If you’ve been working the floor as a nurse for many years, you may be asking yourself if there’s something better for you out there. If you are, know that you’re not alone.
The good news is that nursing is an extremely diverse field, and if you’re ready to do the work and get the credentials needed, you could find a job that fits you better and pays more as well. But that’s not a decision that you can take on a whim. Getting an advanced degree comes with costs, and you don’t have much of a margin for error. Let’s take a look at a few questions you should ask yourself before getting an advanced nursing degree.
Am I Choosing the Right Program?
You first have to check if the program you wanted is the right choice for you. Before choosing a specialization, you have to consider things such as your true aptitudes and not only what type of role you’d like to fill. You may want to work as a healthcare administrator, for instance, but if you aren’t very good with numbers, you’ll have a very hard time succeeding in a field like this.
You also need to know the differences between different types of degrees and how they apply to your studies and career prospects. For instance, a lot of people think that a doctorate and a PhD are one of the same, but that’s not true. When you look at a DNP vs PhD, you might realize that you’re a better fit for one than the other.
While a DNP will be more directly involved in providing care, a PhD will focus more on research. So, if you still want to stay close to patients and be in the middle of the action, then a DNP will be a better option for you. If you’d like to make breakthrough discoveries, test, and review new medication, or help shape the future of the industry as a whole, then a PhD might be better.
So, do your research on any program and don’t choose based on assumptions. Don’t hesitate to ask former students for their opinions on these programs as well.
What are My True Motivations?
You also have to evaluate what your true reasons are for advancing your career. If your main goal is to get more money, then you’ll have to look at fields that offer great salaries and prospects for the future. But you still need to have what it takes to make it and actually enjoy the field, or else you won’t last long.
Others may need a change of air, but before you switch, you have to identify what is making you unhappy in your current position. You might expect that a certain role will be completely different from what you’re doing now, only to realize that most of the tasks are the same.
If what you want is more freedom, then you need to look at specializations that would allow you to work as your boss. Becoming an NP could allow you to run your practice in 22 states, but there are many other routes that you could take if you want to work independently. Getting an advanced degree could allow you to work as a consultant or offer special training. Or you may be able to work as a health coach and work with clients one on one.
Or maybe you’re overwhelmed by the pressure of the ER or sick of having to work hectic schedules? If that’s the case, there are plenty of positions where you could enjoy steady hours and plenty of free time. One great example is a school nurse.
If you have a lot of experience in the field and have the qualifications, many schools in the country would love to hire you. The best thing is that you’ll only have to work during school time. This not only means that you’ll get a regular day schedule with no overtime, but that you’ll also get to enjoy the whole summer off.
Knowing what you don’t like in your current job and what you want in your ideal job will allow you to narrow down your choice of programs and only choose those that contribute to you reaching your professional goals.
Online or Offline?
If you haven’t considered taking your program online, you should definitely consider the option. Online degrees are perfect for nurses, as they can fit their studies around their work schedules.
You’ll have the chance to follow classes part-time or during evenings and/or weekends if you want. Some classes will require that you sit down for lectures at specific times while others allow you to take classes whenever you want, as long as it’s within a certain time limit.
Online classes can also be convenient if you have many mouths to feed and you’re the only breadwinner. Most single parents who are nurses do not have the luxury of leaving their current jobs to study and don’t have the money to hire a babysitter every day to look after the kids. Going for an online degree will facilitate logistics and allow you to stay close to your family.
Before you decide to go for an online degree, however, there are a few things you have to look at first. The most important is that the program is accredited. The two biggest accreditations in the business are the CCNE and the AACN. If the program doesn’t have any of these certifications, look elsewhere. Going with a program that is accredited will ensure that your credits are recognized and that your degree is respected.
How Will I Pay?
Besides where they’re going to find the time to study, many nurses are also asking themselves how they are going to pay. Things become even worse if you already have a lot of student debt.
Going for online classes could allow you to save money, but don’t expect to pay much less for tuition. The savings will come from not having to commute, paying less on things like manuals and eating out, and avoiding all the fees associated with on-campus living and education.
One of the benefits of going for an advanced nursing degree is the massive demand for nurses at the moment, especially specialized ones. States and the federal government rely heavily on nurses to hold the healthcare system together and you’ll find tons of state and federally sponsored financial aid opportunities. Not to mention all the grants and scholarships that are given at the local level by private and public organizations.
Some programs may be targeting your demographic, while others will look at other factors. Some programs are for ex-military personnel, for instance. Many programs will also help you if you belong to a Native American tribe or a minority group.
Other programs will reward those who want to go in specific fields. One example is the WOCN Accredited Nursing Education Program Scholarship, which is aimed at nurses who want to specialize in wound, ostomy, or continence nursing.
Also, know that nothing is stopping you from applying for multiple programs at once. Just make sure that you know the requirements and that you’re the type of candidate they’re looking for.
Don’t assume that it’s impossible to get a grant or scholarship either. Millions of dollars are given out in grants and scholarships every year and many of these programs are not very well known with very few applications. Fewer candidates mean that you could have a real chance of having someone else either partially or completely pay for your studies, so do the effort necessary and at least give them a try.
Do I Have the Support of the People Around Me?
If you’re going to keep working during your studies, you’ll need all the help that you can get, so you have to know if your employer and your family will be on your side as well. Talk to your children about the prospects of going back to school and see how they react. If they were already complaining about not spending enough time with you or you missing some of their events, you might get some pushback.
That doesn’t mean that you should abandon your plans, but you will need to let them know why you’re doing this. Tell them that it’s for them and that you’ll be able to spend more time with them once you get a better job that won’t require you to work as much.
As far as your employer goes, there’s a strong chance that they will support you, but some may not be able to accommodate you. If you have a very important position and you need to be on call, then this might be difficult for them to acquiesce to your demands if you need more flexibility. So, don’t expect them to be thrilled at the idea and at least let them know before you start looking at your options.
These are all things you will need to pay special attention to when deciding to further your nursing education and career. This is a decision that will most likely affect the rest of your life, so move with caution.