Compassion fatigue, COVID-19 burnout, chronic stress, and increased risk have all caused nurses around the world to struggle. Nurses have truly stepped up and are rightly seen as heroes but being heroes doesn’t mean that you aren’t having difficulties, especially when it seems like the pandemic has meant that your own personal goals have had to take a back seat.
If you are an RN right now that has always dreamed of pursuing further education, but feel like it still isn’t the right time, don’t worry. Planning and preparing are going to help you whether you start that juggle between work and study now or in a year or more’s time.
Skip The Unnecessary Nursing Steps
There are very few situations where you will want to train to become a Certified Nursing Assistant or a Licensed Nurse Practitioner when your goal is to become a Registered Nurse. You may not have a job and need work fast and soon. By first training, either as a CNA (which takes a few weeks) or as an LNP (which takes about six months), you can get started working within healthcare sooner. You will want to then get started with a part-time BSN and make steady steps towards your dream role, where you can then start to specialize and customize your career with greater focus.
If you don’t immediately need that job, then tackling your BSN full-time, or alternatively part-time while you work a non-nursing job, is going to be the way to go.
In all of these options, however, remember to never do more than you have to. If you already hold a degree, then don’t take credits you already have completed and fast-track instead! You can fast-track if you have an associate degree in Nursing or any other bachelor’s degree as well, though how much you can fast-track will depend on what credits you have.
You can also fast-track through higher levels of education, though this is more applicable for those who already have an MSN. If you are going back to become specialized in another area of nursing, for example, you don’t need to take all those same foundation MSN credits as you already did and can instead earn a post-graduate certificate.
In a way, you can even speed through a DNP with an integrated degree option. What this means is that you go from your BSN and take both DNP and MSN credits and graduate with both. It takes longer, but as there is no off period, you won’t have to worry about getting out of your routine and can reach your goals sooner and more directly.
There is no benefit in repeating yourself. It costs more, and it can be frustrating to learn the same things again. So long as you have the professional qualifications and credits, you can use those to fast-track and get through to your next educational goal sooner and with less fuss.
Giving Yourself Time to Understand What You Want
While studying to become an RN with a BSN is straightforward, that isn’t the case with the MSN or higher. Many top programs even require you to have worked as an RN for at least a year, so you have time to understand your needs and what area of medicine and type of care suits you.
If you went into nursing with a clear goal in mind from the start, then try to work in that department. Not only will this help you by expanding your network in the right direction and helping you learn on the job many of the key concepts and real-life conditions involved with your dream job, but it can also be a requirement before you get started.
To become a midwife, for example, you may need to earn a DNP in midwifery. This higher qualification not only needs you to have a BSN, but it also needs you to have worked with midwives, on a mother-baby unit, or even with a doula.
If you don’t know what you want to do, then trying to move forward can become very stressful. You second-guess yourself; you aren’t sure what you want to get stuck doing, and more importantly, the cost seems daunting.
In this case, take a step back. Shadow different departments, read medical journals and nursing journals, and don’t be afraid to talk with other nurses. Finding where you fit in as a nurse is a journey only you can take and exploring your path options can help you find the best and most comfortable position for your future.
What Level of Education You Should Go For
One of the questions you will want to ask yourself as you take that journey and progress through your education is how far you should take it. While you can earn your MSN and work as an APRN or NP, that may not be enough for what you truly want to do. If you want to move out of primary care or direct care and into education, leadership, or policy-making, for example, that MSN will not be enough.
You can always make the decision to earn that DNP or not later on but acknowledging and knowing why and when you would need a DNP can make a huge difference in helping you navigate your career.
Of course, the MSN vs. DNP debate goes further than just what jobs you can get with a DNP vs that MSN. DNP degrees also give you greater negotiating power, as there are far fewer DNPs than there are those who hold an MSN. This could mean more advanced roles and much higher salaries.
When You Only Need an MSN
You need an MSN at minimum to work as a specialist nurse in healthcare. MSN holding nurses typically earn six-figure salaries and are often used to offset the shortage of physicians in many parts of the country. If you only need an MSN to start practicing in your dream job, then it can seem silly to go for a DNP. You may also not earn that much more as a DNP-holding nurse in your role, making it an expensive undertaking without big, tangible benefits.
This will apply to some nursing roles and some career paths, but if you have ambition and want to make big differences for patients and healthcare as a whole, a DNP is the best way to do it.
When You Should Go for a DNP
If you have an ultimate dream to work in policy, or to become a leader within nursing, or to work as a professor and nurse educator at a nursing college, then a DNP can be the perfect choice. DNPs offer many benefits for APRNs and NPs both in the healthcare system and in the industries adjacent to it but having a doctorate can put you into a position to work in unique job roles that cannot or will never be filled by someone who only holds an MSN.
As there are far fewer professionals who hold a DNP, you also have less competition. Greater skill, less competition, and an increasing need by the country to increase the practice authority of APRNs have ensured that DNP nurses will continue to stand out now and well into the future.
Why You Should Always Be Prepared to Earn Your DNP
Just as RNs used to only need the associate degree in Nursing, but now need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. However, there may come a time where APRNs will also need to earn a DNP. This may not apply to all advanced practice roles, but certain routes, like the nurse practitioner route, may see the DNP become preferred and even mandatory in the future.
This is all currently speculation, however. Not only that, but you can earn your MSN and then, later on, follow up with the DNP, giving yourself much more freedom and space to decide later on if the DNP is right for your career.
How to Be Mindful of Your Energy and Efforts While Working and Studying
Being mindful and aware of your path forward can help you stay motivated throughout the process. Knowing what you want, as well as the best role based on your interests and energy levels.
Being mindful of your health and your energy is so important to help you actually see through with your goals. A good way to track how you are feeling is to take note of it. This can be very scientific. You could have a scale between 1-10 for a variety of different metrics, from how stressed you feel to how much energy you have. Small outliers, like getting sick, can be ignored, but if you can see how much a new job has taken its toll, you will have a better, more visual understanding of the impact.
Doing this can help you understand how successful your routine and efforts are, in all things, especially as you start to juggle your career and your education.