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Returning to education: Survival guide for mature nursing students

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Becky knew that juggling family commitments and nursing studies would be difficult but has taken it in her stride and realised that it IS possible.

As a mature student, I was scared and anxious about returning to education after a number of years out. But as soon as I started, I realised just how normal it is to feel like this and that self-doubts are completely natural.

Here’s my guide on what to expect as a mature student starting your nursing course:

Organisation. Be proactive! If you’ve been working for a number of years before starting you nursing course it should be reasonably easy for you to adjust. No doubt you will have a number of commitments that you already juggle - husband, family, part-time job, and so on. But if you’re not good at juggling, get a good diary management system – paper or electronic, and stick to it. When in university, I treat it as if it were a 9-5 job.

Placements. University will try to be accommodating with placements, but you won’t always be placed where you want to be. And they will not bend over backwards if you have children. Flag up any issues you have getting there, but have contingency plans in place as you may still have to go. Just remember, it’s a few weeks of pain for a life time of gain!

Ask questions. If organising your own “pathway experiences” (where you go to different healthcare settings to shadow), absorb as much as you can and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Look at it as a networking opportunity and a chance to figure out where you want to work when qualified.

Get support. My partner works away much of the time and I really miss this element. But I phone friends and relatives when I need support because you don’t need to do it on your own. Let your neighbours know what you’re doing so they understand you need sleep when on night shifts. Oh and don’t forget to schedule in a small amount of social life too!

Part-time work. I currently work as a Fitness Instructor but will soon be taking up a post as a Healthcare Assistant with a nursing agency or bank. This work is more relevant for my CV and improves my chance for a job at the end. However, know your limits and listen to yourself when considering taking on additional work. I try not to do much part-time work when on placement.

Nutrition and sleep. Eat well, sleep well. We teach our patients the importance of sleep hygiene and diet and fluid intake but often forget that the same applies to us. I cannot stress this enough. I felt more able to cope with placement when I got organised about what fuel I put in my body. Plan your meals ahead and freeze batches, this save on stress and feels amazing after a long shift.

Confidence. I believe nursing is becoming a harder course to get in to, with limited places and increasing quality of candidates. Don’t let that frighten you - you have as much right to be there as anyone else. The students in my cohort are of all ages, come from a variety of backgrounds and have a wealth of different experiences. Get support from them and help each other out as much as you can but be careful not to be too helpful either - don’t become the go-to source of information as this can be draining. Students need to learn how to find information for themselves!


Becky Kidman is in her 1st year studying mental health nursing at Birmingham City University

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Katie Sutton

    Fully agree with all these tips Becky!

    Some of the things I've found have helped me as well:
    - the iPhone app 'ATracker' for keeping track of time spent doing various things and making sure I get a balance of work and leisure - I don't track everything, but I make sure I log fun, work and study.
    - is a great support network, as is Twitter!

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