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It may seem like it would take a superhero to balance full-time nursing work with continuing education and perhaps even a personal life, but take heart. It is possible, even without sacrifice. Continuing nursing education, whether for an advanced degree, studying for specialty certification, or keeping current on evidence-based practice, is a matter of discipline. That life is about quality rather than quantity is also true in the balancing act of being a working student.

Logistics

The first step in nursing education is organizing the details: What would a full-time course load look like? Will it require cooperation from your employer, and if so, how willing are they to accommodate you? Will your employer help you pay tuition and what are the limits of that? What are your other commitments and how flexible are they?

One suggestion for making it work is to look at a typical week of your life and block out times that you are unavailable. This includes times that you spend with your family, running errands, and yes, even playing and relaxing. Make your class schedule around that, while at the same time remembering that there will be homework.

Into Action

When you apply to school, start the process early and give yourself the luxury of time in the application process; it is easier done in small nibbles than large bites. Your application can be painlessly completed one transcript, personal statement paragraph, and reference request at a time.

Once enrolled, having the discipline to give your schoolwork quality attention will allow you to feel fulfilled and purposeful rather than deprived. When you study, turn your phone and TV off, ask for privacy, set a timer, and focus. And when you’re done, be done. Don’t give up anything important to you. Continue exercising, knitting, playing music, or whatever gives you pleasure and reprieve.

The last thing your patient or your family needs is an angry, tired nurse. Even if it’s one class at a time, you’re doing it. So…do it, but do it as you continue high-quality patient care and high-quality self-care.

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Nancy Swezey, BSN, RN, CNOR

Nancy Swezey received her BSN from Columbia University. She now practices in New York City in the operating room where she has worked as a staff nurse, and currently as a care coordinator specializing in head and neck surgery. Nancy is also pursuing her advanced practice degree at CUNY Hunter where she assists the faculty as a research assistant, focusing on nurse education and module development.

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