To say that nursing is a demanding career would be an understatement. Not only must nurses acquire a vast amount of knowledge and experience specific to the specialty in which they work, but they must also provide healthcare to patients in situations that are challenging and, at times, emotionally draining. All this must be done during shifts that can last up to 12 hours, sometimes longer.
With such a tough schedule to navigate, it can be tough for nurses to find the time to earn advanced degrees. This is necessary, however, if one wishes to advance their career both in trajectory and earning potential. Furthermore, there is a growing need for nurses to assume more leadership roles within the medical community. The experience and expertise that they gain from working in the frontlines of healthcare are proving to be incredibly valuable when it comes to the major decisions being made in regards to standards for healthcare across the country.
These are only a few reasons why a nurse might consider earning an advanced degree. If you are among those nurses looking to do more in your career through higher education, you might be wonder just how you are going to complete a difficult degree program while also continuing to work as a nurse.
Here are seven things that could help you achieve all that you want to when it comes to your education and employment.
#1. Consider Online Options
One of the most valuable tools available to nurses wishing to earn an advanced degree while continuing to work is that of online education. Many advanced degrees are challenging and require complete focus when you are completing the required course work. Students can buy themselves quite a bit more time to dedicate to that course work when a commute to and from a university campus is taken out of the picture.
Moreover, because online classes are designed in such a way that lectures and classes are generally accessible to watch whenever it is most convenient for the student, you can avoid having to shift around your work schedule to attend. While assignments have their deadlines and clinical hours must be seen to, earning your degree via an online program is an excellent choice to consider.
Take, for instance, how challenging a doctor of nursing practice program can be. To be able to work your classes and lectures around your employment schedule might very well be a necessity if you wish to be able to dedicate the required amount of focus and energy to your studies. While this will no doubt be an endeavor that requires a fair amount of perseverance to succeed, a Doctor of Nursing practice degree is essential if one wishes to advance into leadership roles in nursing or to pursue specific career tracks.
#2. Create the Ultimate Study Environment
Another challenge that you will face as you begin your path to earning your advanced degree in nursing is finding the right space in which to complete the required course work. Taking the example of the Doctor of Nursing practice program again, you know that the amount and difficulty level of the work you have ahead of you is not going to be easy. The best thing that you can do is designate and set up a comfortable work environment that will be solely dedicated to the completion of course work.
Firstly, you should see if there is any room in your home that can be repurposed as a home office of sorts. It is best to have a room dedicated to this purpose as you will be able to close the door so you can block out any distractions or disruptions. If you aren’t able to have an entire room in which you can study, there are several different ways to take a corner of a room, for example, and make it the ultimate study space.
The main things that you will want to have at the ready when you begin your degree program include outlets for chargers, good lighting, a comfortable desk and chair, and the ability to drown out distractions. While the last item on that list can prove to be the most difficult, it will be the most important thing that you can do as you design the area in which you will be studying.
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#3. Get Organized
This might sound like a given, but if you are going to succeed at performing well at your job while earning an advanced nursing degree, you are going to need to take active steps to organize your weekly tasks. The demands of programs like a master’s degree in nursing or Doctor of Nursing practice degrees are numerous and challenging. Even things that might be routine for you should be included on a calendar or in a weekly planner so that they don’t fall off your radar. Invest in an excellent physical planner or use a task manager app on your phone to remind you of what things need to be done and when.
Furthermore, reference you, planner, regularly. It can be easy to write out your schedule and then neglect to look back at it throughout the week. Have a designated time each morning where you look at your schedule to ensure that nothing gets overlooked.
#4. Build Your Support Network
Any nurse who has successfully completed a challenging degree program, including a doctor of nursing practice, while continuing to work will tell you that one of the most important things to do is make sure to build a strong support group around yourself. During the time that you will be both working and studying, you will very likely see less of your close friends and family than ever before. It is essential to let them know that while this may be the case, you will still need to rely on their support while you are working to achieve your goals.
Since the people you care about will no doubt wish to help you in any way they can, the thing you must bear in mind throughout this entire process is that it is perfectly acceptable to ask for help. Maybe you have children, and your partner will need to do most of the school pick-up runs while you are enrolled in your degree program. Perhaps you have other responsibilities outside of the home that you will need to enlist the help of a friend to take care of during this time. Whatever your circumstances may be, it is essential to remind yourself that you cannot be all places and do all things at once. You need to properly prioritize things and ask for assistance from your support group when necessary.
#5. Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health
Often when an individual takes on the challenge of going back to school while also continuing to work a full-time job, they risk suffering from a mental and emotional burnout. The lack of sleep that will undoubtedly become an issue and the amount of mental stress that you put on yourself when you take on such a task is nothing to take lightly. It is essential that throughout this process, you remember to focus on and check in on your mental health periodically.
Just because it will be a challenge doesn’t mean that the road you are about to embark upon is by any means impossible. If earning a doctor of nursing practice degree is what you aspire to do and you now that you must continue to work while completing the program, then you can certainly accomplish all that you need to. However, the only way to truly succeed at all this is to make sure that you stay mentally healthy.
This can mean different things to various people. Some individuals function better than others on less sleep and more activity. Because mental health is far from a one-size-fits-all subject, it is good to be self-aware about what your particular needs in this area may be. Taking a break to go on a walk once a day is a great way to let your mind relax and refocus on the tasks ahead. Making sure that you get enough sleep and proper nutrition will also go a long way to helping you ward off mental burn out.
It is also a good idea to check in with a close friend or family member from time to time. A conversation wherein you allow yourself to vent and air your frustrations for a time can help you to not only identify those things that are causing you the most stress but to also hear a new perspective on how you might be able to better manage that stress.
#6. Learn to Communicate
Try as you might, whenever you have multiple things going on that require your undivided attention, something is always going to fall by the wayside at some point or another. The good news is that most employers in the healthcare community know and understand this fact. Nurses who hold degrees like a doctor of nursing practice are much more knowledgeable and valuable employees. Because of this, you will more likely than not find only support from your boss or manager when it comes to your studies.
The only way in which to truly obtain that support, though, is to become an effective communicator. Your employer will be managing quite a bit, and even the most understanding bosses will need to know what your schedule is going to look like while you are completing your degree.
Are you going to need to cut back on hours? Are there specific exam dates that your boss will need to be made aware of as you will not be able to work on those days? You can’t assume that your employer will know all these things ahead of time, or even remember them if you mention them once. Keep the lines of communication open and frequently check in with your boss so that they can be kept in the loop about your situation. It is only through excellent communication that you can hope to obtain and keep support in this regard.
#7. Don’t Forget Why You Are Doing This
Nurses must have a passion for what they do. Nurses who hope to earn a doctor of nursing practice degree, for instance, will very likely have an end goal in mind in terms of what their career can and will look like down the line. Maybe you see yourself as a leader in a specific field, so you are working towards earning a Doctor of Nursing practice degree. Perhaps you aspire to be a nurse-midwife and are enrolled in a program to help you achieve that goal. No matter what plans you may have for your future, an advanced degree is necessary to fulfilling those plans, then you need to keep your eye on the prize, so to speak.
This is not always an easy thing to do. When you are stressed out after working a ten-hour shift, and you know that when you get home, you have a tough assignment that you need to complete, it can be tempting to feel as though you aren’t going to succeed. Many are guilty of considering quitting altogether. The only way to carry on and persevere is to remind yourself of what your end goals are and that reaching those goals is worth all the stress and hard work of the moment.
It might be helpful to have a visual of what your goals are that you can place at your desk and look to whenever you need motivation. A picture or hand-written note to yourself are both good options to consider. You might also consider having someone in your support network that you know you can call in such moments of stress, which can help to remind you about what you are working towards. Some simple words of encouragement can go a long way to helping you remember that the time you are dedicating to your studies in the short term is going to help you and your future patients down the line.