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What an advanced practice nursing program is REALLY like

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“Is graduate school difficult?”

A nurse currently completing his bachelor’s degree asked me this question recently. He has an interest in continuing on with his nursing education, and was trying to get a sense of what to expect.

I found the perfect term to sum up my thoughts on graduate school:

Autodidacticism (also autodidactism)

  • Self-directed learning that is related to but different from informal learning. In a sense, autodidacticism is “learning on your own” or “by yourself,” and an autodidact is a self-teacher. Autodidacticism is a contemplative, absorptive procession. Some autodidacts spend a great deal of time reviewing the resources of libraries and educational websites. One may become an autodidact at nearly any point in one’s life.
  • Autodidactism is only one facet of learning, and is usually, but not necessarily, complemented by learning in formal and informal spaces: from classrooms to other social settings. Many autodidacts seek instruction and guidance from experts, friends, teachers, parents, siblings, and community. Inquiry into autodidacticism has implications for learning theory, educational research, educational philosophy and educational psychology (via Wikipedia).

Nurses are no strangers to self-directed learning. We were gently introduced to this strategy during our entry-level nursing program. Everything from simple math concepts all the way up to assessment skill technique uses the concept of self-directed learning.

In my humble opinion, graduate school takes this concept and magnifies it to the nth degree [more math for ya…(insert sarcasm)].

You will be required to know a lot about a lot of information in a short amount of time. And I’m not just talking per year or per semester. Each individual class is overwhelmingly heavy. If I had to make a comparison? Take the number of hours spent on a single concept in class and multiply that number by at least 5 and in some cases 10. That is how many hours you will spend figuring it out on your own.

This type of learning strategy has an unfair, unkind learning curve. Some concepts will “click” for you, and others will be like learning a new language.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You still have multiple resources at your fingertips–everything from your course textbooks to picking up the phone and conversing with your adviser or professor. But the take home-message is the same. YOU need to figure it out. Whatever way that happens, you have to keep in mind that NO ONE will be holding your hand. NO ONE will be giving you a “pass” since they know you’re a good student. You earn everything.

Which leads me to another point.

During your entry-level programs, you had a minimal level of understanding to complete. That concept and requirement carries over into your graduate studies, but the stakes are just a tad higher. The expectations and that “minimum level” is now almost a maximum (for some).

They call it an advanced level of education for a reason. I like to think it’s similar to the pride we have in calling ourselves nurses. Becoming and practicing as a nurse is not easy. If it were easy, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

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Sean Dent

Sean Dent is a second-degree nurse who has worked in telemetry, orthopedics, surgical services, oncology and at times as a travel nurse. He is a CCRN certified critical care nurse where he's worked in cardiac, surgical as well as trauma intensive care nursing. After five years practicing as an RN, Sean pursued and attained his Masters of Science in Nursing. Sean currently practices as a Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) in a Shock Trauma urban teaching hospital. He has been in healthcare for almost 20 years. He originally received a bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sport Science where he worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC).
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