Striking a Work-Life Balance in Nursing

What inspires nurses to go back to school? A new study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation attempts to answer this question by identifying the motivational factors as well as the barriers that come into play when nurses contemplate advancing their education. The researchers found that RNs working to attain a higher nursing degree seem to be inspired by personal growth as well as professional development, even as they acknowledge how challenging it can be to strike a satisfying work-life balance. In this series, we’ll take a look at the powerful motivators that inspire nurses to get a BSN or graduate level degree – some of them obvious and some a bit more surprising.

Inspirational Factor #3: Increasing Personal & Job Satisfaction

Many of us love to end the day with a sense of fulfillment – that satisfied feeling that we’ve been productive, reached a goal, or made a difference somehow, whether at work or in our personal lives. Not surprisingly, the RWJF report referenced above found that a whole subset of nurses (primarily those younger than 35) said their reason for returning to school was self-improvement. Additionally, the researchers noted that “the willingness to return to school for an additional nursing degree is predicted by lower career satisfaction.” In other words, nurses at all career levels saw higher education as a means to becoming more fulfilled at work.

In a study of RN-to-BSN students in an online program, the majority of nurses surveyed cited personal satisfaction as more important than salary increases! In addition to the sense of pride they felt from working toward a new degree, they also reported that they found the exposure to new people, places, and knowledge to be extremely fulfilling.

If you’ve always wanted to advance your education, but didn’t feel you had the time or resources to pursue that goal, there may be no better time than the present. Your children may be grown or completing their own educations. Your hospital may be offering tuition assistance to experienced employees (the RWJF study reported that this type of incentive is also a motivating factor for nurses to return to school). And you will probably find that a flexible, online nursing degree program makes it quite feasible to balance work and family with school, because you set your own priorities and manage your own time.

Education has the power to expand your horizons. It’s very much like foreign travel in this regard – you simply can’t visit another culture and not feel changed in some way. Your viewpoints and outlook on life quite naturally change when you have more information and experiences to draw from. As an example, consider this excerpt from a study that explored the influences of BSN education on RN students, using personal interviews to record the participants’ viewpoints:

The RNs believed that they have been personally transformed by RN-BSN education. The participants believed that their critical thinking skills have improved and that they were better and broader conversationalists. “It just showed me different things about the profession and myself that changed me.” The nurses believed that these personal transformations were apparent to other people. “…Other people will notice that too. That you are different.” Additionally, the RNs felt more confident when interacting with other health care professionals, particularly physicians. “I think it has affected me in my confidence in speaking with the doctors and I feel more on an equal level than I did before.” A few of the RNs were now more comfortable questioning physicians specifically about the rationale for medical orders and medical plans.

As a side note, research reveals that nurses at Magnet hospitals – which require most nurses to have BSNs – are significantly more engaged in their work than nurses at other hospitals and report greater job satisfaction. The RWJF report also found that BSN-prepared nurses are more satisfied with work in general than diploma-prepared nurses, and that nurses holding graduate degrees have the highest job satisfaction – nearly 40 percent of them reported being “extremely satisfied” with their work situation.

Completing a nursing degree program – whether at the BSN or graduate level – can make you feel more well-rounded personally as well as professionally, which can translate into a healthier work-life balance.