Many people describe nursing as a vocation rather than a job. They feel it is something they were called to do. Careers in healthcare require a high level of commitment, and you need to be dedicated to be a nurse because the actions you take every day can directly affect a person’s health and life. Without love for helping people as a nurse and positively impacting the lives of your patients and their loved ones, it would be much harder to accept and deal with the challenges you will inevitably face at work.
Nursing: a challenging career
Nursing is a career that is both rewarding and challenging. Having to work under extreme pressure and making potentially life-changing decisions day after day is not something everyone is cut out to do. Nursing is physically demanding work. For some people, it can be difficult to balance shift work with the demands of home life, particularly if you have young children or older family members to care for.
Many nurses have a very heavy workload, often driven by staff shortages. There are significant shortages of nurses across the U.S., with some states faring worse than others. Several factors have contributed to the shortages, ranging from an aging population requiring more healthcare and for a longer time, a greater demand for care for more complex health conditions, increased demand in recent years arising from the Affordable Care Act, and higher numbers of nursing staff reaching retirement age and leaving the profession.
The Covid-19 pandemic put nurses and other healthcare professionals under more pressure than ever before. Dealing with the unknown, combined with the scale of the pandemic, was extremely stressful. Burnout became a huge problem, and it is still continuing. It took a high toll on the health of nurses and prompted some to leave the profession, with more still considering leaving. However, the pandemic also demonstrated just how remarkably resilient and dedicated nurses are. This resilience and dedication drive nurses to keep learning and striving to enhance their skills over the course of their careers.
Nursing is rewarding
Most people decide on a career in nursing because they have a natural desire to help others. Nursing gives people a sense of purpose. Many nurses describe the importance of making a difference and are motivated by the opportunity to touch someone’s life. Being a nurse requires some special qualities, but if you possess them, the rewards tend to outweigh the challenges far. Continuing education empowers nurses to deliver even better care for patients while providing opportunities for career development.
Undertaking studies and training is part of being dedicated to nursing, enabling you to perform at your best. Curiosity and a thirst for knowledge are important attributes for a highly successful nursing career. Other attributes and skills that nurses tend to have in abundance will also be relevant strengths when it comes to undertaking further studies. Commitment, perseverance, stamina, problem-solving skills, attention to detail, critical thinking, a willingness to learn, and time management are all skills that will give you a huge advantage when it comes to undertaking a program of study.
Stamina will be particularly important if you opt for a flexible program, such as a bridge bachelor’s degree, and continue to work while you study. Studying and working at the same time is hard work, but for some people, it is the most practical solution.
Why continue nursing education?
There are many benefits associated with pursuing further studies and training when you are a nurse. Developing your education is good for you, your patients, and the organization you work for. The more education you complete, the better you will become at meeting the challenges of nursing, whatever the role.
Some continuing education is mandatory for nurses. The Board of Nursing (BON) specifies the requirements relevant to each practice area. Many of these require license renewal every two years. Some states mandate courses in particular subject areas, such as preventing medication errors, pain management, HIV/AIDS, and domestic violence.
Mandatory training is helpful for giving you the skills needed to handle specific issues and conditions and making continuing learning a habit. When you are already used to completing further training and courses, you have the right mindset for learning, making it easier to embark on other studies, such as a degree program.
In some cases, when you first complete specialist training certificates, you may be awarded Continuing Education (CE) credits that can count toward further qualifications. Note that while regular refresher training will be mandatory in certain areas, additional credits will not usually be awarded for refresher courses since they are not teaching new skills or practices.
Better patient outcomes
Further education gives you the ability to deliver better patient outcomes. It means that you have more in-depth knowledge that can be used daily when treating patients. For example, a Bachelor of Science degree will cover subjects in more detail than the curriculum for an Associate degree. The additional confidence you gain from completing your studies will also translate into enhanced patient care as you learn to handle situations with more assurance and can support other staff in doing the same.
Keeping up with evolving healthcare
Medicine and healthcare are constantly changing as new developments, and technological advancements are introduced. Nurses and other healthcare professionals need to keep up to date with the latest methods and technologies to enjoy their advantages. New developments help deliver benefits such as enhanced outcomes for the patient or more efficient methods of patient care or related procedures. Training programs help to ensure that you are familiar with the latest advancements and technology so you can stay at the top of your game.
Expanding your responsibilities
When you gain a new qualification, such as another degree, you will have the additional knowledge and skills needed to take on new responsibilities in your job, adding more variety and interest to your work. It also puts you in a strong position if you wish to apply for a promotion or a different role.
Some degrees will give you the option to select course components for specializations, such as neonatal nursing or midwifery. If you have a specific area of interest in which you would like to work, a degree program with specializations is the ideal way to make progress in your chosen career path.
Further studies may also give you the chance to discover new areas of interest, perhaps through a placement. You may find that you have an affinity for a particular branch of healthcare that you had not previously considered working in, such as hospice care, geriatrics, or pain management.
Developing your leadership skills
Further education, such as a postgraduate degree in nursing, will develop your managerial and leadership skills and prepare you for a broader range of career options. For example, you may want to move into designing service delivery, research, strategy, and policy development at some stage in your nursing career. Leadership skills are also essential for progressing to more senior nursing roles.
Supporting the development of other nurses
When you have developed your own skills further, you may want to become a mentor to more junior nurses. Passing on your knowledge and skills can be very rewarding because you know that you are sharing best practices and helping others to become the best nurses possible. You may choose to mentor student nurses or qualified nurses in more junior roles in your unit.
Undertaking further studies is a great way of accelerating your career progression and expanding your opportunities for promotion. Salaries can rise considerably with additional qualifications, seniority and specializations.
Further education available for nursing
Here is a look at some of the options available to those seeking further education in nursing.
Associate Degree in Nursing
Most jobs in nursing require you to have a degree. The most basic degree is the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which takes the least time to complete and is the lowest-cost option, but for most roles, you will need more than just the ADN.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
If you want to become a registered nurse (RN), you will usually be expected to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, a BSN is a prerequisite for new hires by 41% of employers in the U.S., while 82% of employers state that a BSN is strongly preferred.
A BSN will typically incorporate the following core elements:
- Leadership and management
- Mental health
- Reproductive health
- Clinical experience
Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing
The Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) is designed for people who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject. This program offers a quick and convenient path into nursing for those who did not initially choose this field but have now decided on this career path. You will cover the essential components of a BSN course, but some relevant component credits from your previous degree can count toward the ABSN qualification. Choosing to do an ABSN online gives you more flexibility for when you study; in some cases, it will mean you can continue working while you complete your degree.
Master’s of Science in Nursing
The Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a postgraduate degree. A BSN qualification is usually a requirement for joining an MSN program. You will also be expected to have a minimum GPA and a nursing license. You can study for an MSN on campus or online.
There is usually plenty of scope for customizing an MSN. Therefore, if you have specific areas you would like to specialize in, you will be able to find a program that you can tailor to suit your requirements. Some course components will focus on in-depth nursing practices, while other components will cover areas such as leadership, education, or business.
A Master’s of Science in Nursing is required if you would like to become a nurse practitioner. It can be helpful for progressing your career in clinical roles, but it is also a path into research roles, legal consultation, and education roles.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
This doctorate-level degree is a practicing alternative to research-based doctoral programs. The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) aims at nurses wishing to pursue a career in advanced nursing or management rather than research or academia. It is a terminal degree with no higher qualification available in nursing.
Nurses with a DNP work either directly or indirectly with patients. They may work as nurse practitioners (NP), and the DNP degree will give them an advantage over other candidates when they apply for NP roles. A DNP-qualified nurse may choose a specialist role, such as a nurse midwife or nurse anesthetist. There are also opportunities for DNP holders in nursing management. Bridge programs are available for nurses who want to study further and currently have a BSN or MSN. These take 3 to 4 years or 1 to 2 years, respectively, when studied on a full-time basis, or they can be completed with part-time study over a longer duration.
Choosing the right school
There are many schools to choose from when it comes to nursing programs, with many offering online, hybrid, or on-campus learning. Whichever format you choose, it is important to look for an accredited school and course. Accreditation shows that the education you are getting meets set quality standards.
Rockhurst University Saint Luke’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences offers a full-time ABSN program that can be completed in as little as 16 months. The ABSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), and the school has accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. The Rockhurst University ABSN has approval from the state of Missouri to participate in a state reciprocity agreement, so discounts are available to students from several other states.
Financing your education
The costs of each type of degree program vary by school and the format of the course. Online nursing degrees tend to cost less than on-campus programs because the costs to run the course are lower. Some BSN bridge programs offer flexible learning options so you can continue to work and fit your studies around your work schedule.
You can apply for financial aid if you need assistance with funding your degree. If you are not certain whether you are eligible for financial support, you can find out by completing the application form for Federal Student Aid. Nurse Journal has more information on applying for student finance.
You may also want to consider applying for a nursing scholarship to help finance your degree. Scholarships are available from several organizations, including the Foundation of the National Student Nurse Association, and some specific to certain sectors, such as people from the armed forces or minority populations. You may be fortunate enough to work for a healthcare organization willing to help finance your degree.
Is there an age limit for starting a career in nursing?
No. Some people embark on a nursing program right after high school, while others come to nursing later in life. It may be that studying wasn’t an option for you when you were younger or chose a different career. You might find that you are interested in doing nursing for a career change or perhaps after you have had a family and your children are getting a little older, so you have more time for studies. No matter what you have done prior to nursing, the experience you have gained in other work or caregiving will have some relevance, and there will be transferable skills that you can bring to your nursing studies and career. An eagerness to learn and keep learning is one of the most important attributes you can bring.
If you are looking for a career with a sense of purpose, where you can truly make a difference in people’s lives every day, and are committed to continuous learning, nursing could be an ideal option. With the huge increases in the numbers of nurses needed to meet growing demand over the coming years and demand far outstripping supply, there are plenty of opportunities in nursing, so you will have the added bonus of being in one of the most secure jobs for the foreseeable future. Moreover, with the constantly evolving and expanding nature of healthcare, there will always be different areas to learn about and the potential to grow and develop your nursing career.