Ah, the endless debate: how much education do nurses need?
More is better. Research increasingly suggests that more educated nurses mean better outcomes. Education also offers nurses more opportunities. Some nice opportunities have dropped in my lap over the years, because I have an MSN. It helps.
Economists offer us a useful idea (It happens): opportunity cost, basically what you have to give up when you make a choice. If you pick chocolate ice cream, you miss all the other flavors. Every choice costs you this way: one can’t have everything!
With education, the potential opportunity costs can be particularly severe. Let’s look at three:
1) Money. Tuition and other costs can amount to staggering sums that you might have put to other uses. Interest on any loans costs even more.
2) Time. Education can chew up LOTS of it – time you might have used working (more lost money!) or just plain living. Time, keep in mind, is the only commodity that we can’t buy. We have only so much: precious!
3) Details. You can’t buy “education.” What exactly will you study, where, and how? Any later regrets can sting, deeply, given the time, energy, and money involved.
As a somewhat cautionary example, I offer my own mixed experience. I have lots of it, on all three counts.
I attended Cornell for engineering, for no other reason than the recruiter and campus seemed really nice, everyone seemed to think engineering was my destiny (math grades and an engineer dad can do that), and it’s Ivy League. I could have attended UNH where I grew up for free, but I also badly wanted to Get Out of Dodge ASAP.
That choice cost some $50,000 total – tuitions were MUCH lower then. Also, I got bored and stopped engineering studies after a year, not so surprising in that I’d had no idea why I picked it in the first place. I took up Pre-Med and Philosophy instead.
Then I attended Harvard Medical School. Why? Folks with good grades go to medical school, I got in, then got caught up in everyone’s excitement at the Harvard thing. Fine, except I found all the pressure and sleep deprivation a reliable trigger for severe depression. When I finally dropped out, I’d invested a few more years, a serious suicide attempt, two psych admissions, and perhaps $100,000 more. I was quite certain I’d ever be able to pay it off. Meanwhile, my friends had worked, earned, saved, bought houses, enjoyed life. Good times!
After some years of exploration, I took up more school – see a trend? This time a Master’s in Nursing, my best choice to date, although I managed to pick a very expensive program, let’s say another $100,000, AND three more years, AND in the wrong specialty. I became an Adult/Geriatric NP, when as it turns out Psych would have been a far better choice. Live and learn! I’d finally found a way to earn a living, and start paying off debts, all by the age of 30.
I got lucky, found ways out of debt. I think of pursuing a DNP or PhD sometimes. I love teaching and the credentials would certainly be useful, yet… More time, more money, more worries, all to perhaps make as much money as I already do now? Opportunity costs come to mean an awful lot, when you’ve learned the hard way. My suggestion? If at all possible, don’t learn the hard way!
How to succeed? Clearly no expert, my unusaul career path has taught me a few things:
1) Focus. Figure out what you want. Make sure you want it, NEED it, that you’re willing to pay the costs. Take your time, look around, seek lots of advice from lots of people, people who know. Look before you leap, yes? There are countless professional puddles, cliffs, and wrong turns out there, easily avoided IF you look first. IF!
2) Details MATTER. Now you know what you want: knowledge, credentials, a promotion, whatever it is. Look carefully at ALL your options. Ask around: there are probably options you don’t know about. There are often many ways to reach the same goal, some cheaper, some more expensive: money and/or time. To invest well in yourself, such research is essential. More obvious, more expensive options are NOT always the best choices. The same applies to odder or cheaper ones. There are so, so many options: degrees, certificates, CNE/CEU classes. More!
3) No Limits. Look within nursing and formal education, AND everywhere else. You can learn an awful lot simply by finding a relevant job: they train and pay you! I read lots of books, myself: I could buy them all retail and read all I can stand for the rest of my life at much less cost than most degrees. That’s what Thomas Edison did, actually: he didn’t even finish High School. He did read heavily, and did quite well for himself. I’ve spent years absorbing and applying useful material for nurses and other providers, drawn largely from outside of health care. My point? There are lots of options. Many paths to success. Forget thinking outside the box: forget the box! Remember the old saying:
Nurses, more than anything else, find a way. For our patients, for each other.
Why not for ourselves too?
More posts on this topic can be found at The Days When I’m Not A Nurse.