Habits for NP School Success

Graduating from NP school was easily one of the most challenging experiences I've had in my life to date. Not only do you face a rigorous curriculum with a demanding schedule, you are also trying to balance your social obligations, self-care, and activities outside of school. As a disclaimer: I will be the first to admit that I wasn't a perfect student while going through grad school. I didn't always have have straight As, nor did I always perform the best in OSCEs, but I did use a lot of trial and error to find out what methods worked, and what methods did not work as well for ensuring grad school success and my general sanity. When it comes to surviving and thriving in graduate school, the following invaluable habits played a large role in my ultimate invitation to walk at graduation:

Have a method to the madness

This is advice that simply that cannot be ignored. Your ability to plan and organize your hourly schedule in grad school is key to your progress and ultimate success. Luckily, as nurses, we are used to planning our day out hour-by-hour in our heads. But, when you put your schedule on a planner, it solidifies the work that needs to be done at the time that it should be done. My professor always emphasized the importance of "time blocks." That means, blocking your schedule to commit to grad school activities.

For example, block your schedule at the same time each day for studying. Consistency is important here. If you have 4 hours to study each day, create a daily routine and have your body get used to it. The more variables you have in your schedule, the more difficult it will be for your body to adjust. This concept also applies to the time and date you would complete errands, like laundry or grocery shopping, or even exercising. Know what your schedule would look like for a week, and see if you can maintain that same schedule throughout the year. When you don't make a plan ahead of time, it is so much easier to just not stick to it. Which brings me to my next point.

Just do it

No matter how unpleasant the idea of studying or writing that paper is, just do it. Remember, you are the one paying to be a student in graduate school. Why would you invest thousands of dollars in something, and then not try your best at it? Sometimes, during the most challenging of times, you have to remember that this lifestyle is temporary, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Plus, the longer you wait to get started on studying that chapter or writing that paper, the more frazzled you will be once the deadline approaches or that midterm sneaks up on you. What sounds better - constantly doing your work, or not doing your work for a few days, only to procrastinate for the rest of your time in the program? The answer is obvious.

Clearly, it is more difficult to be consistent and to do what you need to do, but at what cost? When you do your work consistently, you will be more prepared for exams and surprise quizzes. You will also feel more confident when taking your exams. On the other hand, when you do not do the work that is necessary, you will suffer is several ways: your studying will be less meaningful, your test scores will drop, and achieving that "A" will be a lot more difficult.

Stop reviewing what you already know

It's very easy to review what we are competent in, and what comes easily to us. But when it comes to grad school material that we are not so strong on, even as reflected on exam results, it is still difficult at times to review the material. Why? Because it's challenging. If we are less comfortable with a topic, doesn't it make sense that we would want to avoid learning that topic at all costs? However, healthcare is a field that involves constant learning. In your practice as an NP, you will need to refresh and review areas that you are not as knowledgeable about. Might as well start this habit early!

Remember to love yourself

Self-care is a mandatory habit to adopt during grad school. Why? It is the ultimate stress reliever, and a necessary component of your mental and physical wellbeing. Feeling good translates to making you study more effectively. When you study more effectively, you will reap the positive benefits. So what do I mean when I say self-care? I am specifically referring to exercising and sleeping well. Spend at least 3 days a week devoted to exercise. When it comes to sleep, it is important to maintain a consistent sleeping schedule that your body can get used to. This means, no staying up until 6am in the morning. The only reason why you would stay up is to cram information (a side-effect of procrastination). If you want to perform well, retain more information, and wake up feeling refreshed, all it takes is a consistent sleeping schedule (preferably sleeping before 11pm). Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Think of grad school as a marathon

No matter how overwhelming all of the paperwork and syllabi may seem, do not let your mind fall for the bait. Take everything day by day, and focus on small, attainable goals, not large, idealistic ones. You're a lot more likely to accomplish goals when you can secure easier and quicker wins. This again brings me back to the concept of schedule blocking. Know how much time each day you can devote to class, studying, etc, and then stick to this routine. Grad school is by no means a sprint - rather, it is a longer race. It's a marathon. Use your time wisely.

Attend every lecture

This might seem painfully obvious, but a lot of people do not attend lecture. When you don't attend lecture, you miss out on potentially very important points that can surface later on. Additionally, during lecture, you are able to hear your peers' great questions and discussions with the class and professor. Plus, when you do attend lecture, actually be present. Turn off your cell phone, and write your notes down as opposed to typing notes. You will likely remember more notes when writing them down from pen to paper.


There are a lot of recipes for success when it comes to grad school. However, if you abide by the habits above, you will clearly be set on a great track from the start.