1. Harper, Megan
  2. Mahon, Elaine

Article Content

A CAREER in nursing drew both of us for its uniquely human and scientific components. We also continued to pursue our passion as swimmers at a Division I school. From the start of our time in college, we've balanced them both. As collegiate athletes, we participate in 11 practices each week, competitions, traveling, meetings, and other team-related activities that consume at least 20 hours a week. The practices and habits we've learned and developed throughout our years swimming and studying will continue to motivate us and lead us in our future endeavors as successful nurses. Here, we'd like to share how a healthy lifestyle, schedule management, teamwork, motivation, and personal care have helped us meet our athletic and professional goals.


Healthy habits

It's a challenge to maintain healthy habits between our daily activities, but they're critical to our success. It can be tempting to grab fast food instead of taking the time to cook a nutritious meal, but staying organized is key. We consistently utilize meal prepping by cooking several portions of nutritious foods at once to eat throughout the week to combat fatigue and fuel our athletic and academic performances.


Regular exercise helps improve mental alertness and increase brain function at the molecular, cellular, and behavioral levels.1 For student-athletes, exercise is as important as classroom work. We know we need to continue these healthy habits as we embark on our professional lives after graduation.


Nurses who eat well and make time for physical activity are excellent role models.2 Our current experiences can help us set a good example for our future patients and colleagues by demonstrating that, despite time constraints, we can find ways to integrate healthy eating habits and regular exercise into the daily routine.


Time management

Juggling team practices and competitions with classes and clinical rotations leads to regular scheduling conflicts. For example, we miss two practices during our 12-hour clinical rotations on Thursdays. Scheduling the makeup work or practice and making sure everyone necessary understands our situation is a balancing act, but faculty and coaches have helped us develop time management skills that let us take responsibility for our schedule. They expect us to anticipate problems and solve them in advance. We do our best to come up with solutions independently to avoid wasting coaches' and professors' valuable time and resources. To study efficiently and avoid feeling overwhelmed, we've learned to become comfortable asking for help and using readily available resources, including tutoring. All this planning will serve us well as professional nurses.



The skills and experiences we've gained from being on a team correlate directly with nursing practice. Swimming on an ever-evolving team of 65 athletes has let us work with people of different perspectives, work ethics, personal goals, attitudes, and abilities.


Similarly, in nursing school and in clinical rotations, we've observed and learned much about multidisciplinary collaboration during patient care. During interprofessional courses, we work with aspiring physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and nutritionists to solve problems and educate patients about adopting a healthier lifestyle. As a team, for example, we work to plan and initiate educational activities with the goal of solving nutritional issues, including poor food choices.


Student-athletes are excellent leaders because of their ability to prioritize and juggle their schedule and understand how it contributes to achieving goals.3 This is pivotal for nurses because we strive for quality peer and patient relationships.



The cycle of skills labs, assignments, and tests week after week for 4 years becomes an exhausting challenge. It's never easy to come home from one test only to begin studying for the next one. The same can be said for swimming practice. In countless days over the past few years, we temporarily lost all motivation to reach our fullest potential simply because of fatigue.


We find motivation in setting and achieving small goals geared toward the set, drill, or task at hand. Studies have shown that student-athletes who set easily achievable goals find greater purpose in each day's activities.4 This dedication to focusing on the task at hand has been integrated into our school work. All nursing students, athletes or not, can add meaning and purpose to their lives by engaging in a sport, activity, or hobby for some diversion while also learning to use time well and focusing on multiple goals.4


Balancing self-care

Swimming while attending nursing school equates to nearly two full-time jobs, leaving very little time to care for ourselves and socialize with others. We work hard to set aside time for ourselves because we know the importance of taking time to unwind. Emotional intelligence, the act of balancing and managing feelings, relationships, and self-control,5 along with the support of our teammates, has helped us avoid burnout, a well-known occupational hazard for nurses.6,7 Recognizing when the stress of the job reaches an unhealthy level and taking time for self-care and stress management are crucial for nurses to maintain a positive mindset.


Regardless of the significant obligations to both school and swimming, the opportunity to be nursing student-athletes is one we treasure. All nursing students can reflect on their own commitments, whether that's a hobby, a job, or family responsibilities, to find strategies that support a balanced life. Dedicating time and energy to these activities beyond nursing school can help students acquire the same life skills that we've developed through athletics.


Along the way, we've made friendships that will last a lifetime. Working hard with teammates, day in and day out, creates a bond unlike any we've experienced outside of athletics. Being student-athletes has prepared us well for the fast-paced profession of nursing.




1. Hillman CH, Erickson KI, Kramer AF. Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008;9(1):58-65. [Context Link]


2. Glasper A. Promoting healthy living in 2011: can nurses lead by example. Br J Nurs. 2011;20(2):118-119. [Context Link]


3. McDowell BM. When the nursing student also wears cleats: successful nursing student athletes. Nurs Educ Perspect. 2017;38(4):212-213. [Context Link]


4. Healy LC, Ntoumanis N, Duda JL. Goal motives and multiple-goal striving in sport and academia: a person-centered investigation of goal motives and inter-goal relations. J Sci Med Sport. 2016;19(12):1010-1014. [Context Link]


5. Dobersek U, Arellano DL. Investigating the relationship between emotional intelligence, involvement in collegiate sport, and academic performance. Sport J. 2017;1. [Context Link]


6. Potter P, Deshields T, Divanbeigi J, et al Compassion fatigue and burnout: prevalence among oncology nurses. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2010;14(5):E56-E62. [Context Link]


7. Russell K. Perceptions of burnout, its prevention, and its effect on patient care as described by oncology nurses in the hospital setting. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2016;43(1):103-109. [Context Link]