We know as the pandemic presses on that this time continues to be a challenging one for our students. To help our students feel connected and bolstered during this time, we reached out to students from each program to offer some words of advice and encouragement.
This program is hard but maybe not for the reason people think at the beginning. Yes, the material is challenging, but it’s the skills we develop around the material that take the real refining. The interpersonal skills, executive functioning, critical thinking, self-confidence, these skills are like the basket that holds all of the signs and symptoms of a disease process. They are the tools we use when perhaps the conventional or obvious fail us.
I don't think anyone gets through this program or really any nursing program without their own expression of frustration, disappointment, anger or overwhelming thoughts. For some, it is crying. Others might need to run it out, and others, it might just be sleeping. Regardless, we will all eventually hit a wall, and, once again, it's the complementary skills that kick in. What are your survival and coping skills? For me, it's rest and allowing myself a moment to not have to be ahead of everything. It's believing when I hear your grade does not define who you are as a nurse. It is also relationships, conversation, and even a good moment of whining with friends.
No one has a perfect solution on how to make it through the program. We all have different needs and ways of feeling connected, different standards that we hold for ourselves and ideas of what success means to us.
I do have some pillars though. The first is find a group, a circle of trust. Find humans you can connect to, who will check on you when they know you are not OK and who will celebrate when you are. Find people you want to invest in because you make one another learn and grow. Ultimately, you know what you need to make yourself feel satiated. Sometimes, all I needed was a long walk by myself, and other times it was complaining for an hour about a test.
Within this journey, the saying “choose your battles” has never been more clear, and that aligns with “trust the process.” So many of us come into nursing and in particularly a program such as DUSON with the need to fix and the need to perfect. We have gotten this far because we do have grit and determination. We want to fight for what we think is right. That great skill is the root of advocacy. Though it can become exhausting, and if we are always so ready to fight and defend, we miss the subtleties. We miss the why, and we often spend more time fighting against something then allowing it to pass gracefully.
Save your energy for the fights that matter. Save it for racial, environmental, systemic justice and change. Use it to speak up for those that can't. Use it for purpose. Save your fight and your energy for things we can change and the things that need changing. When it comes to small idiosyncrasies of the program, perhaps a particular assignment, the professors have a reason for doing what they do. Question. Inquire, but don't create a mountain out of a molehill because there are real mountains that need to be climbed. We need you to have the energy and tenacity to climb the real mountains.
Finally, remember that it is all so impermanent. This too shall pass, and it’s much more enjoyable to give yourself grace as it passes. Find your joys. Hold them tight. Remember that there will be another summer. There will be other chances to go out. This is your time to go in ward and remember why you chose this path. It might not be perfect, and it might not be forever. But you are here for a reason. You will impact lives. Take advantage of the opportunities offered because you can learn nursing anywhere. What you don't get everywhere is the opportunity to engage with so many incredible professors that have made their lives work the path of nursing. You don't get workshops and opportunities to explore your unique interests everywhere. So, your exhaustion, your overwhelmed days, will pass. Take advantage of these moments that are helping you grow in more ways than you know.
Be bold. Find your passion, and build on it by immersing yourself with the Duke family (professors, mentors, alumni, students, etc.) who will support you long beyond our short time here at Duke. Don't settle for validation of your concern, but build the case to take a seat at the table where decisions are made.
Be strong. Assume that your great ideas will be met with greater resistance because that is how inertia works. In light of all the bright minds in the Duke family, expect the resistance to be fierce and proceed to endure. Those who lean into that resistance will have the advantage of leaving Duke much stronger and uniquely prepared to tackle the challenges great leadership requires.
Be mindful. Great ideas require a healthy environment to flourish. Be mindful of whether a healthy environment exists or cannot exist. If you conclude a healthy environment cannot exist, leverage the Duke resources at your disposal and mindfully pivot to a fertile environment where your ideas can flourish.
Miriam Camacho Stokes
MSN student and ABSN Program clinical instructor
DUSON may just be the best thing that has happened to me in my professional career and life. I have had significant growth as a registered nurse and individual. I have made professional connections and friends while at Duke. Even during a pandemic, I have found strength and reached potentials I did not know I was capable of. I attribute part of this to my efforts but also to the wonderful DUSON community.
Just keep swimming. I could tell you plenty stories of how graduate school felt impossible many times. The pandemic did not make those any less frequent. However, my approach is the same: State one thing to be grateful for. A moment of gratitude automatically tones down negativity. Visualize the goal, every single day, just not the path to it, as it will there are always unexpected turns. Take three deep breaths, and just keep swimming!
I went through a divorce, unexpectedly got remarried, undertaken significant increases in work responsibility, and became a bonus mom to a child with exceptional needs all in my time at Duke. I delayed graduation for a year because of many life changes and competing organizational priorities which conflicted with the rollout of my scholarly project. I sobbed when I got my first B. I've thrived in some respects and failed utterly in others. I've missed critical deadlines and submitted assignments weeks ahead of their due dates.
Being a student at Duke has been an opportunity to learn more about myself, grow as a person and build on my strengths. I am incredibly proud of who I've become over the last three years. We are all real-life people with real-life problems. Be gentle with yourselves. Be honest with your instructors, and most of all, be proud of who you are becoming.
I am a third year PhD student. Just thinking about the pandemic, it's definitely an interesting time to be in school. Just a couple pieces I would offer for advice is to just keep socializing with your peers as much as possible. I've done that through different group texts that I'm in with peers as well as individually calling folks on the phone, just saying "Hi" and checking in.
One of my more favorite activities has been, safely distanced and masked, going on walks with my colleagues. The Eno River State Park is a really great area to do that and take advantage of being outside and still feeling time to socialize with group members that are in your cohort or are in your program.
Also, for classwork and research and projects of the sort, reaching out to advisors, to your mentors, to your professors, as needed for extra support is really important during this time. Especially if extra guidance is needed. Relying upon that source of support and further instruction and further assistance is a really great way, to keep at pace with your projects and studies.
Finally, one note that I'll offer, is that we are all sharing in this experience, going through this shared time together, yet we all feel and experience it differently. So being open and willing to advocate for yourself and speak up when needed is essentially during this time.
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