The alarm goes off at 5:30 am, and you could swear you went to sleep five minutes ago. First a quick shower, followed by the finishing touches on that homework assignment due tonight over coffee and breakfast — if there’s time.
Then it’s off to work, a solid eight-plus hours of time where you’re busy with charts, rounds and other assorted tasks. At the end of your shift, your fellow nurses are heading home to their families or to the local watering hole for a cold one. You, on the other hand, are heading to class.
Going back to nursing school can be one of the most challenging undertakings of your life. Continuing education is different than going to school in your youth because now you have to fit schooling around a full adult life with responsibilities like a mortgage, bills, and children. But it can be done.
Follow this advice to reach your educational goals while keeping some semblance of your sanity.
Set Your Expectations
You know going to nursing school at the same time you’re working 40 (or more) hours per week is going to be tough. Now it’s time to get real about how tough it’s going to be. If you expect to get eight hours of sleep and three leisurely meals a day, you’re going to be very disappointed. Don’t be surprised if you have to pull some late nights studying. You can’t skip out on your hospital responsibilities even if you’re completely drained when that alarm clock wakes you up out of a deep slumber.
The best solution is to create a written log of how you expect to spend your time before you start your schooling. Be honest! Listing all the responsibilities in your life that you can’t afford to neglect will alert you to how much spare time you really have. This will help you figure out if combining the two is feasible and you’ll probably be more likely to avoid every nursing student’s worst enemy: procrastination.
Know Your Goals
Don’t go back to school because you’re bored or hope you’ll be inspired to some greater heights than you can imagine right now. If you don’t have a tangible reason to learn new skills or pursue a higher nursing degree, you’ll be far less likely to succeed.
Remember, nursing school can be costly in terms of money and time. Make sure it’s worth your while. Only learn new skills for your current job if it will make you a markedly better nurse, and preferably, put you in line for a promotion or raise. If you are going for a degree, have a clear plan as to how that degree is going to help your career aspirations as a healthcare professional.
Treat School Like it’s Your Job
Many people are tempted by online nursing schools because they think the curriculum will be easier than traditional in-the-classroom schooling, like the difference between an open-book or closed-book test. Wrong. As online schools become more mainstream, their reputations are at stake. As a result, the curriculum at online universities and colleges can actually be more intensive than what you’re used to.
If the way you attend class is at home via your computer, treat it like any other kind of school. Give yourself a private area to study where loved ones or the TV can’t distract you. And if you’re attending classes after work in an actual classroom, don’t be tempted to skip out because of an unforeseen distraction. It’s really true that a large part of success is showing up. Miss one class and it’ll be easier to miss another. And another…
Don’t Go at it Alone
You can’t make your friends go to work for you, and you definitely shouldn’t copy anybody else’s homework. Still, it is almost impossible — and definitely foolhardy — to work a full-time job and go to nursing school at the same time without any help. Let people you trust know that you’re going to need some support.
Whether it’s a relative picking up your daughter from soccer practice or your spouse taking over dinner duties, it’s extremely important to accept help when offered and to ask for it when needed. One person can only handle so much, and your true friends and loved ones should be happy to help as long as they aren’t being taken advantage of. Reward them with small tokens of appreciation and remember to thank them after you’ve reached your educational goals.
And finally, remember that you can do it. You can work hard during the day (or night) at the hospital and still have the ability to focus on your schooling. It won’t be easy, but the payoff can be tremendous. Just make sure to understand what exactly it is you’re working toward, focus on time management and build a solid support system you can lean on when times (and classroom assignments) get tough. If you can do those things, continuing education is an investment in yourself that’s sure to pay off.