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Continuing education debate

From the moment I officially declared my major as nursing in college and got accepted into the nursing school, I had my career plans mapped out. Work for a few years to gain experience after graduation and return to school to become a nurse practitioner. Simple? Yes, until I entered the real world and was inundated with many varying facets of my plan that posed interesting possibilities for me. And here I stand, three years out from graduation and facing one of the biggest decisions of my life. To return to school or not return to school…that is the burning question.

The summer after I graduated I landed a job at the pediatric hospital in Atlanta, making more as a first year nurse that the majority of my post collegiate friends who had majored in advertising, public relations, communications, psychology, etc. I have a three day work week that allows ample to time to “play” with this extra income and begin investing in a 401K, something that most new graduates probably do not even begin to fathom until years out of school. As with any other job, my hospital provides performance-based raises and seniority incremental raises, but in nursing these raises are typically small and added to your hourly pay rate. Three years out I am comparing my steady salary to those that have been working in corporations for years and are moving up the corporate ladder with large jumps in income. Although my job satisfaction is through the roof, I am starting to recognize how the growth of nursing income and that of a corporate/business world employee vary. Although I started up higher on the hill, my hill is a very gradual upward slope compared to some whose upward gradient is steep and their hill may even be much taller.

Now, don’t take all of this the wrong way, my life/career/happiness is not all dependent on the amount of money that I make by any means. But I have always been the motivated, high goal-setting type. Stagnancy and I do not mix. Solution? Return to school to become a nurse practitioner. I feel strongly that nurse practitioners are the bright future of medicine, and I consistently hear people say that they prefer to see the nurse practitioner over their doctor. Many states have openly embraced the advanced practice nurse, while others are lagging slightly but making strides in the right direction. The advancement in education is appealing in so many ways- increased autonomy, increased wealth of knowledge, more open doors of opportunity.

With years of experience under my belt I had decided that it was time to further my education, so I began exploring the programs that are offered in my area, only to hit a roadblock of confusion.

Since I love pediatrics do I want to be a PNP, or broaden my scope and enter the FNP world? What about the nursing education route? I’ve always loved the education aspect of the profession.

Part-time vs full-time? I am comfortable with my income at this point, would dropping down to part-time during school be too much of a financial burden, or would working full-time be too heavy of a load while taking classes? Part-time schooling would extend the program out more semesters or do I want to just work hard and pack it in to finish more quickly?

Does the name and reputation of the school really matter or is it all about the connections that you make throughout the program? Along the same lines, do I choose the more expensive, bigger name school because they have better clinical sites and opportunities for students but come out in debt, or do I breeze through debt free as a part-time student at the state school?

I presume my biggest hurdle is crossed- the decision to return to school. Amidst all of these burning variables, I have realized that the world is my oyster (corny, I know, but I’ve come to appreciate that phrase) which is exciting in itself. I know I’m not the only one feeling like she is being pulled in ten directions in regards to decisions about continuing education. I am confident that it will all fall into place nicely and regardless of the result I am excited about graduating with a masters degree as a more educated nurse eager to care for a population in need. My well wishes go out to those who may be having similar struggles and concerns.

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Nicole Lehr

Nicole Lehr is a pediatric nurse. She can be described in three adjectives: content, thankful and fortunate. All credit for the aforementioned description can be given to the love she has for her profession as an RN. She graduated from University of Florida with her Bachelor’s in Nursing and moved to Atlanta to work at the Cardiac Stepdown Unit at Children’s — her dream job.
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