12 Tips To Successfully Help You Attend NP School While Working Full-Time
Written By: Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN
Are you working full-time and considering going back to school to become a nurse practitioner? Are you wrestling with the obvious question of “can you work full-time and attend NP school”? Well, I can tell you from personal experience that juggling both a full-time job and graduate school to become a nurse practitioner is a challenge but can be accomplished. This article will outline 12 tips to successfully help you attend NP school while working full-time to get you started on your path towards a rewarding career as a nurse practitioner.
HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY ATTEND NP SCHOOL WHILE WORKING FULL-TIME?
(Following 12 Expert Tips will help you successfully attend NP school while continuing to work full-time.)
1. Research and enroll in a graduate school with a flexible NP program that fits into your work and home life.
This tip may be the most crucial element to help you attend NP school while working full-time. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners
, there are approximately 400 academic institutions with NP programs in the U.S. With a variety of choices nowadays for online, hybrid, and on-site NP programs, you can find one that should fit your needs.
I suggest investigating a program that has clinical sites close to home. I chose a school in my hometown and was able to schedule my practical rotation nearby. Finding your own clinical placement can be a bit more effort upfront, but it saved me time in the long run. I had a very short commute and was already familiar with the area and facility.
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2. Prioritize what is essential in your life at present.
Attending NP school while working full-time will obviously add to your responsibilities and workload. The Mayo Clinic
advises learning to say "no." More than ever, it will be important to evaluate your priorities at work and home and try to shorten your to-do list. You may want to carefully look at the most critical aspects of your life and choose what you need to concentrate on the most. For me, it was my family, schooling, and work. I had to let go of some of the social and volunteer aspects of my life. I figured this sacrifice was just for a short time and was worth the trade-off to obtain my master's degree in nursing as a family nurse practitioner.
3. Investigate if you can do clinical rotations at your current place of employment.
Having your clinical at your work will make it easier for you to acclimate yourself to the environment. Also, you may be able to do double duty by accomplishing both your job and clinical hours simultaneously. It may depend on what type of NP you want to be, but for example, if you're going to specialize in pediatrics and work in a pediatric unit, this option is worth some investigation.
4. Squeeze in schoolwork wherever possible.
This advice is how I accomplished most of my school assignments. At the time, my children were involved in many activities that I had to take them to for practice. However, I was never without my NP books and laptop. You could always find me on the sidelines doing my class assignments. My kids felt like I was there for them, and I was able to keep up with my studies.
Other ways to fit in coursework are:
◦ Create “homework time” for yourself at the beginning or the end of every day and let your family and friends know that this is your time and that you should not be disturbed.
◦ Find a quiet place to call your own to study and hang a "do not disturb" sign-up if needed. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners suggests that you will want to set the scene for learning to be a successful learner. Some preplanning for what works best for you to study will help keep you organized and on track.
◦ If you have a lunch hour or downtime at work, plan to have your schoolwork available to squeeze in an hour of uninterrupted study time. You will be surprised how much time you can "find" if you look closely at your schedule and plan accordingly.
5. Explore working night shift or in a department at work that is less busy.
Working a less hectic shift may grant you some freedom to study. At the last hospital that I worked, I could find numerous nursing students on the 2nd and 3rd shifts using free time to catch up on assignments. During my NP schooling, I worked as a school nurse and was off summers. I usually took another position during this time, so I purposefully found a light summer assignment that allowed me to work on my studies. This combination of jobs helped me to manage to attend NP school while working full-time.
6. Consider delaying your graduation date by spreading out your coursework over an extended time. International Medical Aid
reports that nurse practitioners must complete a minimum of a master's degree. However, a doctoral degree in nursing practice is now recommended to be competitive within the field. If you choose to pursue an MSN that means it will take at least 2 years of post-graduation to become a nurse practitioner. I chose the option to schedule my classes over an extended time to attend NP school while working full-time. It made sense for my family and me to spread out my MSN coursework over 4 years instead of 2. Many nurse colleagues in my NP program did the same as they were all working full-time also.
7. Hire help.
Are there any tasks that you do not have time to do or dislike? Hiring help for these types of jobs will lighten your load and stress level to provide time to study. I paid a cleaning service to keep my house from getting too out of hand which allowed me more time for my coursework and family. Other areas for acquiring help are babysitters, lawn or meal prep services, and grocery delivery.
8. Use vacation time for clinical.
This advice may not be a popular option, but there may be times that it may be challenging to fit in a specific clinical rotation. Many nurses have accumulated vacation and paid time off, so this option may help to meet the program's mandated clinical hours.
9. Learn to let some things go.
People will understand if you are not a super mom or homemaker. Let go of specific tasks like sending holiday cards, making home-cooked meals, or throwing a birthday party at home. Permit yourself not to be perfectionistic in certain areas of your life.
10. Take care of yourself. Harvard Health Publishing
recommends that you take good care of yourself to be well for the long run. Taking on a full-time job and a graduate nursing program will last for years, and therefore you will need to keep your health and motivation going for the long haul. Keeping this recommendation in mind can keep you from being sidelined due to a chronic illness or burn-out.
Some easy ways to take care of yourself are:
◦ Keep up with your regular doctor appointments. Don't let your physical health lapse during this stressful time in your life.
◦ Try to exercise regularly. I used my workout time to think, plan and organize. If I had a paper to write, I would flesh it out while walking. I kept my phone close by with an app to take notes by voice recording.
◦ Eat healthy foods. Poor nutrition was a trap that I fell into when I was overly busy. I learned the hard way when I developed GI difficulties that I could not continuously eat processed and fast foods while under stress. I have now learned to eat much healthier, but it does require a little more preparation.
11. Stay organized.
According to Psychology Today
, maintaining a sense of orderliness will feel better than missing deadlines and duplicating efforts due to disorganization. An efficient system to organize all of your responsibilities and deadlines will save you both time and much frustration. One of the most important lessons that I learned was to set up a calendar to include work, school, and home life. This master calendar was preplanned weeks ahead of time and tweaked regularly. To keep everyone on track, I shared this schedule with my husband, children, and those who were helping me.
If you plan to attend NP school while working full-time, I would suggest organizing your workspaces, such as your office, kitchen, and children's homework areas. Once again, some preplanning is key to success once you begin your NP program and life becomes crazy busy.
12. Ask friends and family for help.
Like most nurses, you most likely are strong and independent. Asking for help is not in a nurse's nature. But if you want to survive NP school
, you will need to lean on others to get you through. The American Psychological Association
states that to keep stress to a minimum, reach out strategically. Some friends or family might excel at practical help, like bringing over a home-cooked meal or covering an hour of child care. Tap into the people who are willing to lend a hand. While in NP school, my husband and mother took over many errands, and I joined a carpool for some of the children's activities.
So, can you work full-time and attend NP school? I say with a resounding “Yes” that it is possible. You can appreciate that these 12 tips to successfully help you attend NP school while working full-time paid off for me. With preplanning, organization, and lots of drive, you too can become a nurse practitioner.
Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN
Donna Reese is a freelance nurse health content writer with 37 years nursing experience. She has worked as a Family Nurse Practitioner in her local community clinic and as an RN in home health, rehabilitation, hospital, and school nursing.