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.
The first time someone asked me how I managed to get my MSN and DNP while juggling two kids, a husband, a full-time job, and the family farm, I actually had to stop and think about it. The question itself sounded so stressful and overwhelming, that I momentarily blanked on the answer. The words we use to phrase this question often create a sense of chaos and peril, as if we would actually “juggle” our children and jobs in the air while performing some kind of superhuman balancing act.
Now that I get this question almost every day, I have changed the way I talk about work/life balance. Instead of referring to juggling roles and responsibilities, I ask prospective students to take a more holistic view. It’s not about putting your professional life at odds with your personal life, or how many roles and responsibilities you can manage in a single day. It’s far more productive and far less stressful to recognize that you are just one person with one life to manage. Here’s what has worked for me:
Step one: Marry work and school
Attitude shapes experience. If you think about work and school as two separate things, you’re more likely to feel as though you’ve “taken on too much.” Instead look for ways that your work can support what you’re doing in school, and school can support what you’re doing at work. At American Sentinel, we encourage you to bring real world problems into the classroom, and to use what you learn to solve problems at work.
Step two: Live by your calendar
The very best advice I can give you is to put everything in your calendar, and I mean everything. If you go to the gym three times a week, be sure you also block out the time it takes you to drive there, shower and change. At the beginning of each eight-week course, sit down with your syllabus and enter any important dates into your calendar. Block out 10-15 hours per week for course work, along with time for other priorities, such as family time, appointments and other important events.
If this sounds too rigid, just remember that you always have the option to move things around. I recommend using a mobile app like Google calendar where you can easily rearrange blocks of time. For example, if you get free tickets to a concert, you can move your planned study time to another available time slot. But here’s the important part: never commit to anything unless you’ve consulted your calendar first. Learn this handy phrase: “let me get back to you on that.”
Step three: The power of no
If something doesn’t fit in your calendar, how you talk about this will shape how you think and feel, and the reinforcement you receive from others. I found it helpful to share my educational goals with others when turning down an invitation or an opportunity to volunteer. This almost always engenders support and encouragement, as opposed to disappointment. Remember to use the empowering language of choice. It’s not that you’re “sorry” or that you “can’t” do something you want to do; it’s that you’ve chosen to do something that happens to be very important for you personally and professionally. You will be surprised how good this will make you feel.
Step four: Be fully present
When you are focused on the task at hand, productivity and quality improve. But you’ll also find that you’ll have more energy at the end of the day. We waste a great deal of mental and emotional energy when we start worrying about the next thing on our To Do list. If you’ve blocked out family time, then allow yourself to enjoy it without worrying about work or school. You can relax, because you are managing your time. This can be challenging for some, but it will absolutely make you a better nurse, a better spouse or partner, and generally a more pleasant person to be around.
You don’t have to be a super hero to get your MSN or DNP; you are already a nurse and that is more than enough. You’ve got this!
Stay tuned to The Career Check-Up for more helpful tips on going back to school.