCIS that I have been under the impression that police detectives and physicians are the only ones who examine the victims they encounter in the emergency room.  I am embarrassed to admit that, until very recently, I had little understanding about the critical real-life role forensic nurses play in caring for victims of sexual violence.  

Forensic nursing is a relatively new subspecialty of nursing, and the men and women who work in this career field do so in different settings and in various roles.  In the United States, the most common patient population for forensic nurses to work with is those who have been sexually assaulted.  I didn’t know that forensic nurses are often the ones who interview and examine victims of sexual crimes, collect evidence, collaborate with law enforcement officials and provide expert testimony. 

In a 2006 forward to the book, Forensic Nursing: a Handbook for Practice, Vice President Joseph Biden wrote, “Forensic nurses play an integral role in bridging the gap between law and medicine.  They should be in each and every emergency room.”  There is incredible value to having them there.  Victims of sexual assault suffer physically and psychologically at the hands of their attackers.  Without quality, sensitive health care, they may be forced to wait for long periods of time before they can be seen by already overworked staff.  They can be further traumatized during the invasive medical examinations, interviews, and evidence collection.    

This week, November 7-11 in Forensic Nurses week.  IAFN has created a documentary about forensic nurses.  If you, like me, could use more information about what these amazing professionals do, I encourage you to view it here:

Social Media and Nursing

Last week I attended an on-line webinar titled, “Nursing Guidelines for Using Social Media,” hosted by representatives from the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).  Both organizations recently published guidelines for nurses on the responsible use of social media, and the speakers discussed the recommendations in the context of real-world nursing scenarios.  

Social media offers tremendous opportunity for professional growth because if provides a platform for nurses to communicate, collaborate, and inform.  It has transformed how we interact with our colleagues and patients.  I can use Facebook to share important health-related articles and to keep up with happenings at the School of Nursing at my alma mater.  I can learn about events at my local health care services provider on Twitter, and stay on top of issues that impact nurses by frequenting and commenting on discussion forums for nurses. 

In their book From Silence to Voice, Bernice Buresh and Suzanne Gordon wrote that talking about nursing is our moral imperative.  Blogs, like Theresa Brown’s (, have afforded us an accessible means of sharing stories about our practice so that the public better understands what we do and why it’s so important. 

And yet, there is also tremendous potential for misuse.  In fact, according to a 2010 survey of boards of nursing, 33 of the 46 responders reported receiving complaints about nurses who violated patient privacy through the use of social networking sites.  Our use of social media has the potential to blur the lines between the nurse-patient relationship and to reflect poorly on our profession or our place of work.  Nurses at a hospital in Wisconsin were fired for taking a cell phone picture of a patient’s x-ray and posting it on the internet.  Nurses at a hospital in California were disciplined for discussing a patient’s case on Facebook. There are many other examples.

Despite the potential pitfalls, we shouldn’t avoid the use of social media; we should simply use it responsibly.  Reflect on boundaries that may be crossed when thinking about accepting a patient’s friend request on Facebook.  Consider the difference between venting about a challenging day in an on-line forum and in a chat with friends over a drink after work.  Be vigilant about safeguarding your patient’s privacy.  Know your institution’s policy on the use of social media.  If one doesn’t exist, advocate for and participate in the development of one.  Be familiar with the guidance ANA and NSBCA provided on the use of social media. 

But don’t stop talking about nursing.

Does What We Wear Matter?

During a recent (and thankfully rare) visit to a physician’s office, I wanted to ask a nurse a question. In the sea of brightly colored and dissimilarly patterned scrub-wearing people, I could not readily discern who was a nurse, receptionist, or nursing assistant. Only the physicians and nurse practitioners, in their street clothes and lab coats, were easily identifiable.

Whether or not to standardize nursing uniforms is an issue that has been hotly debated. Some argue, particularly in acute care settings, that what amounts to camouflaging nurses is a way to hide their dwindling numbers in staffing plans. Others applaud that the traditional all-in-white, cap-wearing RN has gone by the wayside.

In my case, finding a nurse was no big deal. I just asked to speak with a nurse and was quickly pointed in the right direction. (They do wear name tags in this practice, but titles are not always visible from a distance.) But under different circumstances–say, if I were hospitalized with a serious medical condition and being examined, questioned, and visited by multiple people with varying roles and responsibilities–I can see how this would be problematic. (Did my registered nurse just tell me it was okay to eat post-operatively, or was that the housekeeper?)

Some hospitals are implementing uniforms color-coded by role. Nurses at one New Mexico hospital will soon be wearing black uniforms to make them easily identifiable. Some are reverting to the all-white tradition, though in the form of scrubs and without caps. Nurses at some health care facilities are staunchly defending their desire to choose what they wear, so long as it adheres to existing dress code policies; while others are wearing white pants with any choice of top.

The way we present ourselves can and does impact the way we are perceived, not only by our patients, but also our co-workers. I’ve always been bewildered by those who work outside of pediatric settings but choose to wear cartoon character prints from head-to-toe. Or those who wear scrubs, not because they are so comfortable they feel like pajamas, but as though they actually were pajamas—wrinkled and ill-fitting.

Regardless of whether are not uniforms are standardized, one way professionalism is expressed in by what we wear. I’m all for making nurses more visible and identifiable—both for the profession and for our patients—but I’m not sure what the answer to the uniform debate is. I do know we should take pride in whatever uniform we are wearing. For me, that means wearing pressed, blue scrubs with my large-print “RN” nametag.