Advancing Your Nursing Career: What to Plan Before You Start

Nursing Career

Nursing is certainly well-known for being one of the most emotionally rewarding nursing career options that a person can do. Nurses are needed all over the world to provide healthcare and support to patients who are suffering from injury and illness, and will often provide support for the families and friends of the sick and injured too. Another perk of working as a nurse is that this is a career with an endless number of options to choose from if you are looking for a change of scenery or career progression.

Nurses can work in a wide range of settings including hospitals, doctors’ offices, within the community, in schools, prisons, or even in research laboratories. Many nurses go on to become educators and work in colleges and nursing schools to teach the next generation of healthcare professionals.

Today, there are more online options than ever before for nurses who want to expand their career and do something different. Here are some of the main things to consider before you start your nursing career advancement online.

Where Do You Want Your Career to Take You?

In nursing, there really is something for everybody when it comes to the type of job that you end up doing. If you have a special interest in a certain patient demographic, there are options to tailor your studies and future experience to set you up for success when it comes to working with these patients.

On the other hand, perhaps you prefer working behind the scenes rather than at the bedside, in which case working in admin, research, or education could be the ideal choice for you. Before you embark on the journey of advancing your nursing career, it’s important to take some time to consider what you’ve enjoyed the most about your career so far and figure out your passions.

Perhaps you are lucky and already have a very clear idea of what you would like to do in the future, or maybe you will need some time to weigh up the pros and cons of different opportunities and figure out which one will be the most suitable for you. It can also be helpful to gain as much experience in different areas of nursing as possible so that you can draw on the first-hand knowledge and experience you have gained. Many nurses find that working in the ER is an excellent way to broaden their experience and help them determine where they want their future careers to go.

What to Study

Once you’ve decided on a career pathway, it’s time to consider what you’re going to study in order to get you there. First of all, determine if you are going to need any additional qualifications to what you already have before you can enroll in the program that will lead directly to your career goals. If you are a licensed practical nurse right now, you will probably need to gain a BSN before you will be accepted to study any advanced nursing programs such as a family nurse practitioner program or a master of science in nursing.

You can take an accelerated BSN program and many other online nursing degrees at schools like Marymount University to help you take the next step in achieving your career goal. If you are going straight into getting your advanced degree, consider any degree options that are more focused on the area of work you hope to get into and consider any elective modules that are available.

Studying Online

Studying online has now become the preferred method of learning for many people around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, you may find more nursing programs available to study online compared to in the past. However, not all online degree programs are created equally, so it’s worth considering what type of online study is going to be the most suitable for you.

Many nursing degree programs have now moved a lot of classroom learning online for the foreseeable future, but you will likely be moving back into a classroom environment once it is safe to do so again.

On the other hand, blended learning programs are an ideal mixture of both online and classroom learning, allowing you to do the bulk of your work remotely but visit the campus every so often for in-person tuition and to connect in-person with peers.

This can be an ideal choice if you like the idea of having the opportunity to meet your tutors face to face and make friends in person. Finally, online-only degrees allow you to do all classroom work online. Some online degrees may have set lecture and class times for you to attend while others simply make the materials available and allow you to determine your own schedule.

Bear in mind that with any nursing degree, some degree of on-the-job experience will be required even if you are doing the written work online.

Choosing a School

Since online nursing degrees will typically still require you to carry out work placements and get real-life experience as part of learning, it’s important to make sure that the college or nursing school that you plan to attend is able to offer you a work placement at a healthcare institution that you are able to easily get to. Otherwise, you may need to factor in making travel arrangements to work as part of your program.

Before choosing an online nursing school, spend some time reading reviews and if you can, speak to current and past students to get a better idea of what to expect. Some key areas to ask about include student support, work placements, and how easy the online learning system is to use.

Fitting Extra Study In

Before you enroll, make sure that you are currently able to take the time to study for an advanced nursing degree online. This is especially important if you are currently working full-time as a nurse, as an advanced nursing degree can be very intensive and will require you to plan your time accordingly.

Juggling working as a nurse with studying full-time can be hard work, especially if you are working long, unsociable shifts. You will need to make sure that alongside studying and working, you are going to be able to take the time to relax, spend time doing things that you enjoy, and look after yourself in order to avoid burnout.

Spend some time looking at your current schedule to see where you could fit studying in each day or week. If you work varying shifts as a nurse, it is worth choosing an online degree program that allows complete freedom when it comes to setting your schedule.

If you are not sure that you will have the time available to fit everything in, there are part-time online nursing programs available that might be more ideal for you.

Be Realistic

As you take the next step in advancing your nursing career, it’s important to be realistic when it comes to the amount of work that you are going to be able to take on. Many people go into working and studying full-time without a true idea of just how much work it is going to take, leading to demotivation and burnout.

It’s important to consider any other commitments that you have such as family and volunteering, and make sure that you are choosing a program that will be able to fit into your life, rather than having to make huge sacrifices of important things. However, that being said, you should expect to make some sacrifices in order to achieve your goals – studying might have to take the place of watching Netflix for the next few years.

Having a realistic view of what you are doing and how you are doing it is something that will be important throughout the entire time it takes for you to achieve your career goals. Put a plan in place to revisit every few months so that you can go over your progress and look at any areas where you are struggling. Self-reflection exercises such as journaling can be a very useful tool to use as you study for an advanced nursing degree since you can use these to figure out where things need to change and where things are going well for you.

Set SMART Goals

Your overall goal may be to get your advanced nursing degree and begin working in your choice of a nursing career, but in order to get there, you’re going to have to meet a series of smaller goals along the way. Having these small goals in mind as you work towards your overall achievement is a great way to break down the workload and avoid becoming overwhelmed.

As you study and move further towards your ultimate goal, come up with SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-oriented) goals that you can work towards along the way. For example, this could include each assignment that you need to complete, or completing studying for a certain number of hours per week.

Have Support

Working as a nurse is not an easy task, and achieving an advanced nursing degree alongside working is even harder. Nurses are used to being the person who supports others, but in this situation, don’t forget just how important it is to get support for yourself as well. Your employer is likely going to be the first person that you speak to when it comes to getting support.

Many healthcare employers will actively encourage nurses to advance their careers since it benefits you both. Your employer may be able to offer you support in various different ways including financial support to cover the cost of tuition fees or adjusting your working hours to ensure that fitting studies into your day becomes easier.

Sit down with the other people in your life and explain your plans to them, and what you might need from them in terms of support as you get your advanced degree. Sometimes, even small acts of support can often have the biggest impact, such as family members taking on more household chores so that you can have more time to study.

Getting professional support might also be advisable for some students. Your college or nursing school may be able to provide therapy that you can get in person, on the phone, or online. Talking therapies can be an excellent tool for dealing with feelings of stress or anxiety and having a non-judgmental person that you can talk with if anything bothers you can make all the difference to your success.

Prioritize Self-Care

Juggling a full-time nursing career with a full-time nursing degree is a lot of hard work, so it’s important to put a plan in place early on that ensures you have enough time for self-care. Self-care can be a lot of things, so consider those things that you enjoy doing the most, whether it’s spending time with family, reading a good book, or cooking yourself your favorite meal.

It’s also important to plan ahead to ensure that you are looking after yourself sufficiently. Not eating well because you have so much work to do can quickly lead to burnout since your body and mind need the right fuel to get you through the workload. Simple changes like planning your meals or batch-cooking at the beginning of the week so that you have healthy meals to grab on the go can make a huge difference to how you feel and your performance.

Taking a break is important for self-care, too – nobody can work with all cylinders fired for weeks at a time and not feel exhausted and burned out as a result. As you put together your plan of action for advancing your nursing career, make sure that you schedule in days where you can simply rest and enjoy your time without worrying about the workload. This will help you avoid burnout and you’re likely to return to the work feeling more energized and with a clearer mind.

Nurses have tons of options to choose from when it comes to career advancement. If you’re planning to advance your career while continuing to work full-time as a nurse, having a solid plan in place is key to success.