Trau·ma  Junk· ie  ( 'trau-m&  'j&[ng]-kE) n. Slang
  1. One who has an insatiable interest, devotion or addiction to responding and assisting people with serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident.

How to Achieve Success in a Health Degree Program (Or any degree program)

"If one advances confidently in the direction of one's dreams, and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." -- Henry David Thoreau

Let's face it. High school doesn't do a good job at preparing you for college. But those of in college for health careers (nursing, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, etc.) have a much greater problem. The things we learn in college and our ability to retain and recall the information directly effects the lives of our patients. Not only do we have to learn our stuff, but we have to have it down to the point where we could do it in our sleep. For me, this is what makes RT school so difficult.

In respiratory therapy school thus far, I've learned a lot more than respiratory therapy. Based on my own trials and errors, I've learned a lot about how to succeed in college. If you want to succeed, keep reading.

Study to learn, not to memorize. Those of you who are already in nursing or another allied health program have probably heard this from the first day of class, or perhaps even on the orientation session like I did. The reasoning behind this was explained by my instructor, and I paraphrase, "The difference in learning and memorizing is that when you memorize something, you know the information off the top of your head. When you learn it, you know how to apply your knowledge in the clinical setting." Health professionals are often required to use their best judgment in a variety of critical situations, and the decisions that we make could help improve, or further decline, the patient's condition. In other words, it is one thing to know how to assess your patient (checking for JVD, clubbing, cyanosis, increased work of breathing, et al,) but it is just as important to know what causes these signs and symptoms in order to provide the best care possible.

Organization is key. Simple enough, right? While this may seem like elementary advice, I urge you to not take it for granted. Prior to starting RT school, when taking psychology, english, anatomy & physiology, etc., I really wasn't very organized. I don't like making excuses, but I chalk this up to the fact that I was pretty bored in these classes, and I did fine without studying more than 30 minutes a day. However, once you begin working on the core cirriculum for your degree plan, you will find it to be pretty challenging. A weekly calendar is very helpful. I write down all test dates, what is going to be covered in class each day, what I plan to study for the day, my class schedule, and anything else I need to do that isn't related to school. I look at it several times a day, and I mark off what I've done.

Sleep. I can't stress how important this is. It's fine to stay up late every now and then, but if your sleep schedule isn't regular, chances are that your study schedule will become irregular. Sleep is the body's way to reenergize itself and it makes you more alert, refreshed, and a lot easier to study. It may seem easy at first to not get much sleep and go to sleep at a different hour every night, but trust me, it catches up with you at some point, and you don't want that to occur right before finals or before a very important lecture.

Whatever you do, don't procrastinate. This is a tough one for me, but I realized that I could either procrastinate and barely get by (for a little while), or I could just get down to business and save myself later stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy when your fellow classmates are rattling off answers to questions or when you can't remember something imporant when you have to apply it after graduation. There are a select few that can that can cram and procrastinate while being able to deal with the stressful demands of waiting until the last minute to complete a task, but remember this only applies to a select few. If you aren't capable of this, don't risk it. If you've never done it before, don't wait until college to see if you can put things off and complete them with a fair degree of quality.

Relax. I know-- upon beginning the program, I also laughed in disbelief when people told me this, thinking, "I wish I could find time to relax." But seriously, you have to take the time to unwind, and the amount of time needed is different for each person. If all you ever think about is respiratory therapy and the indications and contraindications of medications and procedures, like I did for the first month and a half, you'll find yourself very fatigued and very stressed all of the time. Remember, not all stress is bad, but chronic stress can cause serious health problems. Experts agree that stress relief techniques can protect your body from the damage of long-term stress. Yes, college is serious, but take the time to have fun.

--To be continued... check back often.--

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