Do you remember a time before enrolling in your nurse practitioner program when you could watch a movie, take a couple of hours to relax, and not feel anxiety or guilt that you should be doing something for school? During the last semester of my NP program, it has felt like the sound track of a suspenseful movie has been playing in the background. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. The tempo increases with the corresponding anxiety and dread that something important is coming. Yep, that’s what these last few weeks have been like. I’m either going to graduate and pass my boards or a giant, carnivorous monster is going to leap up and get me.

Early on in this last semester, I realized I had made a huge mistake in my planning and preparation during my first semester. Whenever I came across a topic that I didn’t completely understand, I would put it aside and tell myself that I would conquer it later. Well, that later is now, and I am struggling to master a myriad of topics and concepts in the last few weeks before my final exam. My advice: don’t put off what you don’t understand. Make a note card with the topic, and work on it every chance you get. It might make the intense soundtrack a little softer in the end.

People have been asking me what I’m using to prepare for the final exam and the boards. The short answer is everything: every review book and review course I can find or afford. The long answer: at this point I don’t want to be taught anything new; I want facts and details served up for my short-term, over-loaded memory to retain for the period of the exams. I don’t mean to imply that the information is not important or that I’ll somehow be less prepared for practice when the time comes to see my first patient. It’s just that right now, there are certain details that I didn’t retain previously that may be important for the exams.

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These are easy things to write about, and taken alone they seem simple enough. However, the anxiety builds up because of all of the other things that must be accomplished at the same time: family, clinical hours, papers, projects, jobs, and the life-altering exams. Those are just a few of the things on my plate as I work on finishing up this important career goal. I can finally see through the jaws of the monster, look out at the day after tomorrow, and see the nirvana that awaits. Patience, determination, and attention to detail are the keywords to get through this program and provide the mastery needed to succeed.

Sean P. L’Huillier, BSN, RN, CEN, is an emergency department nurse currently enrolled in Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies Family Nurse Practitioner Program.