3 mammoth decisions to make before going back to school




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.


About the author
Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, FAAN

Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, FAAN 

Jennifer S. Mensik, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN is executive director of nursing, medicine and pharmacy programs for OnCourse Learning, and a faculty member for the  Arizona State University College of Nursing and Health Innovation DNP program. Mensik’s specialty focus crosses many avenues including leadership, health policy, staffing, professional practice, education and the voice of nursing.

2 responses to “3 mammoth decisions to make before going back to school”

  1. 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 .

    • 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

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