Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Estelle's Guide to Nursing School: Part 3 - Getting Your Act Together

Or “I would lose my freaking head if it wasn’t attached to my body.”

I’d like to start off by telling ya’ll that staying organized in nursing school isn’t very different from staying organized in any other type of college. The main difference, I think, is that the amount of information (read: notes, paperwork, exams, etc) is greatly increased. I cannot stress to you enough how important staying on top of things is. Falling behind on the lecture notes and reading is a disaster waiting to happen (trust me; it happened to me for pretty much every exam for as long as I have been a student).

Not everything in this post will work for everyone. As students, we are all individual and we each have our own way of doing things. What I do to keep myself organized and from going crazy during the semester might be vastly different from how you keep your ducks in a row.

So, my lovely readers, here are some of the tricks and tools I use to stay organized in nursing school. Enjoy.

Dry Erase Boards – These are some of my favorite ways to remind myself of due dates and any upcoming projects or study groups. I keep a small on the make-up stand under my bulletin board by my bedroom door so i can see it (and write on it) often.
As you can see, right now I am not in school so it is kinda empty but I keep important dates listed just to keep me on top of things.

Planners and Calendars – Buy one. Seriously. And use it. I had assignments and projects due, as well as quizzes or exams pretty much every day I attended lecture, not to mention clinical, study groups, and the occasional night out. If I wasn’t able to see my week laid out in front of me, I would have been completely lost.
Whether you buy just one big wall calendar, a planner to carry with you, or use a calendar app on your computer or phone; try to stick with just one. I use to keep a giant wall calendar in my bed room but stopped once I started using my weekly/monthly planner [Uncalender = fab]. I was worried that if I relied on both, things would not be transferred over from one to the other and wires would get crossed, resulting in me missing something important.

It looks kinda crazy but I promise there was a method behind the madness. Med-Surg was green (because my textbook was green). OB/Peds was pink and purple (for the same reason...the textbook was pink and purple). Any study group was surrounded by a pink/orange cloud. Clinicals in blue and any football game was orange (Gotta have my ♥Saints♥). And yes, I am also a total dork and I put the opening date for the 7th Harry Potter movie in my planner. Don't judge me.

How do you take notes?
Computer-based note taking
– If you are the kind of student to type your notes, congrats on being so environmentally friendly [unless you are like me and print them out anyway…opps]. Make sure you title your notes appropriately so they are easier to locate when you need them. The date, course, and lecture topics are a good place to start [example: NURS210_Jan5_ MusculoskeletalDysfunctions]. I would also create separate files for each class and placing your notes in them rather than just leaving them in the main document area.
I know several students who rely on Evernote or Microsoft OneNote and that seems to work for them.
Paper-based note taking – This is my preferred method of note taking. There is just something about putting pen to paper that helps me retain information like typing never could. Unfortunately, it also generates the most mess and clutter.

How I actually organized my notes depended largely on how the professor taught the class.
For my Maternal-Child nursing class (affectionately referred to by some of my classmates as “Tw*ts and Tots”….or “C*nts and Runts”), the professors (3 different ones) lectures according to chapter. The easiest way for me to organize the notes was numerically…from earliest chapter to the later ones. I found that trying to put them chronologically (in order of their lecture date) was confusing to me, particularly when we jumped from talking about give birth one day to respiratory problems in children the next.
For my Medical-Surgical nursing class, the professors lectures by units that were made up of multiple chapters in multiple textbooks as well as various journal articles they assignned. So I organized accordingly. Any notes I took for Perioperative care…from patient care to the pharmacology of the anesthesia used…went in that section. Any extra study material relating to perioperative care or chapter summeries from the companion website for my textbook were also included.

The Study Spot: Looks can be deceiving – Just because a desk (or bookbag or binder) looks neat and organized…doesn’t mean it actually is. As a matter of fact, most of the time, my desk is covered in papers, folders, highlighters, empty Redbull cans, coffee cups, post-it notes, and all matter of other clutter that you would think a paper tornado had just blown through my bedroom.
But 9 times out of 10, I can find what I need to. It is basically organized chaos.
And yes. I did clean up my desk for this photo. [Notice the binder clips around the cords...excess wire length drives me insane.]

A word on Post-It notes: Sticky notes are great….sometimes. But when you have 50 million of them floating around, it gets to be a little much. Especially if you happen to misplace a very, very important post-it note with your clinical unit access code on it and the note you happen to have with you is actually the phone number of a very cute bartender from the previous weekend.
Do yourself a favor and try to write any little reminders in your planner. You did get a planner, right?


Chuck McElroy IV said...

Well at least you have CC's to study at! Whenever I'm stressed and need a blow I always hang out at CC's.

Estelle Darling said...

I freaking love CC's. Basically camped out there this past semester.

Zazzy Episodes said...

Bravo, bravo, bravo!!! Yay Estelle for doing such a great job of making a post specifically designated to organization!! You are so incredible for doing that. What is this uncalander you speak of?? Where can I get one? I usually use the one the school provides for us, but it's only a week at a time and when you flip to the next week, some assignments can jump out at me that I wasn't prepared to see.
I love love love all the color coded awesomeness and all those sticky tabs as a great way to stay on track of your notes. I'm usually a pen and paper note taker, but I suck at doing that very well either. I was going to try the electronic note taking route.
I usually write notes about things that I don't end up getting tested on and then I'm bummed at all the time I wasted. I wonder if there is any way to tell and weed through all the nonsense stuff and get to the heart of what's being lectured on. Maybe you could make another installment in your guides to nursing on how to take better notes, and what to go over when its time to schedule study groups.
In particular like certain terms or words that explain to the trained student on what to study, or how to make an outline to help prepare for testing.
But please don't feel like you have to make a new post, you can do what you'd like.

Either way I'm very appreciative on your tips and will be using them in my near future.
I also went to and found another tidbit of advice as far as when it comes to studying to use noise cancelling headphones with light classical music, so that way you can still be in the same room as other people and not have to be shut into a room of the house with a closed door to get proper studying done.

CaLLie.ANN said...

Holy hannah. We are twins. I promise, I'm going to take pictures of my study/organization and it will look exactly like yours.

Plus, I LOVE the whiteboard. I have one behind my door and it saves me LOADS of stress and anxiety. I stare it at before I go to bed so I know what my upcoming week looks like. Love it.

...and love you.

Estelle Darling said...

Zazzy: You are very welcome. :-)
I have only been able to find the Uncalender online. It is awesome and amazing and I plan on doing a more indepth review sometime next month when I am back in school and have stuff to write. ;-)

Callie: I ♥ you too.
And yes. You simply have to take lots of nursing school photos for your blog. But not ones of placentas or anything [did you hear about that?!? craziness.]

R @ TravelistaRN said...

Love all your Guide to Nursing School series and have been going back to them as I get ready to start classes in September.

i LOVE this particular post since I am OCD when it comes to color coding my planner and getting study materials organized. Thanks for a real world example!

mrs.diamond2025 said...

I'm about halfway through my first semester of nursing school. I am trying to find the best way to stay organized & I am in love with your color-coded planner! Can I hire you to do mine!? LOL! Thanks for sharing!

Veronica Prado said...

What planner did you purchase??

Tameka Bellard said...

OMG!!!! Im a SAINT FAN as well and starting Nursing school in 22 days I have planned on watching every game that I can..Im also loving this blog and I plan on sharing it with some of my nursing classmates!!

Thank you

racing extinction said...

hi there. i was just curious what size your planner is? .. i love how the squares are so big you can fit lots of writing in them ....

Mitchel Starc said...

Wow, great post.

Mitchel Starc said...

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