Career Check-Up with Dr. Elaine Foster: Part 2

Dr. Elaine Foster, Ph.D., MSN, RN, Dean of Nursing and Healthcare Programs at American Sentinel University is here to give you and your career a quick check-up (no blood draw necessary)! The Career Check-Up with Dr. Elaine Foster outlines advice and insight on going back to school to earn your MSN or DNP degree.

More so than money, the number one concern of any prospective graduate student is how to find enough time for schoolwork in a life that is already “filled to the brim.” If you want to earn your MSN or DNP, but you’re afraid you won’t be able to find enough time in your day, try the following experiment. You’ll need a Mason jar, some walnuts in the shell, a bag of chocolate chips and a glass or two of wine (or your favorite beverage).

Start by filling your jar with as many whole walnuts as will comfortably fit in your jar with enough room to put the lid on. Step back and look at your jar. Is it really filled to the brim? Break open the chocolate chips and see how many you can fit inside. If you shake things up a bit, pockets of space will open up and make room for more chips. Just when you think your jar can hold no more, add the wine.

What does it all mean?

1 – You’re not nuts, you just have priorities

If you haven’t already guessed, the walnuts symbolize your priorities. They take up the most room in your jar, and so naturally you must be careful that only the most important ones get in: things like work, family and staying healthy, along with a few things you hold sacred, such as faith and friendship. The chocolate chips are your wants. These are the things that you can fit in around your priorities. 

2 – Priorities must come first

If you filled your jar with chocolate and wine, there wouldn’t be room for much else. While I was earning my doctorate, spending time with my children at their basketball games and Junior Angus events was a priority for me. That meant my laptop came with me. I found pockets of time to study every possible location. I read books in bleachers and barns. I studied in gymnasiums, on trains and planes. I used stoplights to jot down ideas on a handy notepad.

It may seem obvious, but we often allow the little things to get in the way of the big things. Sure, I could have spent my time at cow shows making small talk, or stressing about my to do list. I found it easier and more productive to share my priorities with those around me. Not only did the folks around me understand, they became my biggest supporters. By the time I earned by Ph.D., there were people across the country that couldn’t wait to congratulate me on my accomplishment.

3 – Know what works for you

Some people need noise to concentrate. Others prefer a quiet place without distraction. If you’re a morning person, you probably know better than to try and study late at night. The goal is to find 2-3 hours a day for schoolwork. Once you’ve identified the time that works best for you, then block it out on your calendar and stick to it.

I’ll give you an example from my own experience. I was already working as the Dean of Nursing when I wrote my dissertation. Being a morning person, I knew that I could easily carve out time before office hours. I found another chunk of time after work before 7:00 p.m. It went like this: “Elaine the Student” would arrive in her office at 6:00 a.m. dressed in sweat pants to write for 1.5 hours. By 8:00 a.m., “Elaine the Dean” would return to her office dressed for work. I would head home at 5:00 p.m. to grab dinner and don sweat pants before heading back to the office for another 1.5 hours of writing.

4 – Evaluate your jar

If going back to school to earn your MSN or DNP is important to you, you’ll need to make an objective and honest assessment of what fits into your day. For example, you can’t say your health is a priority if you never find time to exercise. Nor can you say that a relationship is a priority if you can never find time for that person. The jar tells you that you can only have so many walnuts (priorities) and the chocolate chips (wants) are on a space available basis. The wine is there to simply prove that there is always room to share a sip of something with a friend! 

Have you dreamed earning your BSNMSN or DNP? With American Sentinel, you can make that dream a reality.

Stay tuned to The Career Check-Up for more helpful tips on the going back to school.