Nursing Continuing Education: Why Does It Matter and What to Expect
Nursing is a remarkably flexible career. Most people have no idea how many types of nurses there are in healthcare or how many ways there are to become a nurse. The career is so adaptable that it isn’t unusual for nurses to continue their education after working for a while.
Unlike some careers, nursing skills aren’t all learned up-front. While all nurses will have a similar foundation of patient care know-how, it just isn’t feasible for every nurse to learn the intricacies of specialized roles like oncology or pediatric nursing. As you might know already, there are many levels of nursing and a nurse’s career path may vary. For instance, you could spend a couple of years in school, start working and earning money, and eventually return to school for a higher degree. This kind of path allows you to start working as a nurse while leaving your options open for more specialized and advanced nursing positions.
Nursing continuing education is full of options, which means it’s possible for every nurse to find their own path as they go. If you’ve considered continuing your education but aren’t sure what to expect or how to begin, then keep reading. Nurses who’ve been there can help light the way.
Why does nursing continuing education matter?
No matter how much training you’ve had, if you’re a nurse, you’ll never stop learning. Healthcare as a whole is always progressing, changing and developing policies to protect and save patients—and nurses are at the forefront of those changes. Since nurses usually spend more time with each patient than any other healthcare professional, they have a unique power for advancing progress.
Because of this, initiatives like Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN) become part of not just Nursing school, but also your entire nursing career. “Nurses have always been and will always be lifelong learners,” says Rasmussen College Nursing instructor Dina Waltz, MSN, RN-BC. “It’s the Nightingale way!”
In particular, many nurses decide to advance their careers and their nursing practices in more official ways. Completing certification and earning new degrees are very common in the field of nursing, and since people can advance at their own pace—there are plenty of ways to make it happen.
Nursing has been an ongoing journey,” says Lisa Ghiloni, PhD, RN and president of CE Consulting. “Who would have thought that at the age of 45, I would have a Doctorate degree in Education? Nursing is a discipline that allows versatility. It can take you to directions that you would have never dreamed of. “
Why do nurses decide to continue their education?
Many people have a very straightforward picture of how careers work. Go to school, get a degree, get the job—right? But nursing works differently than other careers. The education options combine with advancement opportunity and branches of specialization to create a platter of career options that you can always return to.
Many nurses begin their careers with Associate’s degrees to get working as soon as possible and to gain experience figuring out what they like in nursing. But as the years go by, some nurses simply want more from their career.
“It is very common for working RNs to return to school,” Waltz says. You may hit a point in nursing where your current degree doesn’t give you the opportunities you want.
Maybe you’d like to work for an amazing hospital, but the positions are competitive. Maybe you want to specialize in a particular area so you enjoy every moment of the job more. Maybe you want to earn more money or advance into leadership or management. Different continuing education options can get you where you want to be.
Ghiloni had a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN) but slowly discovered a passion for teaching. “Students came to the unit, and teaching them gave me a new, profound value of being a nurse. It wasn’t long before I knew that this was something I wanted to pursue.” Ghiloni decided to return to school for a graduate degree.
Nursing continuing education isn’t always an easy choice, but if you have a goal in mind, then you can at least feel like it’s the right choice. “It can be challenging to balance work, family and school,” Waltz says. “But the rewards are well worth it.”
What is nursing continuing education like?
There are so many different paths to take that it can be hard to picture your experience returning to school. But so many nurses who return for more education have their jobs and other important commitments to consider.
“Nurses need Nursing programs that offer flexibility and build on previous experience,” Ghiloni says. Ghiloni’s program offered courses once a week, which made it obtainable for her with two young children.
Nurses who are interested in earning a BSN gravitate to RN-to-BSN programs because they build on prior nursing experience to expedite the process. “Online courses are also very popular,” Waltz says. “Online Nursing programs that offer an RN-to-BSN program provide flexibility and the convenience that working nurses need.”
The nursing continuing education gateway
No matter what kind of nursing you aim for, furthering your degree in Nursing is basically always a good idea. Ghiloni says the board of nursing in New York will soon require all nurses in the state to have a BSN. “It’s just a matter of time before other state boards of nursing will have the same expectations.”
And even beyond that, the more you learn, the better you are at your job. “Evidence-based practice is necessary to increase the quality of patient care and improve healthcare outcomes. Advanced degrees in Nursing are one way we can ensure that research supports and drives what we as nurses provide our patients at the bedside,” Ghiloni says.
“Never in a million years would I have thought about a Doctorate degree,” Ghiloni says. “Nursing is a gateway to opportunity.”
The first step in that gateway is an important one: research. Ghiloni emphasizes the value of digging into your program options. “There are so many pathways for nurses.” Dig into the jobs and specializations your dream about to learn exactly what you need to move forward. Make a list of what exactly a new degree could offer you.
And if you are considering a BSN, check out our article, “Is RN to BSN Worth it? 9 Reasons to Level Up” for more information on what the change could mean for your career.