As the nursing profession continues to grow, so too do the educational requirements for nurses. Today, nurses should consider a new academic starting point if they wish to advance their careers beyond the clinical unit, said Kathleen Hunter, PhD, RN-BC, CNE, director of the MSN program at Chamberlain College of Nursing, headquartered in Downers Grove, Ill.
If you want to be a manager, administrator, educator or a policymaker, you need, at minimum, a MSN, said Hunter, who worked her way to an MSN and a doctorate over 45 years in nursing, spending the past 17 years of her career in education.
As more nurses heed the call to ever higher education, Hunter offered these tips to help aspiring nurses maximize their MSN opportunities:
EXIT THE LECTURE
Pursuing a MSN will feel remarkably different from earlier degrees, Hunter said, particularly in terms of the intensity of work and faculty expectations.
Whereas students in the past may have perceived faculty as lecturers, in masters programs, faculty will take on the role of facilitator, she said.
Theres a lot more independent work, Hunter said. If theres a gap in your knowledge, you are expected to fill that gap.
HIT THE BOOKS
Hunter said nurses will need to hone critical reading and academic research skills to succeed.
While assigned readings will be important, to thrive in a MSN setting, students will need to read voraciously on the subjects. And that additional reading, she said, will be up to the student to locate and incorporate into the course work.
Talk to librarians, talk to your colleagues, do what you need to do, Hunter said. Take the opportunity to grow your knowledge and uncover new ideas.
STRENGTHEN YOUR PEN
Knowing the stuff will be essential but equally critical will be a students ability to communicate that knowledge.
Writing well is just so important in this setting, said Hunter. If you cant do it, it will count against you.
She advised potential MSN candidates to improve their writing before starting a MSN program, including through independent practice and evaluation, and remedial courses, if necessary.
Because of the amount of independent study required, Hunter advised students to learn to manage their time and stay on top of the assignments.
As much of the work will be done in an online setting, students should not only be aware of when assignments are due, but be working on those assignments long before they must submit their work. Ask instructors to clarify assignments if uncertain on any aspect.
Dont let it pile up, Hunter said. It will get beyond you very quickly.
SEE THE FUTURE
Just as the number of positions requiring MSNs continues to grow, so are those requiring doctorate degrees. At some point, nurses should evaluate whether they wish to further their education beyond the MSN. However, their criteria must be based on their own career, life and goals, Hunter said. She advised students to consider how badly they actually want a doctorate, as a masters degree can still unlock a host of new advancement opportunities.They shouldnt do it unless they really want to do it, she said. Its a big investment. For a lot of people, Id advise to take some time off after the masters.