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End of shift: Nurse finally takes the plunge and earns her Masterís

Monday November 19, 2012
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As nurses we can be anything, do anything and reach for every available position in our professional lives. Our potential and possibilities are endless.

For more than 20 years, every spring I would decide that next year I would build upon my bachelorís degree by taking the next step and obtaining that elusive masterís degree. But every year I would continue to procrastinate. I would tell myself I was too busy, I liked my job the way it was, I didnít want academia to change me, I didnít need more responsibilities, I was having too much fun, I wouldnít have time to date, or the dreaded "Iím too old and canít compete with the younger generation."

Was my reluctance because I was still fighting the cultural confines of my upbringing, the parental non-expectations for a female in a traditional Chinese family? I know my family loves me unconditionally, yet my father frequently would attest to anyone within hearing range that he never expected me to complete college. Or was I succumbing to my own fears of failure?

My turning point came when I was visiting my gravely ill paternal grandmother. My pawpaw (grandmother in Cantonese) was the quintessential picture of strong, quiet dignity. As I sat at her bedside, she said to me, "Your great grandfather was an educated man. He was a free thinker compared to his contemporaries. If he followed conventional tradition, my feet would have been bound and I would never have been taught to read. Believe that education will always open doors, and never fear failure. Failure is never trying. Know that in life you must educate yourself and never fear change. The only person you will ever truly disappoint is yourself." Pawpaw passed away two weeks later, and I applied to Teachers College, Columbia University. September 2010 was the start of my graduate journey.

I worked 10-hour shifts and was granted every Friday off to attend classes. My perioperative coworkers were always supportive with comments such as "It will be done in no time" and even just "How is school going?" They will never know how these simple, sympathetic queries were the best emotional balm for my personal and academic stressors.

My husband made the ultimate sacrifice: Gone were the Saturday morning baked goods and home-cooked meals. Instead he was greeted with takeout, pre-prepared food and a moody, determined and focused wife balancing a full-time job and a full-time curriculum.

Yet through all the semesters rife with stress, papers, exams, projects and countless PowerPoint presentations, I eventually was able to step back and realize the magnitude of the changes brought about by my graduate education. Only through retrospection can I see the information and life experience gained through interaction with colleagues, professors and peers.

As the semesters progressed, I felt less stress and more confidence. I developed greater self-discipline, and I looked to collaboration as a means of fulfilling obligations. Through the interweaving of my professional and academic life I was slowly maturing, learning to weigh my statements and critically temper my assumptions.

As I reflect upon my academic journey, I realize other individuals might face similar doubts. Having traveled the road of uncertainty has motivated me to encourage others to explore the positive potential of returning to school and obtaining their degrees.

I understand the justifications, the rationalizations and the excuses, but I encourage those around me to continue learning. From my experience, I know returning to school exposed me to an immeasurable world of insight, opinions and ideas. I believe the benefits are worth the commitment.

Nurses who return to school to pursue higher education will gain knowledge, be exposed to different ideals and theories and train for new opportunities. Through educational preparation and perpetual knowledge seeking we can incorporate and attain new opportunities, and be the catalyst for our own transformation. •


Shokjean Yee, RN, MA, CNOR, is a perioperative charge nurse in the OR at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Write to editor@nurse.com or post a comment below.