While nursing has proven to be highly rewarding, it can also be very stressful. Nurses are responsible for delivering high-quality care to patients regularly and consistently, and sometimes in highly challenging situations, which can be stressful. The physical and emotional strain brought by the nature and demand of nursing on professionals has been widely publicized, with many nurses experiencing burnout throughout their careers.
In recent times, the work-life balance has become increasingly crucial for nursing professionals seeking to sustain a long-term career and explore top positions by pursuing advanced degrees. Advanced degrees remain a significant career development and planning strategy in every profession. Yet, regardless of its apparent benefits, it could also pose an added stressor in the daily performance of professionals.
In reality, nurses face unique and more significant stressors than other professionals, from their daily responsibilities to educational requirements. Hence, nurses must learn to balance their professional and personal lives, especially those opting for higher nursing degrees.
Advanced degrees in nursing
Higher-level degrees in nursing are advanced academic programs that develop nurses for leadership positions and specialized aspects of the nursing practice. The prevalence of these advanced degrees in nursing has increased, with several professionals seeking to explore top posts and engage in more significant responsibilities autonomously.
As you would expect, nurses pursuing a higher degree are already working professionals with a bachelor’s degree in nursing or other basic educational requirements necessary to become registered nurses. Some of these advanced degrees include;
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
MSN programs help nurses to develop skills necessary for advanced practice roles, such as nurse practitioners, educators, and clinical specialists.
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
This program is designed for professionals seeking to explore leadership positions in clinical practice, education, and administration.
- Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.)
A Ph.D. in nursing is a highly advanced, research-focused program that prepares nursing professionals for a career in academia or industry research.
Benefits of advanced nursing degrees
The nursing field is saturated with opportunities, with impressive projected job growth combined with the demand for skilled professionals to address the current staffing shortage. A proven strategy to thrive in the field amid the current staffing shortage is increased diversity and representation in nursing through advanced degrees. That said, here are several benefits to pursuing higher education in nursing:
- Advanced practice roles
Most advanced degrees in nursing, such as the MSN and DNP, prepare nursing professionals for a career in advanced practice, from nurse practitioners to clinical specialists and educators. These roles permit nurses to engage in more responsibilities and explore more autonomy in their approach.
- Better developed competency
Higher degrees in nursing incorporate several topics that help nurses develop skills and knowledge and gain experience through clinical training.
- Career advancement opportunities
As with other professions, advanced degrees in nursing is a proven strategy for exploring career advancement opportunities, which often leads to better job security, fulfillment, and salaries.
- Personal and professional growth
As a registered nurse, opting for an advanced degree can be an effective avenue for developing as a person and professional.
Why is work-life balance important in nursing?
While the benefits of an advanced nursing degree are apparent, it can be extremely challenging to balance the demands of being an active professional and a student simultaneously. This pinpoints the essence of an effective work-life balance.
Difficulty managing stressors can result in fatigue and anxiety, among other adverse health effects. Several studies have identified stress as a major causative factor for depression, isolation, and, most importantly, a decrease in qualification among nurses. Also, ill management of stress can result in burnout and job dissatisfaction, which are highly detrimental to the healthcare system.
That said, nurses can lower professional and educational stress levels through an effective work-life balance. First and most importantly, a good balance improves physical and mental health, with nurses less likely to experience burnout. Additionally, professionals become more productive in their careers and education, build stronger relationships, and get greater job satisfaction.
Seven tips for maintaining a work-life balance
A typical nurse finds it hard to find a perfect work-life balance due to their selfless nature and the profession’s demands. However, it is possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle and balance even in high-stress scenarios, such as obtaining a higher degree. Here are seven strategies for achieving an effective work-life balance.
- Define the purpose and prioritize
Defining purpose and engaging in effective prioritization can be an effective way to foster work-life balance as an active nurse and student.
Firstly, before opting for any advanced program, a professional should define their purpose by identifying what is most important and what they aim to achieve personally and professionally. The essence of this tip is to help you make decisions on how to allocate time and energy, ensuring you stay focused on what matters and engage in the right tasks at the appropriate time.
Recognizing your purpose and the most important tasks also helps in effective prioritization. This involves identifying essential and urgent tasks in your profession, education, and personal life. By prioritizing, a professional can make the most of their time and address all critical issues without feeling overwhelmed.
By defining purpose and prioritizing responsibilities, you can create a sense of balance between work, school, and personal life, ensuring you make the most of your day.
- Manage time effectively
Managing time involves creating a plan and consciously controlling the amount of time spent on specific tasks to be more effective, efficient, and productive. As a nurse pursuing a higher degree, there are several strategies you can employ to manage your time effectively and maintain a work-life balance:
- Create a schedule:
Developing a program can help to plan out every aspect of your day and ensure you specify a dedicated time for work, personal commitments, and leisure activities
- Set boundaries
Creating boundaries around work and personal time is essential to maintain balance. This strategy helps to broadly define the time for each activity and prevent encroachment.
- Employ time management tools
Technology has been vastly integrated into every aspect of our lives, and now, we can also use it to manage time effectively. Several productivity applications and essential tools, such as to-do lists and calendars, can help nurses stay organized consistently.
- Learn to say no
Being an active nurse and a student simultaneously is enough commitment. As such, you should be selective about how you spend your time. To maintain a healthy work-life balance, professionals should learn to say no to requests that will significantly alter their schedule.
By employing some or all of these strategies, you can manage time effectively and create a good balance between your work and personal life.
- Develop strong relationship
If there is a word to characterize nurses pursuing an advanced degree, it’s busy. That said, it’s not uncommon for busy people to struggle to develop and nurture relationships. Yet, social connections are one of the most important investments a nurse seeking a healthy work-life balance can make.
Developing strong relationships at work and in school can be a great way to toggle the rigors of an advanced program and active nursing practice. Here are a few tips that could help:
- Make a conscious effort to know colleagues
Professionals should make an effort to understand their colleagues both in professional and educational institutions. You should talk with them, learn about their interests, and recognize how they can benefit you.
- Participating in team-building events
A significant aspect of advanced programs in nursing is clinical training and group exercises. These become significantly easier if you have a good relationship with colleagues. As such, professionals should engage in such events to know colleagues better and build strong relationships.
- Maintain an open line of communication
Everyone needs help at some point. And an available line of communication can help create a positive and supportive work environment, which fosters a better work-life balance. Effective communication helps to stay organized, manage time more effectively and address work and school-related issues quickly before they become overwhelming.
- Prioritize self-care
Nurses must prioritize their health regardless of their busy schedule in taking care of patients and completing an advanced program. Toggling full-time practice and school work will wear you down, but self-care is an effective strategy to help you recharge and avoid burnout.
The first self-care strategy is understanding the importance of sleep and nutrition. Nurses must ensure they get adequate rest, exercise, and eat a healthy diet which can help maintain physical and mental health. The ideal sleep environment will be free from light, mobile devices, and clutters.
Taking breaks can also be necessary for nurses to recharge, refocus, avoid burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Breaks ensure you are not consistently engaged with medical practice and school work and can make time for other vital activities. As a professional, you can take a little time off from work, take time out from studying, and engage in structured breaks.
It’s worth noting that self-care is a continuous process, and it’s crucial to prioritize it to maintain a healthy work-life balance as an active nurse and student.
- Take full advantage of online opportunities.
Managing a full-time nursing practice schedule is difficult enough. Still, it’s so much worse if you have to create time for specific in-person classes associated with traditional on-campus advanced programs. Hence, it’s best for professionals to take full advantage of online platforms to obtain advanced degrees.
Online learning has completely revolutionized education, making it a preferred option to traditional in-person classes. First, it’s well-renowned for convenience and flexibility. You can assess materials and complete the program at your own pace and from any location. It can often be more cost-effective as it involves fewer costs for commuting, accommodation, and other expenses. Finally, the ubiquity of the internet also makes e-learning platforms a rich source of several learning materials and resources.
Professionals seeking to explore a more convenient option for pursuing a higher degree in nursing can obtain a DNP or MSN online. These direct-entry programs are entirely remote and prepare students for several leadership qualifications, such as the registered nurse licensure exam (NCLEX-RN) and clinical nurse leader (CNL) certification.
That said, e-learning may not be suitable for everyone, and it’s essential to consider the learning style and preference that suits you best when opting for an online degree or in-person program.
- Address conflicts immediately
Throughout your advanced program, there are bound to be issues or conflicts regarding your medical practice or school work. And while these occurrences result in high tensions and emotions, it’s best to try and resolve them as quickly as possible.
Addressing conflicts can prevent minor issues from escalating into more significant problems. You can curtail these issues and ensure they do not become major stressors that could take more time and energy to solve later. In terms of conflict with coworkers or classmates, resolving them quickly and effectively can create a more positive and supportive work and learning environment, which helps to improve a better work-life balance.
Additionally, prolonged conflicts can be mentally and emotionally draining. Thus, to prevent becoming overwhelmed and reduce stress and burnout, nurses should address conflicts promptly in their professional, educational, and personal lives.
- Ask for help when needed
Suppose you want to retain a work-life balance as an active nurse pursuing an advanced degree. In that case, requesting assistance from colleagues, managers, mentors, and other support resources can be helpful when necessary. The first step is to identify specific changes and support you need to improve your performance at work or school.
As soon as you have identified these specific needs, you must communicate them with any practical support element, from colleagues to mentors, lecturers, or managers. You can achieve this by initiating a conversation outlining your requests. Professionals experiencing burnout can also seek support from colleagues, family members, therapists, or other resources.
Ultimately, your health comes first, and you should always consider your options. For instance, if you consistently find it hard to toggle both school and work, consider taking a leave from work to focus on school or maintaining a less rigorous learning schedule to make up for your professional responsibilities. Your needs and well-being are paramount, and requesting help can be crucial in retaining a healthy work-life balance.