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3 mammoth decisions to make before going back to school

Choose the right course for your nursing education

The Institute of Medicine’s 2010 Report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” calls for 80% of RNs in the U.S. to have bachelor’s degrees by 2020 and double the number of nurses who have doctoral degrees. As a result, many states and organizations have created educational initiatives with Campaign for Action coalitions to achieve that goal.

And that’s inspiring nurses to further their education.

But before you go back to school, take the time to really consider your goal and platform, and vow to make a realistic time commitment. These three major decisions can have a big impact on your success.

Know your goal

You might be considering pursuing a degree to become a nurse practitioner, one of the most recognized advance practice role for nurses. But bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees prepare nurses for so much more than the advance practice registered nurse role. What is your ultimate goal? Ask yourself: What is your passion? What do you want to spend the next 5, 10 or 25 years doing? Think about other roles, such as a nurse educator in a healthcare setting or university, nurse researcher, nurse informatics specialist or a nurse executive. There is a shortage of both faculty and nurse managers. Write down your goal, listing pros and cons, and consider what rings most true to you. 

Choose your platform

Decide if you want to study online only, in the classroom only or prefer to use a combination of both platforms? Ask yourself: Do I prefer to listen to a lecture in a classroom or online? Which friends have graduated from online and traditional programs and what did they like and dislike about the platform they chose? You might think online is easier because of less travel, but there’s lots to do online, including interacting via discussion boards and watching PowerPoint presentations with other classmates. Technology has advanced for online learning to connect students and the faculty in new ways. Be open to all the new ways to learn.

Make a time commitment

With so many programs available, you’ll likely find one to meet your needs. But before enrolling in a program, think about what you might have to give up in your life so you have the time to complete your studies. Program time commitments vary. Some schools prefer or even require students to attend classes full time. Some have specific requirements such as taking one class every eight weeks or three classes per semester. Netflix binges may have to wait until a semester break, and long vacations may have to be postponed until you complete your degree.

Occasionally when I teach, I’ve had students complain about the amount of required reading. I remind them that one credit hour equals three hours of work outside the classroom weekly, so just one three-credit-hour course will require, on average, nine hours per week of work outside the classroom. As a nurse educator, my goal is for my students to demonstrate their mastery of the objectives and the topic, not to make them read for reading’s sake.

The Future of Nursing Report states nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training and practice to the full extent of their education and training. This statement is meant for all RNs and ARRNs, regardless of their roles.

So, who do you want to be in the future? Carefully think through the goal, platform and time considerations, then enroll in a program. And remember: Anything is possible.

Courses Related to ‘Developing Educational Goals’

WEB 309: RN to BSN: Aligning Your Personality Characteristics with Your Career Goals (1 contact hr)
The purpose of this pediatric respiratory infection continuing education course is to inform clinicians about viral and bacterial respiratory infections that affect children so that they will be able to recognize the diseases and provide the most effective care.

WEB290: Transforming Practice: Taking the Leap to APRN (1 contact hr)
This webinar will help you develop an understanding of the benefits to advanced nursing degrees and determine a personal course of action for considering and/or moving forward with degree advancement.

CE171-60: Earning Degrees By Distance Education (1 contact hr)
This CE provides nurses with information about obtaining academic credentials through distance education. It differentiates between traditional face-to-face education and distance education and relates how proficiency examinations can be applied to distance education, among other lessons.

About the Author:

Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, FAAN
Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is division director of care management at Oregon Health and Science University and instructor for Arizona State University College of Nursing and Health Innovation DNP program. She also is treasurer for the American Nurses Association. Formerly, Mensik was vice president of CE programming for published by OnCourse Learning. A second-edition book she authored, "The Nurse Manager's Guide to Innovative Staffing," won third place in the leadership category for the American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Awards 2017. Author, Jennifer Mensik, does not endorse, recommend or favor any program, product or service advertised or referenced on this website, or that appear on any linkages to or from this website.


  1. Avatar
    Leonora EGlunt December 26, 2016 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for the information . I guess you could say , I’m at a standstill with my profession ,and need some advice . I am a newly licensed Lpn, since 2013 . I’m 58 years old, and I’m looking for something for the next 8-10 years . For me to go back for Rn BSN is not desired at this stage of my life . It would take me , many years and the debt would be to heavy .I have recently worked in personal care , and Telehealth positions with the Va . I was a contractor , and position ended . So I’m at a standstill, most Telehealth positions are asking for RN . Do you have any suggestions on continue where I’m at , I have enjoyed this profession,but personal care is challenging at my age.I would appreciate and be very open , for any advice you may have ,in continuing in my profession at my level.Thank you .

    • Sallie Jimenez
      Sallie Jimenez January 3, 2017 at 10:56 pm - Reply

      Jennifer Mensik responds:

      With your education and experience, you might consider positions in quality assurance or patient experience. Many hospitals are looking for individuals in these departments, given your clinical background and desire to work for the next 8-10 years, there is definitely a place for your skills there!

      — Jennifer Mensik, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN Executive Director Nursing, Medicine, and Pharmacy Programs

    • Avatar
      Mary Ann May 23, 2017 at 6:04 pm - Reply

      Please reconsider age and education. I am also 58. I have been taking one class at a time and paying each as I go. I have 2 left and will complete a BSN debt free. It can be done. I prepared for one year putting enough aside to get through the first 6 months. There are many grants out there as well.

      Mary Ann in Arizona

  2. Avatar
    Elana Rita August 8, 2017 at 11:59 am - Reply

    I am currently LPN, 59 working in homecare 8yrs. Am enrolled in online program & froze during testing at my labs. I did not return to test in the hospital the following day. I do not have support at home or on the job.
    This results in low self-esteem, I guess I allow. I have an opportunity to retest 2more times. And they offer a scholarship. I am easily intimidated & am discouraged in how nursing is today. But I have these feelings that I can recommend and respond to patients needs as well as any RN. This is my experience on this job.
    Am making a Pro/Con list as I write this. I am tired of being pushed around. Should I pursue or be content where I’m at???
    Please email me any suggestions or advice will be appreciated. Thanks!

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