Nursing is an excellent career option for two main reasons. The first is that it can be customized and adapted to suit you and your interests, and can shift as your interests and needs change, too. The second is that it is a highly in-demand career. With shortages around the country both within nursing and within physicians, being a nurse is an excellent way to future-proof your career and, once you work your way up to become an APRN, a very lucrative one at that.
Unlike other careers, however, hard work and a go-getter attitude are not enough to help you climb the ranks and reach your goals. Every step forward requires formal training and for you to first achieve your qualifications. This means not only do you need to complete an education course – often a degree – but you also need to pass the state exam.
In some states, passing that exam makes you eligible to work throughout participating eNLC states, but if you currently work outside of the eNLC, and intend to move, you will need to retake the exam in order to legally work in your new home.
While taking time off from your work to tackle the next degree or to transfer your career into nursing is always an option, most will prefer instead to attempt to tackle their degree while they continue to work.
Having a clear outline on what your steps are, what characteristics you need to look for in a degree, and also how to better manage the juggle between your professional life, student life, and also your personal life will all play a huge part in how well you progress through your nursing career.
With this guide, you will learn all the tricks of the trade and be better prepared to easily progress your nursing career with online education.
The Education Track for Nurses
The full education track for nurses is long. Not only that, but there are plenty of ways to expand your abilities and qualifications with short-term workshops, residencies, and training opportunities. For the most part, all further qualifications have strict requirements and will also typically require you to pass the state exam.
While the education and qualification options are very straightforward at the start, your options will also branch out massively after you become an RN. Once you have an unencumbered RN license, and typically have been working as an RN for at least one year, you can then start to specialize in a field that you find most exciting.
Pre-Bachelor Education Options
It is possible to jump right into nursing with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This option is ideal if you already have a job outside of nursing and are looking to make a career change, or alternatively have the means to support yourself while you tackle the degree full time, without work or a career to distract you.
If you require to work fast and want to get started within nursing, then there are nursing roles you can train for and get started with sooner. To become a Certified Nursing Assistant, you only need a few weeks of training before you can get started, and it takes around six months to become a. Licensed Nurse Practitioner.
You can also become a Registered Nurse by earning an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). This option, however, can and will limit you. Many states are working to phase out ADN-RNs entirely by requiring ADN-holding nurses to complete the BSN within ten years (BSN in 10). The good news is that you can often fast-track your BSN if you already have an ADN, so if your state still allows for it, you could earn your ADN and then start working as an RN. You will want to then find a fast-track BSN option to become fully qualified and to get started with the rest of your career.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
In order to further your credentials in nursing and work as anything other than an RN, you are going to need a BSN. It doesn’t matter if you believe that the Associate’s Degree in Nursing is just a condensed version of a BSN or not. There is no MSN that will allow you to apply without first holding a BSN. It is a prerequisite, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to fast-track your BSN.
As previously stated, if you have an ADN, you can fast-track through a BSN. The same applies if you have a bachelor’s degree in any subject. By transferring relevant credits over, you can save money and speed up your efforts.
Take your BSN full-time, part-time, on-campus, or online. The important thing is that your efforts suit your needs.
Master of Science in Nursing
It is important that you give yourself the time to explore more about nursing and what you personally want out of your degree before you jump into a master’s degree. Most master’s you come across in nursing will prepare you to work within your chosen specialization, and realizing halfway through that the specialization you have chosen isn’t right for you can be costly, and it can mean you will need to backtrack.
You can, of course, always go back and train in a different role. If you already have a master’s, then you can retrain and earn a post-master’s certification that will make you eligible to take the state exam and work in that new role.
You can also earn your MSN on your way to your doctorate. Rather than earn an MSN and then go on to earn a DNP, you can find and enroll in an excellent BSN to DNP program online. These programs integrate MSN and DNP courses and credits so that you can earn them all at once. You will graduate with both MSN and DNP credentials, and have the highest level of nursing education under your belt, all through the same program.
It takes 28 months to complete this program, and the DNP will allow you to play a larger role in patient care and in improving the quality of care in your hospital and beyond. It is ideal for those looking to work in leadership positions, either in a hospital or even in their own practice.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
You don’t need a DNP in order to APRNs, but it is highly recommended and becoming increasingly endorsed. This endorsement has been around for years. The AACN recommended that DNPs be the degree required APRNs to enter practice back in 2004.
You will want to earn your DNP, either on its own or in an integrated option like that BSN to DNP track when you want to work in leadership. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommends the DNP for those looking to become educators, researchers, advanced clinicians, and of course, leaders in their field.
Recently the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) has started to recommend that DNP become the standard and entry-level degree for those who want to become nurse practitioners, though there is no talk or legislation yet of this happening.
In short, DNP can help prepare and qualify you for highly advanced roles and can also future-proof your career all at once.
Clinical Experience and Training
Every degree includes clinical training and residencies, but do note that some career tracks in nursing will also require you to have worked in a certain field or unit before you enroll. This is true with midwifery, for example. Midwifery programs will typically require candidates to have worked on a mother-baby unit as an RN or with qualified midwives for at least a year.
The good news is that the in-person training can help you really determine if the role is right for you and can also help solidify what you have learned during your degree.
What to Look for in an Online Degree
There are so many things to look for in an online degree and many different factors to consider when choosing the right education track for you. With so many different ways to earn your BSN, MSN, and even DNP, it can feel daunting to choose the “right” degree.
The first thing you need to keep in mind is your own goals and needs. Doing this can help you find a degree that allows you to easily or at least more efficiently achieve your goals. The same applies to your needs. If you need to continue to work while you study, then you need a degree specifically designed with working professionals in mind.
Don’t just look at the course material, either, but what the university offers to help their students. Student success coaches and also placement services for your clinical hours are two of the most essential tools you will want your degree to have.
How to Manage the Juggle Between Work and Education
Progressing through a nursing career by furthering your education is only easy when you put your health first. Stress management will mean something different to you than it does to the person next to you, and finding the right routine and right strategies early on can help you naturally adjust your schedule and your routine when you start your degree.
There are a few staples. However, that will allow you to work better both in your career and in your degree. Getting a better quality of sleep consistently, eating better, exercising, and also creating a robust support network will all help you reduce stress and stay on top of a routine that makes it easier to tackle everything.
Part of this routine will need to include your personal life. If you ignore it and avoid social situations in order to manage the juggle, you are only going to isolate yourself and put pressure on your mental health.
Improve Your Health
You will want to improve your health before you start your degree. Go through and remove all those unhealthy foods that are high in salt, fat, and especially sugar. Though it may be tempting to overload with caffeine, try to avoid this as much as you can and instead stock up on energy-boosting foods and snacks instead. The goal is to avoid an energy crash, which is something both sugar and caffeine do to you.
Sleeping better may sound like one of the biggest challenges, but all it really needs is routine. Sleeping at the same time every day can do wonders towards adjusting your internal clock, but you can also improve your sheets, get black-out curtains or wear a face mask, and even use a sleep tracker to better adjust your schedule so that you can get a more restful night, every night.
Build a Routine for Consistency
When it comes to your degree, try to tackle it consistently in smaller chunks rather than try to do a lot at once infrequently. Little baby steps not only take a lot of the stress and anxiety out of doing an online degree, but this approach can also help you learn, memorize, and understand the content better. It can take time to adjust to a new routine, so start before you enroll for the best results.
Take Better Breaks
Breaks are key for productivity. Not only do you need breaks during your longer study periods, but you also need breaks in your week. Rather than mindlessly scroll through social media or fill your head with content that does not enrich you, get outside. Schedule to see friends regularly on your breaks, or go for a short walk. Combining socializing and destressing with your breaks can help you get more out of them.
Your friends and family, in particular, are important to see and make time for during this time. Not only will they be an important part of your support network, but they will also be the perfect distraction that will allow your brain to properly switch off and enjoy a break from studying.
This reduces fatigue, stress and can make the entire experience more enjoyable – something every nurse needs when tackling something as big as a degree with their career.