October 8, 2019 · 3 min read

Balancing Work and Nursing School

Here are nine strategies to achieve balance between work, nursing school and life.

All Nursing Schools Staff

Most of us know all too well the challenges that go along with maintaining the vital balance between our job and life. Add to that mix the energy needed to continue your nursing studies, and you may find yourself in a non-stop juggling act.

If you have decided to go back to nursing school—for career advancement or personal achievement—consider these nine strategies for finding balance and enjoying life in the midst of this potentially chaotic, but exciting time.

1. Organize Your Space

Set up a place in your home dedicated to your studies, whether a desk in a home office or a card table and chair in the living room. Use it to house your computer, books, supplies and other materials essential to your nursing studies. Knowing you have a space reserved just for school work will improve your mindset…and your chances for nursing career success.

2. Rely on Some Non-Technical Scheduling Tools

Post a calendar on or near your desk and update it regularly with class dates, project deadlines and special events. Also, print a list of email addresses and phone numbers of nursing instructors, classmates and school personnel who can help you when you’re at home.

3. Prioritize Your Projects

Take time at the beginning of each week to list the nursing school projects and deadlines for that week, and allot time to work on these items each day. Tasks become less daunting if you break them up into smaller chunks that you work on for one or two hours a day instead of at the last minute.

4. Expect Disruptions

Some weeks will be routine, but the unexpected will occur—at home, at work and at nursing school. In these cases, step back and reprioritize the rest of the week. Simply having a written plan that you can refer to for your next task can help you navigate around disruptions to your busy schedule.

5. Set a Realistic Schedule

When you schedule your nursing courses, consider everything else going on in your life. If work and family commitments allow time for one course a semester, don’t overburden yourself. You will end up resenting both school and life if you find yourself drowning night after night in coursework— and missing out on important events—when you could have set more realistic goals.

6. Communicate With Your Boss

Before you start nursing school, tell your manager of your plans, especially if you hope that your education will increase your chances for promotion or give you new opportunities at work. Employers might also offer tuition reimbursement and require your supervisor to approve your studies before you enroll.

7. Manage Your Stress

Your nursing education is important, but so is your health. Take time for deep breaths, exercise and fun. If you let school consume all of your free time—while work devours the rest—you may see your performance slide in both areas.

8. Focus on Your Nursing Career Goal

By going to nursing school, you have taken an important step forward in your life and career. At certain points, achieving balance between your education, work and life may take its toll. Remember the reason you started your education in the first place, and picture yourself completing your last class or receiving your nursing degree. The goals that motivated you to start school can serve as a great incentive to finish it.

9. Enjoy the Journey

Going to nursing school is challenging, liberating and self-affirming. You’ll meet new people, have unforgettable experiences, stretch yourself in ways you never imagined, and gain valuable insights into yourself. Take time to enjoy this special time. You’ll not only reap career rewards at the end, but will expand your horizons every step of the way.

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November 2, 2016 · 6 min read

Nurse Burnout? Learn How a Degree Can Help

Nurse burnout can happen to any nurse. Here’s how a degree can help you avoid the problem.

All Nursing Schools Staff

From doctors to patients, many people rely on nurses every day and night. While the job can be immensely rewarding, it can also be taxing. When nurses are frustrated, overworked or unsupported, this can be felt by both a medical institution’s staff and patients. As more people enter the health care system and the nursing shortage continues, it’s not uncommon for nurse burnout to occur (although it’s not a new concept).

Here’s a look at how nurses can prevent or remedy this problem.

How Nurse Burnout Can Happen

Nursing burnout, which usually happens gradually, doesn’t discriminate; it can happen to a new or seasoned nurse at any point in their career.

In many cases, nurse-to-patient ratio is a leading cause. According to the American Nurses Association:

nurse-burnout_statistics1

Nurse burnout, according to American Nurse Association: 1 in 3 nurses report inadequate staffing levels, 2 in 5 units are shorts-staffed, 54% report excessive workloads, 96 out of 100 nurses report fatigue at the beginning of their shift, half of nurses say they spend an insufficient amount of time with patients.

In these conditions, there is less time for patient/nurse education. In addition, patients can feel neglected and nurses feel they can’t provide enough quality care or participate in a team approach. Negativity breeds, tasks feel stagnant and daily satisfaction decreases.

Although some hospitals and other medical facilities work to keep nurse-to-patient ratios low, certain occurrences are unavoidable sometimes. Patient acuity—a determination of nurse staffing needs—changes or nurses may call out of work for family reasons or illness. These factors can make it difficult for an institution to accurately staff a shift, yet still leaves nurses overworked and stressed.

Combatting Nurse Burnout with Relaxation Techniques

nurse doing yoga to help nurse burnout

A nurse’s work environment won’t change, but fortunately, there are ways to manage stress in the workplace.

In May 2015, a study from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center released findings that nurses cut their stress by 40 percent using mindfulness techniques. Over the course of eight weeks, a group of nurses in a surgical intensive care unit participated in mindfulness exercises, yoga, meditation, music, and gentle stretching and saw significant improvement in their stress levels.

If you’re suffering from high levels of stress at work, consider implementing these methods into your day.

Nurse Burnout and Education

Education, both inside and outside the hospital, can play a key role in addressing burnout. However, as more medical facilities focus on lowering their ratios, educating nurses is often one of the first things to be pushed aside.

Experienced nurses also have another challenge. They become fatigued doing both their own job and training news nurses on a regular basis.

In school, you’ll find that delegation is a hot topic (the NCLEX-RN even has questions about it). Students are taught the importance of communicating clearly, but trust issues can hinder delegation in a real-life setting. Employers expect new nurses to hit the ground running, yet many new graduates are unclear about delegation guidelines in their workplace.

Staying up-to-date on nursing technology can also help decrease the risk for burnout. In some cases, older nurses with decades of knowledge and experience retire because the stress of using new computer charting systems is too much. This means the health care system often loses quality caregivers.

Some nurses say that if a medical facility is willing to provide the education needed to help nurses, both new and experienced, burnout could decrease.

Earning an Advanced Nursing Degree

Nurses often look to school as a way to avoid burnout. Many thrive knowing they’re working toward a larger accomplishment. And, with so many online degree options, nurses can earn a degree while working.

Since burnout and compassion fatigue can occur when a nurse feels disconnected, many RNs return to school to study a specialty they’re passionate about. With a specialized degree, nurses may find more job opportunities in a setting they’re happier in. A specialized nursing career can also mean a better work schedule and increased salary in some cases.

Examples of nurse specializations:

An advanced degree in nursing can help take you out of the frenetic environment of a hospital or large medical facility. RNs who go on to become nurse practitioners often open a private practice while nurse educators can be found in the classroom. Nurse administration roles put you behind the scenes where you’ll manage nursing personnel and oversee budgets and staffing. In fact, you could be responsible for ensuring your nurses don’t suffer from burnout.


Nursing Burnout or Compassion Fatigue?

young nurse dealing with nurse burnout and fatigue

Nurses can experience one or the other, or both. While nurse burnout is typically associated with the work environment, compassion fatigue tends to occur when a nurse doesn’t take care of their mental, physical and emotional well-being.

Compassion fatigue causes a nurse to become apathetic and tends to occur among nurses who commonly see death or chronic illnesses. There are steps a nurse can take to battle compassion fatigue—exercise, maintaining a healthy diet and connecting with friends—which help many happily continue in their career. However, if burnout is left to fester too long, it’s not uncommon for a nurse to leave the field altogether.

Avoiding Burnout: A Nurse’s Advice

An RN with more than a decade of experience offers this advice and encouragement to nurses:

  • Shadow lots of nurses in different departments and at different hospitals
  • Look at hospitals that provide education and try to maintain a ratio
  • Connect with coworkers; you’ll share many great experiences together
  • Focus on eating right, exercising and getting support

Remember, after your first year or two of nursing you can always try another unit or floor in the hospital.

Nursing and Self-Care

You spend all day taking care of others as a nurse, but what about yourself? By performing basic self-care tasks, you’ll feel better, have more energy and avoid burn out.

Eating Right

A 12-hour shift is a long time if you’re not eating right, or not eating at all. The good news is you don’t have to familiarize yourself with vending machine options. Many hospitals across the country have implemented wellness programs and revamped their cafeteria food options.

healthy_food

Although the primary goal for many facilities is to improve patient satisfaction, hospital staff can also benefit from the changes. Instead of processed meals, hospital foodservice companies are introducing more whole grains (quinoa burgers, anyone?) into their meals and utilizing an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit.

After the Cleveland Clinic began offering healthier options, many staff members started losing weight. Sugary beverages were eliminated and fryers were replaced with ovens. Cooks now chop more fresh vegetables instead of opening canned goods. Meanwhile, New York City runs the “Healthy Hospital Food Initiative” which includes guidelines on ways hospitals can improve the nutritional content of their food.

If you don’t work in a medical facility with healthy options, you can pack easy-to-transport snacks and meals. Here are a few ideas:

  • Almonds
  • Easy-to-carry fruits (apples, peaches, oranges, and plums)
  • Hummus and cut vegetables
  • Plain yogurt mixed with raw nuts or fresh fruit
  • Sandwiches with lean meats, like turkey or chicken

Feeling fatigued? Nurses often rely on coffee for a caffeine boost, but go easy. Too much coffee can cause jittery feelings and a subsequent crash. Tiredness can also be caused by dehydration. Be sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout your shift. Non-caffeinated herbal teas are another great option.

Exercise

Running around caring for patients will burn calories, but nurses need more than that to stay well. Taking a few minutes to complete a few purposeful exercises not only revs up the metabolism, but has a mind-clearing and stress-reducing effect.

exercise_nurseburnout
  • Squats: Stand up straight with legs hip-width apart. Squat down as if you’re almost sitting in a chair and hold the position for 10 seconds. Be sure you’re not leaning forward, which can strain your knees. Return to standing position and repeat.
  • Take the stairs: Get a short cardio boost by climbing a few flights of stairs.
  • Shoulder shrugs: Keep a set of 2- or 5-lb weights in your desk or cabinet to perform these exercises. With weights in hand, slowly lift your shoulders and slowly lower back down.

Incorporating these tips into your daily nursing routine will help keep you alert, focused and ready to care for others.

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November 2, 2016 · 4 min read

Yes She Can! Single Mom Balances Work, Parenting, and Nursing Studies

Writer Liz Murtaugh Gillespie talks to Monica Zamora about juggling school, work, and parenthood.

All Nursing Schools Staff

Author’s title or background

Working parents juggle a lot. Single working parents juggle so much, they tire of answering the question everyone always asks: “How on earth do you do it all?”

Monica Zamora juggles so much, she barely has time to field such a question. She’s a nurse and single mom who went back to school in her early 40s, finished her bachelor’s degree in nursing, and is now studying for her master’s degree at the University of Washington, where she’s on track to graduate as an advanced registered nurse practitioner next spring.

She took the plunge at an extraordinarily difficult time. When she was five months pregnant with her youngest child, now 5, the girl’s father left without warning—no explanation, no good-bye. “I was terrified!” Monica said. “After I made it through the most difficult period, I began to realize that if I had the strength to go through that, at the age of 42, there was no reason that I couldn’t accomplish anything.”

I’ve learned about Monica’s Superwoman life in snippets…as we pick up or drop off our daughters at preschool and on the sidelines at birthday parties. I asked her to share some of the ins and outs of her crazy-at-times juggle, knowing it would inspire others – maybe enough to encourage some of you busy-as-all-get-out working parents to overcome your misgivings about going back to school.

Here are excerpts from an email exchange we had after months of trying to coordinate her impossibly packed schedule with mine:

What time do your days usually start and end?

5:30 a.m. I’m usually in bed by 10:30, but if I am behind on school I can sometimes make it until midnight.

What’s your work schedule?

I’m working 28 hours per week [Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday as a clinic nurse manager at the 1811 Eastlake Clinic, run by Harborview Medical Center and part of a housing program that provides health care and other support services to residents with chronic alcohol addiction; plus a clinic shift at Harborview].

What’s your class schedule?

It’s different every quarter. I have four classes this quarter and spend 10 hours in class total on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus the 8-hour day at my clinical placement on Friday.

When do you study?

Between patients at work, on the couch in the evening while the family is watching TV and at family get-togethers in the middle of the chaos.

What motivated you to pursue your master’s degree?

In my current position, I work independently most of the time and so have learned a lot about providing primary care. Thanks to a wonderful MD who has become my mentor, I decided that the most logical thing to do was to become an ARNP.

How long will it take you to get your master’s?

One-and-a-half years of full-time study for my MSN.

What do you like about nursing?

I love the human connection. I get to hear such great stories from my patients and meet such an interesting array of people that I would never have met in almost any profession. I get to help people through difficult things and advocate for folks who would have no power behind their voices. It really is a privilege that I am constantly aware of, to be present with someone in an intimate time in their life or death, and it’s so rewarding to know that sometimes I make a big difference in their physical or emotional comfort.

What’s not to like?

I guess in the beginning the hours were difficult. It can be difficult to work within a budget- and rule-conscious system, but I feel like if you are good at what you do and passionate about serving the populations you care for, then you can create your own path and end up in positions that allow you to be creative and flexible.

How did you get past the fear that you wouldn’t have the time, money or energy to go back to school?

I just decided not to think about the energy required, and as for the expense, I would rather be in debt in order to have the education and career I want than to have extra money to spend on accumulating more things. It’s all a trade-off.

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