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The lifelong learning curve

Thursday January 23, 2014
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Joan Warren, RN
Joan Warren, RN-BC, PhD, NEA-BC, is the director of nursing research at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in Baltimore, and the 2013 national Nurse.com GEM winner in the Education and Mentorship category. Drawing from her personal experience in nursing education and her current role as a mentor, she shared some insider knowledge on advanced education.

Q: What are some of the challenges facing nurses who are pursuing advanced degrees, and how can they overcome these obstacles?

A: The biggest challenges are finances and maintaining a work-life balance when going back to school. I encourage nurses to look for organizations that offer tuition reimbursement or professional organizations that offer scholarships. To maintain work-life balance, first think about your professional and personal circumstances and learning style. There are online programs if you need flexibility and cohort models in which schools bring their programs onsite to hospitals. The cohort completes the courses together. This may be good for people who are motivated by meeting with peers at their facility.

Q: In what ways has your higher education benefited you, both personally and professionally?

A: It has helped me with strategic thinking and career advancement. You learn how to see and understand the world around you and become more global in your thinking. If we are going to position ourselves to be at the boardroom table and have a voice, I think it is important to have credentials to back that up. Advanced education also has given me additional job satisfaction.

I started off as a bedside nurse and I loved it. Then I earned my masterís degree and became a clinical nurse specialist, and that provided me with a different kind of satisfaction. Then I reached the point where I really wanted to get involved in education and research. I earned my PhD and have had a wonderful opportunity to work with all of the nurses in the hospital and help them with their own advancement.

Q: What advice would you give to nurses beginning their advanced degree education?

A: The minute you start school, donít stop. We need our nurses, like other professions, to have their advanced degrees by age 26 or 27. It is harder to change career pathways later in life. In the past, we would advocate for nurses to work in the clinical setting for several years and then go back to school, but I disagree. My one regret is that I waited to go back to earn my PhD. Once I stopped, it was hard to go back. When I did go back I had two children, which made it much more challenging.

Q: What specific education models currently available would you recommend to nurses pursuing masterís and doctoral degrees?

A: I would encourage them to think about accelerated programs, such as RN to MSN or BSN to PhD. Oftentimes these accelerated programs will require fewer classes in total than those that take nurses through the traditional route. Also, donít rule out these programs because they are more expensive because schools often can provide scholarships. Meet with the professors. Make sure you like the culture of the program, and that they have the specialty you want.

Q: For those who have earned their higher degrees, what would you say to encourage them to advance their education and learning in other ways?

A: Lifelong learning is critical in this day and age, especially with the way healthcare is changing so quickly. This may mean going back for certification in a field, attending conferences and presenting scholarly work to share knowledge with others. The more nurses can start to share new knowledge with the rest of the world, the more we can advance education.

To see what else is trending in advanced education, visit www.Nurse.com/Advanced-Education.


Heather Stringer is a freelance writer. Post a comment below or email specialty@Nurse.com.