BY Peter Olsen Phillips06 September 2022, 13:48
Nurses, healthcare professionals and supporters come together to honor the life and service of those lost and advocate for change in the nursing profession, as seen in May 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
For a professional nurse, completing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can open many new doors. In addition to deepening one’s nursing knowledge and level of specialization, the degree can lead to more stable schedules, new job opportunities, and greater independence in the workplace. Since online classes are usually asynchronous or self-paced, working nurses may prefer this format as it allows them to take classes and readings on their own schedule.
And while it’s easy to understand the benefits of earning an MSN degree online, successfully managing course deadlines and clinical hours requires careful preparation and time management skills. This is especially true for practicing nurses who may juggle a career, school, family obligations and even a second job.
For Vilaya Kang, an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse enrolled in the University of Maryville’s online acute care nurse practitioner program, her busy schedule requires keeping track of dates and times for almost everything, then stick to it. “You have to find a method of organization because otherwise you’re just flying by the seat of your pants and it doesn’t work.”
Fortune spoke with institutional experts and current students to learn how to stay organized and thrive in an online MSN program. Here is what they told us.
Find a calendar system that works for you
MSN Students stress the importance of finding a calendar system that works for you and planning your schedule well in advance.
For Evinn Townes, an online MSN student in Sacred Heart University’s Clinical Nurse Leader program, it involves asking yourself a series of questions at the start of each class. “What should you do during these eight weeks? How many hours? When can you do them? What can be moved at the start of the course?
By asking these questions before classes begin, her goal is simple: “Essentially, map out the entire course.”
A full-time school nurse at an independent school in Connecticut, Townes is a mom who also finds the time to balance a part-time nursing job at an athletic complex, while attending school full-time. She says an old-fashioned paper planner meets her needs.
While your date and time tracking system may look different based on individual preferences, what matters is developing one that works for you and sticking with it, says Kang. “In my phone, literally everything goes on my calendar, even if I go shopping.”
Diligent planning allowed Kang to successfully balance school with the clinical hours and shifts of her nursing job at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, California. “All work, family, school commitments, even our Zoom meeting, it all fits into my calendar.”
Start looking for a clinical placement early
One of the challenges of an online MSN program is that most students will need to identify their own practicum site to meet clinical requirements. This means that remote MSN students will need to begin identifying and contacting potential clinical sites early in the program.
Since most programs prohibit students from completing their clinical hours with their current supervisor or in their current department, finding a preceptor to meet your clinical requirements requires students to network, be proactive, and reach out to multiple organizations to to find a good location.
“Their current role is not the right role for them to identify this,” says Karen Daley, dean of Dr. Susan L. Davis, RN, & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing at Sacred Heart University.
“We have advisors, and each of the students has a faculty mentor and they all work together to help them progress,” Daley explained of the process. “Usually once they’re interested in a location, they let their faculty and my clinical rotation group know, and then we review them to see if it’s a suitable location. If so, some contracts are signed, then they can go ahead and move forward.
Current students say it’s normal to receive several rejections before finding a match for a clinical placement. Townes contacted seven different organizations before getting a “yes” from the local public health department, where her internship project focuses on addressing gaps in school-based care.
“The preceptor also has some of the homework and paperwork to do,” says Townes, explaining why some groups may be hesitant to accept an MSN student. Also, “you are really trying to find a problem to solve. So, do you want someone to identify the issues in your facility that aren’t working there? »
After finding a practice location, it can still be difficult to find the times to go to both clinical hours and your regular job, which makes it important to maintain good communication with your supervisors about your program requirements. .
“I think that’s a huge factor as well,” Kang says, adding, “If your management is willing to work with your schedule.” Recently, she completed a clinical internship in the emergency room of her hospital while continuing to hold her regular part-time position.
“I’m very lucky that, maybe because I’ve been working there for a while, they’re kind enough to accommodate my schedule,” she adds. “And so I try to be flexible too.”
Priority to mental health
Completing an online MSN degree program will require sacrifice, in addition to diligent time management, according to students. That’s why it’s important to make time for social commitments and hobbies in order to stay sane.
For Kang, that means spending time outdoors and seeing his family. “I think that’s an important part of being successful in any program,” she says. “It’s important to set aside time for the things that keep you energized and passionate.”
Of course, social events, like most other things in an MSN program, require advance planning.
“If I plan ahead, maybe I can do it, like a Friday night or a Saturday night,” Townes says of social outings. “But like Sunday through Thursday, probably not.”
Ultimately, students say the temporary sacrifices are worth it to advance their nursing careers.
“I’m passionate about what I do,” says Kang. “Otherwise I would probably quit.”
Find out how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public health, and analytics commercial, as well as the Ph.D. in education programs MBA programs (part-time, executive, full-time, and online).