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Being a nursing student in the midst of a pandemic is challenging, to say the least. Remote learning, virtual conferences, abbreviated clinicals, adjustments to the NCLEX®—these are just a few of the educational interruptions students have faced.

Though challenged, students are undeterred. Learning is still taking place, nursing programs are adapting quickly, and the demand for nurses is skyrocketing.

So, how does a determined nursing student thrive in the midst of turmoil? How do you overcome the interruptions and properly prepare for the NCLEX? How do you gain the knowledge you need to be successful on day one?

It all begins with a plan. And in the midst of COVID-19 precautions, that plan will look a little different than before the pandemic. Vaccines are being distributed and cases are dropping, but this pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon.

Here are three things you can do to build an effective pandemic study plan:

1. Start Studying Earlier

Whether it’s an end-of-semester exam, a clinical med math exam, or the NCLEX exam, begin your preparation time earlier than you might have pre-pandemic.

As we’ve seen, COVID-19 presents a variety of challenges in learning (some of which are unexpected). This is not the year to procrastinate in your test preparation. It’s the year to do the opposite: Give yourself extra prep time to offset any learning obstacles you might encounter.

2. Make the Most of “Found” Time

A study plan is all about building out a study calendar for the days, weeks, and months leading up to your high-stakes exam like the NCLEX. As you build out that calendar, be sure to make the most of a daily gift this pandemic has afforded you: extra minutes in your routine for study.

Consider these bonus minutes you didn’t have before:

  • You’re spending more nights staying in than you used to. Use one or more of those nights for NCLEX test prep.
  • With many of your classes being taught remotely, you’re saving some time each day. No getting ready in advance, no commute to class. Though virtual learning has its disadvantages, make the most of this extra time.
  • Many states and programs have had to reduce the number of required onsite clinical hours for nursing students. This is certainly a disadvantage. However, those hours of learning don’t have to be lost. You can use that time to study and practice with case studies to help develop your clinical judgment.

3. Lean Into the Experience

It’s easy to bemoan the challenges of learning during a pandemic. Why did I have to go through this? Why is this so hard? Am I going to learn everything I need to know?

But nursing is all about facing unique situations, remaining calm, thinking quickly on your feet, and making the proper decisions. Whether you realize it or not, the pandemic is actually preparing you for a career in nursing with each new day.

You’ve been met with a unique situation, and you’re staying calm, making adjustments, and moving forward one decision at a time.

Each day, and each patient, in nursing is different. Your ability to stay flexible and overcome obstacles will be tested on a regular basis. Consider your education during a pandemic as a type of on-the-job training—and lean into the experience.

It has been a year since COVID-19 drastically changed the way we live our lives. Thankfully, it appears the worst is behind us and life might soon return to a sense of normalcy. Until then, nursing students will continue adjusting to the COVID interruption and entering the workforce armed with knowledge and enthusiasm. If you’re one of these students, you’re going to have a story to tell for the rest of your life: You answered the call to become a nurse in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Teresa Mauk, MSN, RN, CME
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