Achieving Your Education Goals

Whether or not you continue your education formally, we all need to keep pace with a healthcare world that is continuously evolving and changing.  In a world of continuous change, lifelong learning in nursing is a necessity.

As our latest round of graduates recently walked the stage here at Chamberlain, I offer some reflections on what I’ve learned about continuing education.

Set your goals as early as possible, and set your sights high. Think of all that’s available in nursing and what you, as a professional, want and need to accomplish.  Someone once said, “Make no small plans, as the heart is stirred by setting big goals and making them happen.”

If you want to be a leader, you need to continue your education. The most compelling reasons for earning a degree are job advancement and career opportunity. Although I didn’t need a master’s degree for the job I had at the time, I decided to earn one — I knew it would open doors.  My nursing diploma equipped me to provide patient care, but I also wanted to be a leader and a teacher. In most places in healthcare, you need at least a BSN degree to be a clinical supervisor, such as unit leader, and an advanced degree to go beyond that.

Before I entered a BSN program, I knew plenty about patient care but little about my profession.  As I continued my educational journey, a world I knew nothing about opened to me – a world of nursing scholars, theorists and professional organizations.  We need more highly-educated nurses to lead us to where we need to be.  Education enables us to contribute to the development and knowledge base of our profession.

If you’ve got momentum, keep going. We have students at Chamberlain who go from one degree to the next because they’re in the groove.  If you know that’s what you want and now is the right time in your life, go for it!

If you want to return to school, you can find the time. Right now you may be saying “That’s crazy, I have no time.”  But I’ve seen how busy people find the time to do what is important to them.  If we think about the number of hours we waste in a week watching television or other like activities, we may find that we can carve out the needed time to do school work.

To meet your educational goals, you will need to prioritize your time and exercise discipline. Figure out what works for you and find a way to fit it in. It’s a sacrifice, but one you will never regret.

In my second doctoral program, I had to find time on weekends because my position requires long workdays. Although I began taking one course at a time, I wanted the degree sooner so I doubled my course load halfway through the program. It meant that I had to work on school almost every weekend. When I needed to make a push to finish my dissertation, I took a week’s vacation time to do the final writing and editing. The dissertation took a year and a half, during which time my husband saw little of me.  Which brings me to my next piece of advice:

Find a support structure that works for you. My husband understood the importance of the degree and did what he could to help, including taking on some household duties.  During my first doctoral program, I had a baby and worked full-time, which meant I had to rely on my mother and other family members.

Treat going to school like a job. I found that if I set myself a work schedule much like a job, I was much more successful and efficient in getting my school work done.  On weekends I went to my office at 8 a.m. and worked the full day. Because the courses in my program were online, I was able to schedule the times when I planned to log in and complete the online assignments.  I set goals to finish those assignments at the beginning of each week, in case they took longer than anticipated. Decide how much you’re going to accomplish in each work session and pace yourself.

If you fall off track, you can get back on. I left my first doctoral program without completing my dissertation and went in a completely different direction before returning to healthcare. I finally earned a Ph.D. more than three decades after setting out to achieve that goal.

The second time around, I watched many of my classmates fall off track.  Life changes; priorities shift and shift again. Suddenly, it’s the right time to resume.  I lost ground with the time off, but when I got back on track, it was with new resolve and a focus dictated by the new direction my career had taken.

Explore all your educational options. Certificates are another way to continue your education. During my midlife entrepreneurial career, I took a year-long program at the University of Illinois and received a certificate in business administration and entrepreneurial studies.  At Chamberlain, we offer a Graduate Certificate Program in Nursing Education and Nursing Informatics. Post-graduate fellowships, such as the nurse-educator fellowships available through the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, are another option.  

There is no statute of limitations on going back to school. Part of my reasoning for completing a Ph.D. at 64 is that I want to continue to work as long as I’m able.  There are people in their 70s who earn degrees simply for the sense of accomplishment.  It’s never too late.

For our students who have recently graduated, I hope that you have already felt the personal satisfaction of continuing your education, and that the education you’ve received has opened your eyes to new possibilities in your career. While you have recently earned your degree, it’s my hope that you will view your nursing education as a lifelong pursuit.

We need more highly educated nurses to lead us to where we need to be as a profession.  Chamberlain will be there for you to continue to foster and facilitate your lifelong learning in nursing along the way. Congratulations!

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