How I Balance My Life as a Graduate Nursing Student

By Mary Catherine Forgea, MSN, RN, PhD student

When I entered the PhD program at the University at Buffalo, I knew my already-busy life was about to become more chaotic!

At the time, I was working full-time in the hospital, loved to spend time with family and friends, and enjoyed traveling, reading, and exercising.  As much as I wanted to be successful in a graduate nursing program, I also knew that I didn’t want to put my life on pause to do so. It was just going to require an organized calendar, lots of checklists, support from my family and friends, and self-care.

During my time in the graduate nursing program so far, I have:

  • Switched jobs
  • Purchased, renovated and moved into a house with my husband (fiancé at the time) 
  • Planned a wedding and got married
  • Went on a honeymoon 
  • Had a baby

Just a few major life events! Looking back, I sometimes wonder how I was able to manage it all. At the time, I did what needed to be done to be successful in the program while being present in my personal life. As a graduate nursing student, I never wanted to lose touch with who I was as a person outside of school – and I think that’s very important. No matter if you choose to work part-time, full-time or not at all while you’re in the program, creating time for the things that bring you happiness and the people you love will make the experience much more enjoyable and manageable. 

Here are some of the ways I’ve balanced my graduate nursing program with my personal life.

Checklists and more checklists.

I keep a checklist that I add to whenever something new comes up, and I also create a new checklist weekly with all tasks that need to be completed that week. I break the list down by day so I know what I need to accomplish each day and what meetings or events I have going on. Balancing working full-time as an assistant professor while being a new mom and student would be nearly impossible without these checklists. They may not be for everyone, but they have truly helped me stay on track with deadlines and be successful in the doctoral program.

A lot of support.

Support from my husband, family, coworkers, professors, friends and classmates has made my experience in the graduate nursing program much more enjoyable and feasible. Some semesters are harder than others, and I would be lying if I said I never felt like giving up and taking a break or dropping out of the program. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times! It’s important to have people in your life who can help motivate you when you start feeling that way. Fortunately, I also have a wonderful advisor and mentor who meets with me frequently and helps me stay on track, along with a very supportive dissertation committee.

Prioritizing self-care.

Last, but certainly not least, finding time for self-care is extremely important. When I find myself feeling overly stressed, I know I need to take a step away and do something else to take my mind off whatever I’m working on. Even if it’s just a walk outside to get fresh air, it makes a big difference. I like to schedule fun activities ahead of time that I can look forward to instead of waiting until I feel completely overwhelmed. The work will always be there, but it will never get done or get done well if you’re not in the right state of mind! 

You can do it!

When people say they don’t know how I balance everything I do, I can’t help but wonder the same things sometimes. It’s a constant balancing act and juggling of responsibilities. Being a graduate nursing student is one of the most challenging endeavors I have taken on, but also one of the most exciting. I have learned and grown so much during my time in the program so far. I dream about the day I get to walk across the stage and graduate, but until then, you can find me working on my dissertation, teaching courses, spending time with my new little family and chasing never-ending checklists while occasionally squeezing in some “me time.” It’s definitely not easy, but it’s worth it! 

Published March 30, 2022