Resisting the temptation to hit the snooze button, Morgan Nelson pulls herself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. after a long night of studying PowerPoint slides for her next Pediatrics exam. The smell of her coffee brewing and the thought of her 7-year-old LeBonheur patient motivate her to put on her red scrubs and get to work.
Waking up before dawn for clinical assignments, planning study time around a hectic lecture schedule and being evaluated through various skills assessment labs are part of a typical week for Union nursing students.
To earn their undergraduate degrees, nursing students train through hands-on experience inside and outside the classroom. If they aren’t in a three-hour lecture, they are learning and practicing skills like blood pressure measurements and IV placements in the lab or commuting to one of their designated clinical areas.
Students rotate through different clinical programs each semester: Foundations, which covers basic skills, Labor and Delivery, Psychiatric, Pediatrics and the Intensive Care Unit. This prepares students to be well rounded in their future field and gives them a chance to explore distinct departments.
“The clinical process is beneficial because getting to see all aspects of the field will help me decide on my specialty,” said Nelson, senior nursing major.
Not only do students gain valuable experience—they get the opportunity to learn alongside professionals at prominent facilities like LeBonheur Children’s Hospital, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.
As vital as the clinical experiences are, they force students to adapt to an intense schedule. When traveling to Memphis for clinicals, students must arrive ready to start the day at 6:15 a.m. In addition to the travel time, students are expected to complete a significant homework load and study for exams.
Summer Cross, senior nursing major, balances all of this in addition to playing on the softball team and participating in the Student Ministry Leadership Program. She takes time to schedule every assignment, exam, clinical, game and practice in her planner at the beginning of each semester.
“Then at the beginning of every week, I plan out my days from the time I wake up to when I go to sleep,” Cross said. “It sounds extreme, but it works. I also make time to spend with the Lord because he is the one who keeps me going.”
Daniel Watkins, senior nursing major, has also learned the value of time management during nursing school. He said he finds the balancing act practical for his future career.
“Going through the program teaches you to become good at [time management],” he said. “Nurses across the board need to know how to prioritize and balance different things when it comes to dealing with patients and life in general.”
Once a month, the Student Nurses Association hosts speakers from different areas of nursing to share about their particular fields and tell students what they can expect in the future.
Nelson said she appreciates the monthly opportunity to get an insider’s perspective on her potential future because it furthers the sense of community shared with her peers.
“It’s a place we can all go, listen and talk since we’re all going through the same things,” she said. “We understand the struggles of early mornings and late nights and have a completely different schedule than most of your friends.”
Nelson ultimately plans to further her degree and become a nurse practitioner. Following graduation, Cross plans to pursue a job as a labor and delivery or pediatric nurse and is considering continuing her education at midwife school. As for Watkins, he is working toward participating in the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist program at Union.
Nelson, Cross and Watkins are only three of the 47 senior nursing students that have created a unique bond. That bond often looks like study groups and group messages about assignments, countless hours of paperwork and sharing detailed stories of bloody scrubs and misused bedpans that disgust their friends outside the department.
“I feel like we are all one big family,” Cross said. “We all want to see each other succeed, and we want to see each other become some of the best nurses out there. We challenge each other every day, and there isn’t one person in my class that I wouldn’t let be my nurse.”