How to Earn Your Advanced Degree in Nursing While Working Full-Time

by | May 20, 2020 | Education Feature

Working as a full-time nurse is a demanding and challenging job at the best of times. Not only do you have to obtain the right qualifications and pass the right exams to become board certified, but the hours that most nurses work during their careers are long and arduous at times. Nevertheless, nurses are some of the most important members of society and perform an essential and significant job within the world of healthcare.

Those who wish to take their careers farther face an even more difficult task. As if it were not enough to be working as a full-time nurse, but for a nurse to get ahead in his or her career, they must often earn an advanced degree while continuing to work that full-time job.

The good news is that such a goal isn’t by any means impossible to achieve. The time and energy that you must invest in such an endeavor is nothing to take lightly, but there are certainly ways in which you can make the process a bit easier on yourself. If you have decided to enroll in an advanced nursing degree program and are looking for ways that you can earn your degree while also continuing to work full-time, here are a few things that you might consider doing to make balancing your education and your job a bit more manageable.

Consider Online Education

One of the reasons that many nurses shy away from trying to earn an advanced degree while also working full-time is that the thought of having to manage attending classes and lectures in person while also fulfilling the hours on their work schedule is too intimidating. No one can be in two places at once, and not all employment situations will allow for a nurse to take time away from work to attend classes. Once upon a time, this would have been a real and true deterrent for nurses who would otherwise have loved to enroll in an advanced degree program.

This is no longer the case, however. With the popularization and accessibility of online degree programs, it is now possible for a nurse who is working full-time to pursue an advanced degree as well. While clinical hours are still a requirement, the bulk of your classes and lectures are online for you to access and attend when you are able.

Furthermore, there are even institutions that take things a step further and design programs with the working nurse in mind. For instance, it is possible to enroll in an online DNP program that is set up to allow for a fast-track pace so that you can complete your degree quicker than more traditional programs would permit. Those who design and run these programs know that there are limitations in terms of time for nurses who plan to work while going to school. Because of this, you can start your online DNP program courses when the timing makes sense for your situation.

Find Your Ideal Study Space

If you can enroll in an online program like an online DNP program, then you will need to be able to have a space that is particularly dedicated to completing your course work. Watching lectures online and working on class assignments is going to take an incredible amount of focus, something that might be difficult to accomplish after a full day of working on your feet. Because of this, having the right study space is going to be significant.

The most ideal study space would most likely be within a separate room in your home. Having a door to close out distractions when necessary would be preferable, although not everyone will have a home office that can be used for such purposes. This doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t have a designated area for your studies at home. You might just need to get creative with the space you have.

Bear in mind that your study space will need some essentials like good lighting and charging points for your devices. You will want to invest in a comfortable desk and chair that you will be able to spend a significant amount of time in. You would preferably pick the room in your home that is full of the least amount of distractions so that you can give yourself the best chances of being able to focus on the tasks at hand.

If at all possible, you should avoid making your bedroom the place in which you work on your course assignments. There are too many negative consequences to making a habit out of studying in the same place that you are meant to find rest each night. Not only will doing so mess with your ability to get good sleep, something that you will desperately need if you are working on an online DNP program while continuing in your job. It is far better to find another location in your home for you to study and work on assignments.

Get Organized

Depending upon how long you have already been working as a full-time nurse, you might already be in a solid routine with your job and home life. You might know precisely how much time your daily tasks take you, and you are probably aware of how to best handle those things that arise in your job that were unplanned. When you decide to enroll in an online DNP program, though, your entire schedule will become much more demanding and hectic.

Moreover, your free time outside of work and school will be drastically reduced. You know that you will be facing long nights of studying after full days of work. With a heightened level of stress and so much to manage, you will need to take proactive steps ahead of time to get organized. The last thing you want to have happened is for an important deadline or essential day at work to fall off your radar.

There are a number of ways in which you can get organized. You should take the time to find out what organizational methods work best for you. One thing that you might find helpful would be to handwrite your schedule from week to week, placing visual emphasis on the most essential items that you need to remember. The process of writing things out helps your mind to better commit them to memory.

Another good habit to get into is that of designating ten minutes or so at the start of each day to read over your schedule and task list. While life might have once been routine and such steps were unnecessary, your new schedule is going to become hectic. The best way to stay on top of things and decrease your chances of becoming too stressed out is to take organization seriously before your courses begin.

Ask For Help

Nurses are some of the most self-sufficient workers out there. Not only do they have a vast knowledge base that has been acquired through extensive study and first-hand experiences, but they can adapt to most situations and calmly handle the most challenging of cases. While these skills will no doubt serve you well as you complete your online DNP program and carry on in your future career path, the time that you are going to spend earning your degree and working full-time will be a period in your life when you will need to ask for and accept help at times.

Work and school are not the only two things in your life. You have friends, family, and other responsibilities that must be seen to. For the duration of the time in which you know that you will be working towards your degree and working your full-time job, you will need to be able to ask for assistance in managing the other areas of your life.

Perhaps you have children that will need to be picked up from school on a day that you need to dedicate to preparing for a major exam. Maybe you regularly volunteer at a non-profit that is dear to you on most weekends, but for the time being, that time needs to be spent catching up on lectures online. It is ok to enlist the help of your support system to accomplish these things so that you can focus on your studies.

These are only temporary measures that need to be taken so that you can achieve your goals. Your close friends and family will undoubtedly be more than willing to help in such times when you need a little extra assistance.

Don’t Neglect to Schedule In Down Time

It might sound like a counter-productive concept, but scheduling in a bit of downtime for yourself each week is going to be essential to your ability to balance your work life with your studies. Challenging degree programs, like an online DNP program, will need much of your time and focus, and your work schedule will be what it will be. Nevertheless, if you neglect to give yourself a good break every now and then, you could potentially put yourself in a position where you are no longer able to give the necessary effort to your daily tasks because you are simply burned out.

Mental burn out is a real risk for people who overload their schedules. Lack of sleep and not allowing yourself to take a break every once in a while can result in the buildup of too much stress on your mental state. It is no secret that mental health is incredibly important to actively maintain, and taking some periodic downtime is going to play a significant role in helping you to stay on top of your mental health.

This downtime can consist of anything that takes you away from your typical sources of stress for a little while. If you have an hour off from work and no urgent assignments to focus on for your online DNP program, then you should avoid the temptation to carry on working and step away.

Many people find that the most beneficial downtime that contributes to good mental health involves some sort of physical activity. Many studies have shown that exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which are an excellent aid in reducing stress levels in both the mind and the body. If you are not exactly enticed by the thought of spending your time away from work and your studies running or working out, sometimes a simple walk can do the trick. If you can go for a walk on a sunny day, then you stand to reap the benefits of mood-boosting serotonin as well.

Take Care of Yourself

The final thing that you need to bear in mind as you begin your degree while working full-time is that no matter how busy your life becomes, you need to take care of yourself. Nurses naturally are inclined to put the wellbeing of others ahead of their own. While this is a quality of a good nurse, it might be an inclination that you need to curb a bit when you are planning to balance an advanced degree with a full-time job.

While specific programs, like the online DNP program mentioned above, are designed with the working nurse in mind, they are still going to require a fair amount of time and dedication to complete properly. During the time that you are enrolled in such a program, you need to place emphasis on practical things like getting the right amount of sleep at night and maintaining proper nutrition. Allowing such things to fall by the wayside will only make it more difficult for you to accomplish all that you need to.

In addition to scheduled downtime where you can recharge, try to have a little time each week or so to do something you enjoy. Spend some time with close friends or with family. The time away from your stress will help you to keep a handle on your mental wellbeing as you work to achieve all your goals in the world of nursing.

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