“Should I quit nursing school?”
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.
(John Greenleaf Whitter, “Don’t Quit”)
It’s confession time. I almost quit graduate nursing school. I was a click away from quitting and withdrawing from my Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program during my second semester.
I was commuting to school 70 miles one way, four days a week through some of the worst winter weather my part of the country had seen in years. I was taking my Pharmacology requirement, which was difficult, to say the least. I was also having my first real introduction into advanced, evidenced-based research.
To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
After the first couple of weeks, I thought my head and my heart were going to explode. The stress levels I was experiencing were indescribable since it wasn’t just the classroom material that was putting me over the edge; it was everything else outside of the classroom.
You name anything, it was causing some degree of stress. Job, money, relationships, physical health, etc. were all weighing on my shoulders. It felt like the walls were closing in on me.
Quitting would have been easy. It would have fixed most of my problems. I had researched the possibility of transferring to a different school, but that wasn’t an option for me.
I didn’t want to quit, but I couldn’t keep going down the path I was traveling. Something was going to break, and I was afraid to find out what would give out first.
So what did I do? I talked. I talked it out with my wife. I talked it out with my family. I talked it out with my friends. I talked, then talked some more.
I talked until I couldn’t talk anymore, then I started to write.
I wrote down all the things that were sources of stress. Then I wrote down immediate and long-term solutions to eliminating them.
Then I wrote some more.
I wrote out a list of pros and cons to my status and journey as a graduate student. The pros and cons of quitting versus the pros and cons of toughing it out.
Those couple of weeks were pretty dark in the book of my life. I mean, I can remember not sleeping for days. I remember how it hurt to breathe. I remember how it was a chore to blink.
In the end, as you can guess, I toughed it out. I had A LOT of support. I kept talking and still continue to talk. This journey through graduate school has not been easy, and I would NOT have been able to do it alone. I had a lot of help.
I can imagine that there are many other nursing students out there who have visited these same crossroads. I’m here to tell you that toughing it out is worth it. Every step of the way it has been worth it. Every hour of sleep I’ve lost and every dollar I’ve borrowed has been worth it.
If you’re thinking about quitting, here’s my advice:
1. Talk it out
- WITH WHOMEVER. Heck, if that means “taking to the internet” and scouring various discussion boards, then do it. Just talk to someone. I guarantee you are not alone in your situation.
2. Write it out
- After I saw it all on paper, it relieved 25 percent of my stress. Get it out and leave it out of your head.
3. Make a list
- List your pros and cons. List them out by priority, both short- and long-term. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
4. Get inspired
- I love reading and watching inspirational media. It helps, I promise.
5. Don’t expect perfection
- Some aspects of your stress will never go away. Figure out what is beating you down and fix that, one day at a time. When you have a better handle on the immediate, work on the long-term. Don’t stress over needing to be perfect.
I’m living proof that you can do it.
Here are some great inspirational resources that I’ve enjoyed:
Sean Dent is a second-degree nurse who has worked in telemetry, orthopedics, surgical services, oncology and at times as a travel nurse. He is a CCRN certified critical care nurse where he's worked in cardiac, surgical as well as trauma intensive care nursing.
After five years practicing as an RN, Sean pursued and attained his Masters of Science in Nursing. Sean currently practices as a Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) in a Shock Trauma urban teaching hospital.
He has been in healthcare for almost 20 years. He originally received a bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sport Science where he worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC).
By Sean Dent