Have you ever thought about going back to nursing school…online? It’s not as easy as it sounds!
As online learners like myself can attest, there are few breaks in online learning. The Internet is open 24/7, just waiting for us to log on and get to work. RN-BSN online learners often work outside the home. After completing a long shift (when most nurses look forward to a hot shower, clean pajamas and a soft bed), the online learner faces homework and deadlines! And how about those days off? I find myself spending them with a laptop researching topics and writing papers.
Here are some smart ways to earn your degree online without sacrificing any more of your personal time than you have to!
1. Get organized
If you’re truly interested in being a successful online learner, you must be organized. Visit your local office supply store and purchase a three-hole punch, folders, three-ring binders and dividers for each class you are taking. For the extremely organized, color coding is essential. Buy a case of printer paper—it will save you time and money. Print everything! It’s a good idea to buy an extra set of ink cartridges for your printer; no one wants to run out in the middle of the night.
Once a class finishes and you have your grades, put all of the paperwork away in a file folder. Keep it together in the back of the closet so it’ll be there if you need it later.
2. Find space
Find a place in your home (away from the dining table!) where you can leave your books open and papers scattered and have your printer in easy reach. No one wants to have to clean off the table so the family can eat a meal or find that someone spilled a drink all over your notes. If you don’t have a comfortable work area, create one. I took over the guest bedroom and converted it into a makeshift office/den. When I feel overwhelmed, I can shut the door and take a break.
3. Think cheap
The local thrift store is a great place to buy used office furniture or a comfortable chair. Remember, you will be sitting for long periods of time, so make it comfy and durable!
Look for sales when purchasing office supplies. Each fall, prior to the start of school, you can find great discounts. Many office supply stores offer cash toward future purchases or rebates—it’s a great way to save.
When you need to purchase books, buy them used whenever possible. Visit your neighborhood library or hospital library for research. Often libraries have websites where you can order books for research and they’ll notify you when your books are ready to be picked up, saving you precious time and energy.
Some employers will pay for your classes—check it out. Make sure you follow the rules and deadlines for tuition reimbursements and consider it extra pay; you just have to do the work to earn it. Free money? We all want some.
4. Allow yourself some luxuries
You know we’re all guilty of putting ourselves last. Find a few hours each week to connect with friends or family. A quick cup of coffee or a trip to the local ice cream parlor with your bestie can do wonders to lift your mood. Get a pedicure or a manicure—you deserve it. You’re working hard.
Travel—you can take your homework with you. School is as far as the nearest Wi-Fi connection. No one has to know that you’re lying in the Florida sun in February while your classmates are freezing during a snowstorm!
5. Reduce your work hours
You know at the end of a long shift when the nursing supervisor comes on the unit and asks, “Do you want to stay?” Now you have an excuse to say, “No.” Changing your hours to 2-12s and 2-8s or even 3-12s for 40 is another possibility—whichever way you go, you gain a day or two to study. One more option is to work the evening shift. While the kids are in school, you can be in school, too! Or if you can afford it, work part-time. You can always go back full-time when you finish your BSN.
6. Take time
There are multiple ways to take classes. You can stretch out your schooling to one class per semester. Take a class or two during the summer months; they are generally offered over eight weeks instead of 15.
Like all schools, there are options that will fit your schedule. If you are trying to finish your degree in two years, work full-time and a have family, you will self-destruct. Listen to your body; it will tell you when you are doing too much.
7. Use your voice and ask questions
Online learners love to be independent, but that can have negative effects. Online education can be overwhelming at first—the information that is streaming in is endless. Professors and fellow students can be a great source of help. If you begin to drown, ask for help. Professors can offer you assistance or extensions, but you have to ask. Tech support is also there for you. Use the school’s online library and librarians as much as possible.
8. Let housework slide
There is nothing worse than a dirty house…or is there? Find a space where you can hide the evidence. Out of sight, out of mind, right? If there are others living in your house, remember to ask for help; they can pitch in when you have deadlines or are overwhelmed. Sort laundry while doing schoolwork, and forget ironing.
I’ve worn wrinkled scrubs for three years and no one has mentioned it once. Wash dishes while listening to an online live webcast or discussion. Unless you’re on a webcam or a push-to-talk button, they’ll never know what you’re doing.
9. Write it down and make a hard copy
If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen. Back up everything you do with a paper copy and/or to an external hard drive. Too many times classmates have complained that the professor didn’t get their most recent paper and they have deleted their original from their computer.
In the world of computers, once you delete something and turn off your computer, it’s gone forever. Purchase disks or external hard drives for computer backups. Copy everything to a backup, just in case! Always carry a notepad for logging thoughts and ideas.
10. Enjoy the journey
Find time to laugh and enjoy the process. The 24/7 learning experience can work for you if you learn to pace yourself. Everyone works differently, and since you’ve been to college before, do what comes naturally. As we have told a patient or two, don’t forget to breathe. The information highway is here to stay, so as you venture forth, have some fun and enjoy the ride!
Candace E. Finch is an orthopedics nurse at Upstate University Hospital at Community General, Syracuse, N.Y. She currently is completing her RN-BSN at Empire State College and plans on graduating in June. She loves online learning…will she do an online MSN? Maybe!
For more Career Advice for Nurses pick up the latest issue of Scrubs magazine, available at a retail store near you!