Studying for an advanced nursing degree isn’t always easy. Most of the time, advanced nursing degree students are already working in a full-time career as a registered nurse and are taking steps to improve their education so that they can move up the ranks into a role as a nurse leader, nurse practitioner or other advanced nursing position.
If you have been working as a registered nurse for some time and have come to the decision that you want to get an additional qualification such as a master’s degree in nursing to improve your career outlook and gain further knowledge and skills, then it’s important to be ready for the hard work that is ahead. This is especially true if you are not in a position to reduce your working hours or take time away from work to get your advanced nursing degree, as is often the case.
While working as a registered nurse and getting an advanced nursing degree at the same time is a heavy workload that will take some preparing for, the good news is that there are several things that you can do to manage it and achieve success in the end.
Get Your Advanced Nursing Degree Online
Getting your advanced nursing degree online is often the most feasible option for registered nurses who will need to continue working full-time in a nursing role while continuing education. Online degree programs are designed to help registered nurses improve their career paths while offering a more flexible opportunity to get an advanced qualification such as an MSN or a post-master’s qualification to get into a role such as family nurse practitioner.
Many online advanced nursing degree programs are designed so that busy registered nurses will be able to get the education that they want without the need to consider making drastic changes to their working hours or reducing their income while studying. Many degree programs that are available to study online are completely flexible, giving you the freedom to choose when you want to access the online learning materials and study, rather than having set lecture and class times that you need to attend. This makes it more manageable for registered nurses who work shifts and is less stressful for many students. There are several further reasons to consider getting an advanced nursing degree online, including:
Another reason why more and more registered nurses are deciding to go with an online degree program for their advanced nursing qualification is that it’s often cheaper overall. Along with more options to shop around for schools that offer the program you want at a lower tuition rate, nurses who study with distance learning don’t have to worry about the cost of relocating or commuting, as you can simply study from home at times that suit you best. Nurses can also continue earning their usual amount of income while studying, as the programs can be fit around their work schedule unlike many traditional, campus-based degree programs that might require students to cut working hours down or take time away from work in order to free up time to commit to studying.
Get Employer Support
With the shortage of nurses in the US right now, it’s no surprise that many healthcare employers are in full support of registered nurses who want to take their careers up a level. Not only is it beneficial for you as a nurse to get an advanced degree and further your career, but it can also benefit your employer by giving them immediate access to a more educated and more advanced nursing professional. Studying for your advanced nursing degree online might get you even more support from your employer as you’ll be able to fit your studies around continuing to work, which means less disruption for everybody involved.
Attend a Better School
With online learning, your location is no longer a huge factor since you can access classes online from wherever you are. Whether you are getting a master’s degree or studying for a post-master’s certificate course to get more skills and improve your education as a nurse, distance learning might provide you with the option to attend a better school that you may not have been able to go to otherwise. It’s not uncommon for distance learners to get degree qualifications from colleges and nursing schools that are located hundreds of miles away, as this is entirely possible with online education.
More Tips for Juggling a Nursing Career with Advanced Education
Along with making the decision to get your advanced degree online for a more flexible and self-led approach to your education where you are in control and you can fit it around your career more easily, there are several other things that you might want to do to better manage your time and avoid getting stressed when taking on these two big commitments at the same time. Some tips to keep in mind include:
Put Yourself First
Putting yourself first might not feel right to nurses who are often so used to putting everybody else before themselves. The selfless nature of many good nurses is what makes them so special. However, if you are not looking after yourself then you’re not going to be able to give your patients the care that you would want to, and your education might suffer too. Be sure to schedule time for self-care and stick to it; set firm boundaries and make sure that you are making time to rest, recuperate and do things for yourself outside of work and study.
Go at Your Own Pace
Remember that it is not a race when it comes to getting your advanced nursing degree. Of course, the sooner you graduate, the sooner you can start looking for advanced nursing roles to apply to, but the truth is that if you’re trying to do too much at once, you could end up exhausted and burned out, which will force you to take a break. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race when you are juggling working full-time as a nurse with getting an advanced degree at the same time.
If you need to, don’t be afraid to take down your working hours to free up time to study, or switch to a part-time degree program instead of full-time if you don’t feel like juggling the two is going to work with any other commitments that you have. Sometimes, slowing things down is the most beneficial thing you can do for yourself as with more time to focus on self-care and less pressure to get everything done, you can focus better on the work that you have and end up getting better results.
Put a Schedule Together That Works for You
It can be much easier to manage your career as a nurse and your education when you take some time to put together a solid schedule to stick to. If you’re trying to juggle working as a nurse with studying for an advanced degree without any solid direction, then you’ll probably find that you are often stressed and running out of time to get things done. This can also cause a lot of unnecessary worry about getting things done that you don’t need when you have so much on already.
To avoid ending up in this situation, putting a regular schedule together to determine when you’re going to work and when you’re going to study can help. This could be something that you stick to permanently or you might want to revisit and work out a new schedule each week or month if you work shifts and might not be available at the same time every week. Think about the time that you have where you might normally be doing something like watching Netflix and consider if you would be able to fit some studying in instead. Don’t forget to add breaks and self-care to your schedule too, since they are just as important.
Look After Your Physical Health
Your physical health and mental health are closely linked, as any nurse will know. When studying for your advanced nursing degree as you continue to work in a full-time role as a nurse, it’s important to avoid letting your physical health fall by the wayside. Not only will failing to take care of your physical health make the demands of your job even harder to deal with, but you’ll also probably notice that there is an impact on your mental health, and you may feel moodier, more irritable, and perhaps even depressed along with fatigued and exhausted.
Taking steps to ensure your physical health remains strong throughout the duration of your advanced degree will help you keep all aspects of your health and wellbeing in better condition. Fueling your body by eating a balanced diet will make it easier for you to focus on both work and school, while regular physical activity will stave off aches and pains and help to clear your mind so that you find it easier to get everything done.
Don’t Skip Breaks
When you’ve had a long shift at work and you have an assignment due in the next day, it can be all too easy to work through all your breaks, cramming and writing to get as much done as possible. However, doing this too often will only lead to burnout and your motivation and mental health may also be negatively affected. Taking breaks is much more important than it might first appear and even having a five-minute break can have a very positive impact on your performance and the type of results that you are able to achieve.
If you’re settling in for a long study session, it’s a good idea to set a timer on your phone for every hour or so to remind you to get up, take your eyes away from the screen, stretch your legs and hydrate for five to ten minutes. Once you return, you’ll feel better for it and might even find that you focus better and work faster as a result.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting into a regular sleep pattern can be tough enough when you are working as a registered nurse and are required to do shift work that could change week by week. As tempting as it can be to stay up late or even stay up all night to try and get more work done or complete an assignment on time, it’s never a good idea to deprive yourself of sleep. Even after just one night of not getting enough sleep you’re going to be less focused, more irritable, and feeling exhausted, which isn’t going to help you at either work, school, or in your personal life. It’s always a better idea to make sure that you get enough sleep and wake up earlier to get work finished when you can, when you’re fresh in the morning and have been able to get some rest.
Ask for Support
Juggling your advanced nursing degree with a career as a registered nurse is a lot of hard work, especially if you decide to study full-time while working full-time. While it can be done, you will probably find that this is something you will struggle more with if you try to do everything on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask for support from the people around you who care about you and want to see you succeed. Whether you turn to family, friends, work colleagues or professionals, there are always going to be people who are out there who will be happy to help you out in any way that they can, and you would do the same for them too.
Whether you need some practical help with tasks that are getting on top of you due to the workload, need shifts at work covering so you have more time to study or just want somebody to listen while you get worries off your chest, the more support you have around you, the better.
While getting your advanced degree in nursing at the same time as working full-time as a nurse can be a tough workload, it’s certainly possible to achieve with the right plans in place.