Everything You Need to Know When Studying to Become a Nurse

Being a nurse is a very noble, fulfilling choice, but it is not going to be easy. You have compassion fatigue to deal with, physical exhaustion, and nowadays a pandemic to contend with too. The worst part is that it doesn’t matter the hours you put in, if you want to progress your career you need to commit to ongoing education and to online nursing programs.

Part of this is for your licensing requirements. Depending on your state, there are specific requirements you need to achieve in order to be eligible to renew and extend your license. Some states allow you to use clinical hours instead, but at the end of the day, it depends entirely on where you are located and what type of nursing career you are pursuing.

Though you can absolutely end up in the top bracket for wages with hard work, you can never advance to the next level of nursing without formal qualifications. It isn’t allowed by law, and with that in mind, this guide will help you know, prepare, and succeed when it comes to your nursing education:

The Levels of Nursing Education

There are multiple levels of nursing and ongoing certifications and opportunities to expand your specialization and skillset beyond what the online nursing programs themselves offer you. There are so many ways to learn and to further your career, but the big ones are the following:

The Certified Nursing Assistant Certificate

This certificate only takes a few weeks to complete. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it will let you qualify for the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) role. You will be there for patients in a very face-to-face environment. You will provide a lot of palliative and emotional care for your patients. Though this is certainly a far cry from the responsibilities that even a standard RN does, never assume that it isn’t important. Emotional care, especially for patients in a care home or in a hospital, is essential. Your care can make a world of difference for each and every patient that you have. You will bathe them, dress them, move them, and assist them in ways that will help them stay healthy and well.

The Licensed Nurse Practitioner Certificate

The Licensed Nurse Practitioner Certificate allows you to advance your career from a CNA to an LPN. LPN earn around $48,000 per year, and take on more advanced roles. They are the step below RN, however, and the course that is required takes approximately six months to complete. Once you qualify, you will be able to do things like make a note of vitals, or perhaps administrate medicine, and of course, provide a lot of the administrative duties essential to keeping a hospital up and running.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

There are two ways to become a Registered Nurse. The first method, which takes on average two years to complete, but in some cases can take four, is the Associate Degree in Nursing. Of all the online nursing programs to take, it isn’t recommended that you go down this route. You will have to go back and earn your BSN later on if you want to become an APRN, and though there are options that will allow you to bridge your career, it’s better to tackle your BSN all in one go. Earning an ADN might also make it harder to become an RN, as many states are pushing for at least 80% of RNs to hold a BSN.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in nursing is one of the first full-scale online nursing programs that you will experience. It takes around four years to complete. Not only will you have a lot of online components (a hallmark of all online nursing programs), but you will also have clinical hour requirements. The best online nursing programs will help pair you with nurse educators so that you can get your clinical hour requirement without additional stress.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

You will have a wide range of choices of online nursing programs when it comes to your MSN. Your MSN, after all, isn’t just one step up from your BSN, it is also the opportunity to specialize in a field that you are most interested in. There are many, many types of MSN online nursing programs, each designed to help you specialize in a specific area of medicine or in a specific demographic.

MSN Specializations

There are four main types of APRN:

  1. Nurse Practitioner
  2. Clinical Nurse Specialist
  3. Nurse Midwife
  4. Nurse Anesthetist

Though there are four main types, you can think of these as more like skill types, not specializations. A nurse practitioner, for example, can range from a lot of things. You can become a family nurse practitioner and learn how to work with patients of all ages, or specialize in adult-gerontology with an adult-gerontology, primary care nurse practitioner degree.

You can specialize in a specific area of medicine, can work either behind the scenes to improve the quality of care, or directly to help patients directly. Nurse-midwives and anesthetists are different in this sense because though yes, you work directly, their work is entirely different from most nurse practitioners. Anesthetists, for example, often work directly with doctors or even dentists to provide the anesthesia necessary. Midwives often perform many medical and holistic duties for a small list of clients.

Further Certification and Training Opportunities

There is always a chance to learn more and do more as a nurse. There may be a new tool available that you need to be trained how to use; there may be learning opportunities in your hospital; or you may need to improve your skillset to provide valuable care to your patients. You can always expand what you know, but when you do always do it in ways that are qualifiable and, most importantly, recognized by your state.

The Real Challenge: Working While Studying

Anyone who has attempted to work full-time and complete online nursing programs can attest to its difficulty. Without the proper preparation and guidance, you can seriously struggle, and that was before the pandemic hit and long before hospitals around the world started to become overwhelmed with patients.

You need to really put your health and your mental wellbeing at the top of your priorities. It will not do you, nor your patients, any good to burn yourself out. This applies to both physical and mental burnout, but thankfully there are many ways that you can take on a degree without overloading yourself.

Start Building the Right Habits Long Before You Apply

If you do not have the right habits to support yourself or your mental wellbeing and your health now, then you definitely will not have the energy or fortitude to complete a degree on top of it. While we can often make things work, it is best to adjust our schedules and our efforts beforehand.

This is mostly because we need time to build up healthy habits. Not only do you need to find the right strategies that work, but you need to also commit to them long enough that they don’t take that extra effort to do. From eating well, to sleeping better, to even just shearing out some time in your day to learn, here are the top habits you’ll want to develop before you apply to your online nursing programs:

Adding in Time to Study and Learn

You don’t need to start learning anything that will help your career. If you want to learn how to do a craft, or to read, or to otherwise focus on a hobby, then enjoy that instead. The only important thing to do right now is to get used to doing something productive that engages your mind. The closer you get to actually starting your degree, then perhaps switch things up to an active learning activity, but don’t worry too much. The only thing you need right this second is to get used to that chunk of time to be used for productive, learning tasks. Things like watching the television or scrolling on your phone do not count. You need to be actively learning in some way, and if it’s fun, that’s just a great way to build a positive association.

Tips to Improve Your Study Habits

When it comes to studying itself, try two things:

  1. Recreate what you learn in a way that makes most sense to you (rewriting it in your notes, voice notes, songs, etc).
  2. Study collaboratively, either with others at your place of work, or digitally with your course mates.

Everyone learns differently.  You will need to tweak and adjust as you go to find the ways that are best for you.

Making it Easy to Eat Healthier

Eating well, at the end of the day, means preparing your own meals. When you do that, you can control exactly what goes into your body and adjust what you eat to help boost the vitamins you are usually deficient in. Preparing full, healthy meals after a long day at work is not easy.

There are two ways to get around this issue. The first is to, quite simply, switch out the snacks that you enjoy. Healthy snacks like fruit (fresh or dried) and nuts can be bought quite cheaply, especially when you do so in bulk. To make your purchases go further, you can pre-portion them out. Fresh fruit will have to be consumed quickly, but everything else can be stored away for a long time.

The second option is to make it simpler to enjoy healthy meals. You will ideally prepare meals for yourself throughout the week in advance. There are many online tips and suggestions for this, allowing you to reuse the same prepared food in different ways so that you can easily reheat the meal and enjoy something healthy and homemade in moments.

If your concern is budget, then look for fruits and vegetables in the freezer section. There is a huge difference when it comes to foods that were flash-frozen on-site, and freezing fresh foods in your home freezer. The flash-frozen food often contains more nutrients than those you can pick up in the fresh section, making them the healthier and the budget choice.

When it comes to improving your energy levels, however, focus specifically on these nutrients and vitamins:

Vitamin D

A deficit of vitamin D is often linked to muscle fatigue, which can greatly wear you down as a nurse. The best way to do this is by getting enough sunlight (usually between 10 to 30 minutes) but if you find this difficult, there are other ways. Oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks, and fortified foods that add vitamin D to their composition, like some breakfast cereals, are great foods to add to your diet to get that boost of vitamin D

The B Vitamin Family

The B vitamins do wonders for the body, and specifically help by creating energy in your cells. They are typically found in animal products, though you can also get things like B12 in fortified foods or in supplements.

Iron

Iron is essential, especially if you are in one of the demographics that consistently are at higher risk of an iron deficiency (in women, for example, there is a risk of becoming deficient during every menstruation cycle). Eating foods high in iron or fortified foods can help iron-deficit related fatigue immensely.

L-theanine

This vitamin works well with caffeine and naturally occurs in tea. Studies have found that those who have improved their levels of L-theanine notice more energy and higher cognitive performance.

Your Sleep Schedule

Although being useful, L-theanine, tea, coffee and other direct caffeine sources can never provide you the same sort of energy that a good night’s rest can give you. If your schedule is consistent, this is done best by being very strict with when you go to sleep and when you wake up. Otherwise, if you work in shifts, it is best to do the same activities before bed, and then aim to wake up eight hours later. Routine is essential to help get your body on board with your sleep schedule, as erratic as it may be.