I received an email tonight from someone either starting or possibly applying to my school nursing program. She got my contact info from one of the faculty there (with my permission).

Her email was (slightly edited):

Hi Markie,

I got your email address from XXXXXXXXX. I’m a prospective nursing student and looking for someone who can share their experience with the program while also managing family life. I have a nine month old son and am trying to get a feel for how one balances motherhood with class, studying, internships, etc (I know it’s a relatively short, but intense program!). Unlike working full time, I know being a student is not a 9-5 job. I’d love to hear any insight you are willing to share. Some thoughts running through my mind…

– What’s a typical day like?
– How much evening time is spent in class or internship?
– Do weekends end up being spent 100% in the library / lab?
– What is the most appropriate childcare option given that we’ll want to keep costs to a minimum while I don’t have a salary?

Thanks so much for your time!

Best Regards,
Possible Student

I wrote back to her, and said:

Possible Student,

Thanks for dropping me a line. If by “prospective” you mean “just starting”, then congratulations on getting in.

I have many opinions about the program, but will try to limit them to the topics you’ve asked about. 😉

To give you some background, I have a BA in commercial photography, over a decade in software development, a wife, two daughters, and an hour commute to campus. First off, I don’t think you can safely apply the word “balance” to nursing school. I haven’t gone anywhere else, and I hear it’s tough anywhere, but I suspect the intensity of the 18 month program is above and beyond whatever the norm is.

I half-seriously joke that my wife has been a single mom during the last year and a half. The program will literally take any spare moment you can possibly devote to it. There are always chapters to read, papers to write, projects to work on, quizzes to study for, postings to make, skills to practice, study groups to attend, etc etc. I was a smart slacker prior to this program. I could coast with A’s and B’s without a lot of effort. This program has kicked the spit out of me. I’ve worked harder and more than just about any other time in my life. Continuously. I learned to let go and settle for a B in order to keep myself and my family sane. You simply will not be able to compete with the available time that the unmarried students can throw at the curriculum. Balance is not an option, but success is.

On the other side of the coin, if you really want to get into nursing, and have that desire to help people in some way or another, this program will get you there. The fact that you have a spouse and a child will be to a great advantage. You have emotional ties and commitments that are simply not teachable or able to be conceptualized by people that haven’t experienced them. You’ll bring that to your practice, and your patients will very much appreciate it. It will make you a better nurse.

How you can go about doing it with the family is an individual gambit. You will absolutely need a supportive and understanding partner. A network of friends and family that you can pledge your service to once an RN to lure them in is invaluable.

-Typical day
You cannot expect to actually accomplish much in the way of studying while caring for your son at the same time. The days in the first semester are very long, with a minimum of a couple of hours of difficult reading each day. Not hard to understand so much as hard to absorb. Yes, you know it, but can you repeat it or explain it to someone else? Can you answer questions about the subject matter if quizzed? Knowing the material is different from being able to recognize it (that was a hard lesson for me).

– How much evening time is spent in class or internship?
The classes for us ran into the later evening, 8 or 9 pm. This will vary depending on the instructor and the schedule you get. It will also fluctuate as you move through the program, and do things like go to workshops outside of class and clinicals at a hospital or other site. For instance, you’ll take a parenting class during Pediatrics or Labor & Delivery. That you’ll schedule yourself, and could be at night or on a weekend. Classes themselves are long. As in 3 or 4 hours. You may have 2 or 3 of those in a day. Sleep time will become a rare thrill (remember the first few weeks of your son’s life?).

– Weekends
They can be spent studying, or spent studying. You might be in a study group, or do better on your own. At least part of every day will be studying in one form or another. There’s just no way around it if you expect to pass the courses. A ‘C’ grade in a class will get you on probation. Do it again, and you’re out of the program. The only option is to get a ‘B’ or better. There is simply too much material to cover NOT to study.

– Childcare
The best thing is family and friends. Expect to feel like a selfish pig through the program. You can’t spend the time to cook extravagant meals to say thank you. You won’t have the money to buy presents or take people out to dinner as thanks. You’ll have to promise to answer their questions for the rest of your natural life in exchange for babysitting in all likelihood. Abusing family like that is difficult, and even harder on friends. But it can be done, and it’s only 18 months.

I may be painting a bleak picture, but I want to communicate that it’s not an easy road. The cost of doing this is high. But the rewards are great. You don’t get to change or save someone’s life routinely in a lot of different professions. This will be a strain on your relationships, do not doubt that. But we had two marriages and no divorces in our class. I’ve been blessed with my wife and daughters supporting me throughout the program. Your son will forgive you, and won’t even remember this period.

Sorry to drag on so long about this, as you can see I’m pretty passionate about the whole thing. Please feel free to reply or you can call me on my cell if you’d like to talk XXXXXXXXX

I’m very curious to see if she goes ahead with it or not.