I was fewer than 24 hours into boot camp in the United States Navy, and a drill instructor was trying to kill me, the last time I thought the words “What have I done?”

Here I am 20 years later thinking this same think, almost daily. What I’ve done, this time, is enroll in a top 10 Big East family nurse practitioner (NP) program. I am currently two years into the program with two semesters and 350 clinical rotation hours to go.

I decided to go for my NP license/degree soon after finishing my Bachelor of Science in nursing. My wife thought I had lost my mind, and to be honest she still thinks that from time-to-time. I have been a nurse for nine years and prior to that I was a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman. Helping people is all I’ve ever done. I felt that becoming an NP was the way to go to, the next logical step — helping people by hopefully keeping them healthy.

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That being said, I am not a totally altruistic nurse. I realized that if I wanted to advance in the nursing field, I needed to do this. I had tried my hand at being a department director and soon realized I hated it. I hated the administrative tasks, I hated the personnel issues, and I hated not being at the bedside.

But, I was tired of being on the floor — tired of the pace and the daily grind of bedside nursing. I was tired of taking orders and carrying out tasks. I wanted the responsibility of diagnosing and treating and being responsible for guiding the health of my patients.

Well, here I am, in the thick of it. I have days where I wonder if this is all worth it. I wonder if the stress, the constant reading, memorizing, class time, projects, papers, research, reading, lectures, and reading are worth it. I have had some dark days when I considered dropping out and enrolling in truck driving school with Goose and Maverick.

I have been utterly overwhelmed by the amount of work and time involved in attending clinicals in addition to the classwork and maintaining a full-time job. What have I done?

Ultimately, I realize I’m doing it because I love being a nurse, I want to be the best nurse I can and help as many people as I can. When I’m in clinic and I have a patient tell me they want me to be their provider from now on, it makes the rigors of the NP program worth it.

When a patient tells me that no doctor has ever listened to them before and how much they appreciate being heard, it makes it worth it. When the little old lady who is in for her semi-annual check-up and wants to give me a hug because she has no other physical contact, it’s sad and totally worth it.

When new students ask me how much time I spend studying and preparing for class each week, my standard answer is, “All of it. All of my time.” It really isn’t an exaggeration, because if I’m not actively studying or in clinicals, I am thinking about whatever is due next, or what I haven’t yet done.

The key to being successful in this program is having a schedule, sticking to it, and then being able to adapt and reschedule everything when you get off schedule.

The number one best study tip I can give for new NP students is learn to rely on your classmates for help and commiseration. My fellow classmates have all the same anxieties as I do, and hearing how they prepare and deal with their tasks helps me with mine. If nurses are called “type A” personalities, NP students have to be “type A+.” NP students do not have to worry about falling behind, no one will let you.

What about the bone-deep hatred of group projects from nursing school? You can relax about that, because no one in an NP program has the ability to drop the ball because of the common drive to succeed. I am a better student because of my classmates, and I appreciate them every day. My wife even complains that I talk, text, instant message or email some of them more than I communicate with her.

The program is tough, it is time consuming, but it is doable, and when the information you are studying finally clicks and you can make a diagnosis, it is one of the best feelings ever. As I prepare to start my second to last semester in a few weeks, I have renewed motivation to finish this marathon. I can see that the end is in sight.

I am realizing that even though the work is overwhelming at times, the payoff will be worth it, and my school is doing its best to make sure I am prepared to face the challenges that lay ahead.

So, what have I done? I have started down a path that will help me be a better nurse, help me provide better care to those who need it, and help me provide a better and more secure future for my family. This is what I’ve done, and I am thankful I did.

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