Ways to Balance Nursing School and a Nursing Career

Being a student and a working professional can be a challenge for people in any field. This is particularly true in nursing.

The job takes a toll mentally, physically and emotionally. Nurses work long hours – 12-hour shifts three days a week are not uncommon. In some cases, they work shifts on consecutive days – sometimes three days in a row – leaving little time for a personal life. Sleep becomes a luxury.

Whatever shifts they work, many nurses dread the idea of returning to school because they simply feel they don’t have the time and energy to spare. At the same time, they might feel the need to seek a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to qualify for better-paying jobs that carry more responsibility.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that 80% of U.S. nurses earn a bachelor’s degree by 2020. Many universities and colleges have created programs that make it as convenient as possible to earn an advanced nursing degree, often through online learning.

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RN to BSN and RN to MSN

For nurses who are considering a return to college to earn a bachelor’s or master’s, here are some tips to help you achieve an ideal balance between work and school:

Know Why You’re Doing It

Some nurses end up returning to school without really knowing their goals. That can lead to poor performance at school and at work. Before returning to college, know why you want to do it and make sure it is what you really want to do.

A half-hearted attempt is not worth attempting at all. But if you have specific goals, such as improving certain skills or making yourself a better candidate for promotion, then that can help you keep going in the face of a myriad of challenges.

Pick the Right Program

Distance learning can solve a lot of time-management issues. Degrees earned online carry the same prestige as those earned in a traditional on-campus setting. Lectures and classwork can be scheduled when it is most convenient for you. This flexibility can make the difference between being able to combine work with school or having to settle for one or the other.

Get Organized

Earning a degree while working as a nurse isn’t easy. To help smooth the back-to-school transition, take time to organize. Pick a space at home that can be set aside as the area where course work gets done and where you can store all class-related items. Sometimes that can be a whole room, sometimes it’s a desk and chair in the den. What matters is that you have signified the importance of your course work by setting aside a space dedicated for it.

Break It Down

Trying to look at the whole picture at once is overwhelming for most people. It’s better to break down each task and then tackle them one at a time, a couple of hours a day. A good way to handle this is to begin each month with a calendar and mark down when each big project is due. Then, start each week by setting aside a little time each day to handle parts of the overall assignment, as well as time for doing required reading or whatever homework is assigned.

Make sure to give yourself enough time – many students underestimate how much study time is needed for online classes, especially since they are not required to go to class each day. Over time, by focusing on doing something one step at the time, the final goal seems attainable rather than overwhelming.

Stay Realistic

When developing your schedules, consider everything else you have going on in your life. Your work schedule must be prioritized, and only you can decide whether you will still have enough energy and focus to tackle course work after a long shift. Also, consider personal obligations. Don’t let ambition outweigh the reality that there are only so many hours in every day.

Manage Stress

Nurses already know all about stress. Going back to school could add another layer of stress on top of what you are already dealing with. School can eat up all the free time away from work, and that could lead to burnout. Nursing students should make time for exercise, family members, friends and fun – all of which can help them better manage stress.

Make It a Team Effort

Friends and family members must adjust to a new schedule just as much as a nursing student does. But they also can be of great help with picking up kids, making dinners or handling routine household chores. Be sure to discuss this before the term begins. The last thing you need as you try to balance work and school is a misunderstanding because of poor communication.

Stay Motivated

For a nursing student, staying motivated is key to success in school. Students who have set an end goal for themselves and stay focused will have a better chance to succeed. Focus on the short-term goals, but never forget the rewards after graduation – a sense of accomplishment, increased professional confidence and a better chance to fulfill the potential of a career in nursing.

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