Going Back to School as a Nurse? Try These Helpful Hints.
Smart planning and good time management can set you up for success in nursing school.
Making the decision to return to school for nursing is a big—and exciting—step. After all, earning a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral nursing degree can give your résumé a huge boost. If your goal is to earn a higher salary, become a nurse practitioner, or move up into a nurse manager position or other leadership role in the field, furthering your nursing education is a great way to take your career to the next level.
No matter how excited you are about returning to college—whether you plan to enroll in a local university or earn your nursing degree online—going back to school might also have you feeling a bit anxious. Maybe you’re asking yourself questions like: How will I balance school with work? Will I have time to study? How will I fit in learning around family commitments?
Don’t worry—with a little extra planning, furthering your college education doesn’t have to be stressful, says Dr. Sonya Blevins, a faculty member in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) Completion Program at Walden University.
As an experienced educator in Walden’s College of Nursing—the leading provider of advanced nursing degrees in the U.S.1—Dr. Blevins has mentored hundreds of nursing students who earned a bachelor’s in nursing degree online while working. Her advice below can help smooth the transition back to school.
Manage Your Time Wisely
As a busy nurse, career and family responsibilities probably fill your day already. But if you manage your time well, it’s possible to fit earning a nursing degree into your schedule. Dr. Blevins says organization and planning are key. Here are some ways to help you do that:
- Use a calendar. Using a calendar is still one of the best ways to get organized and balance daily responsibilities with nursing school. Planning ahead is important. Use a calendar—either paper or electronic—to track school, home, work, and other life activities. Be sure to designate time for studying.
- Prepare for the unexpected. Let’s face it: Even the best of plans can be foiled by unforeseen circumstances. Always prepare for the unexpected with a backup plan. For example, if you’re taking an online class and the power or internet goes out, is there somewhere you can go for Wi-Fi access? To avoid unnecessary stress, avoid waiting until the last minute to tackle your schoolwork. Also, be sure to save your work and back it up as you go.
- Maximize free time. No matter how busy we are, the reality is there are many minutes throughout the day we could use more productively. Make the most of your time with small changes. For example, put your study notes on your mobile phone so you can review them in the grocery checkout line instead of scrolling through social media. Listen to an audio version of a required course reading while stuck in traffic or on the bus. Or, study in the car during your kids’ sport practices.
Be Strategic About Studying
Managing multiple tasks at once is a required nursing skill and simply part of the job. But when it comes to studying, it’s best to stay focused on the task at hand. Dr. Blevins says planning when, where, and how you study can help you stay motivated and productive:
- Designate a study space. Find a place that puts you in the study zone. Whether you prefer to study in a quiet corner in your home or at a coffee shop around the block, put yourself in an environment where you can study without distractions and absorb the course material.
- Avoid distractions. When it’s time to study, take deliberate steps to remove potential distractions—such as social media and online shopping sites—so you can fully commit to learning. Turn off your phone. Power down the TV. Wear noise-canceling headphones. Ignore the laundry.
- Decide the best time to study. When you study can be just as important as where you study. If you’re a morning person, set your alarm clock an hour earlier for a study session before you tackle the rest of the day. Or maybe you’d rather hit the books late at night? Think about the time of day that’s best for you and make studying part of your routine.
Communicate With Your Instructors
Whether you’re getting a nursing education online or in person, communication with your instructors is crucial to your success. Reach out with an e-mail or send a direct message through an online learning platform such as Blackboard. Another good way to communicate with many college instructors is to make an appointment for a real-time conversation during their established office hours.
“If life happens or you are struggling, let us know—we will work with you,” Dr. Blevins says.
Keep the following in mind as you communicate with faculty in your nursing degree program:
- Follow the chain of command. Reach out to your instructor first with any issues.
- Be respectful to all instructors, staff, and classmates when communicating in the program.
- Remember: The way you text is different from the way you should communicate in an e-mail. An appropriate e-mail should be more formal in style—with proper spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. Be sure to be specific in your e-mail about why you are contacting them.
As you return to school this fall to earn a nursing degree, these tips from Dr. Blevins can help you get off to great start. If you haven’t yet enrolled and are still comparing colleges, consider the online nursing degree programs at Walden University.
Walden’s College of Nursing offers a quality online nursing education for nurses at all stages of their careers. Programs include an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) Completion Program and a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) online degree program, with an RN to MSN pathway. The university’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and PhD in Nursing online programs are also good options for nurses who want to go back to college to earn a doctoral degree.
Walden also offers two nursing degree programs in the optional Tempo Competency-Based Learning™ format: the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) and the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a specialization in Nursing Education, Nurse Executive, or Nursing Informatics. With competency-based learning, you can move through your nursing degree program at your own pace.
Dr. Blevins has an extensive nursing career background in critical care, women's health, and medical-surgical nursing. For over 15 years, she has been involved in nursing education either in an academic or hospital setting. She is experienced with teaching online and in person, and she has mentored clinical rotations for associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree students. She has published several articles on nursing education and presented at national conferences.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral nursing degree programs. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
1Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Retrieved February 2020, using the 51.38 CIP code group (Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing). Includes 2017–18 preliminary data.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.