Should I Return to Study? The Nurse's Question...


Published: 10 July 2019

When you’re a nurse who has completed your initial study, earned a diploma or degree and become licensed as a healthcare professional, the very thought of returning to university can be overwhelming.

However, sometimes another course of study and the degree it bestows can be the best option for your success. The question of returning to study for further nursing education can indeed be a source of confusion and angst. How can you make such an important decision in a thoughtful manner, especially when considering every aspect of your life?

Assessing Your Nursing Career

When assessing the current state of your nursing career, there are various lines of inquiry that will empower your decision-making. A few to consider include, but are not limited to:

  • What would I like to accomplish in the next 1, 5, 10, or even 20 years of my nursing career?
  • Am I happy with my current position and level of responsibility?
  • Do I have the qualifications and credibility to accomplish my career goals?
  • Do I feel valued and recognised for my strengths by my employer, manager and peers?
  • If certain goals appear out of reach, what can I do now to ensure that I move in a positive direction?
  • Is there a relative compatibility between my current work style and my desired lifestyle? (This includes family, leisure, travel, self-care and other responsibilities and desires)
  • Have I reached a professional 'ceiling' that cannot be broken through without further education or training?
  • When I project forward to the end of my working life, what personal and professional accomplishments would I like to proudly look back upon?
  • Is there a university program, degree or certification that lights my intellectual fire and feels like a good fit?

Asking yourself questions and responding honestly is an important part of the career assessment process. It’s crucial to not only assess your work; you also need to assess your personal lifestyle, ascertaining if your work, family and the other aspects of your life mesh together.

For instance, if you’re a mother and your current nursing position severely curtails your ability to spend time with your young children, a change may be necessary. Or, if your parents are ageing and you need to be more available to them, what change to your schedule or work responsibility would allow you to be more present for their mounting needs and declining health? And if you’re feeling professionally unfulfilled, how can you turn that around?

There are no easy answers, and that’s why you must ask the difficult questions and answer with true honesty.

Return to nursing study

Planning the Future: Is Return to Study an Option?

Your future - both professional and personal - is entirely of your making. There are, of course, situations and forces beyond your control, so you have to make the choices that work best for you, your family and the career you’re in the process of creating.

One thing entirely within your control is what you do next, even if that means doing nothing at all. However, if your life indeed allows for the financial and personal resources to return to study and further your education, this is something to consider. Here are more questions to ponder:

  • Is there a degree program that speaks to me?
  • Would I prefer to sit in a classroom or take courses online? Would a hybrid program split between online and classroom learning be even better for my learning style?
  • Am I interested in remaining in the clinical milieu?
  • If I pursue another degree, would I prefer one that has something to do with education, management/leadership, business, or other non-clinical skills?
  • What is my budget for pursuing further education? Are there scholarships, loans, or grants available that can help defray costs?
  • Will I continue working while I’m in school or can I devote myself entirely to my studies?
  • How will returning to study impact my family, social life, work and other responsibilities?
  • Will I need to delegate certain responsibilities to others?
  • What sacrifices will the return to school entail for me and those closest to me?
  • Would seeking a specialty certification be less of a heavy lift for me professionally, personally and financially? If so, will that certification get me where I want to go?

Decide with Care

Pursuing further education can certainly complicate your personal life in the short term. Going to university can also be difficult to do, especially when you’re raising children, caring for sick loved ones or working full time. In the same breath, we can also say that study can open your mind, provide intellectual stimulation and enrich your knowledge base and confidence. Earning a higher degree may increase your earning potential while also opening you up to new opportunities, promotions or novel career-related avenues of pursuit.

Working and pursuing more education isn’t always easy, and when you consider everything else you need to do on a daily or weekly basis, it may seem utterly untenable.

No one can by rights tell you what to do, and you do not need to listen to people who 'should' you to death. In fact, the voice inside you is the one to pay the most attention to, as well as your mentors, spouse or other people in your life who understand your goals and will respectfully advise you without injecting their own agenda into the conversation.

Make your choice with care and seriously consider timing. Perhaps returning to school would be best when your last child goes off to university themself. Or maybe right now is the very best time to seize the day.

Your career is yours to create and manage; make the decisions that feel best, and trust your powerful nurse’s intuition to lead you where you most need to go.


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Keith Carlson View profile
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms---including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram - as well as at and Digital Doorway.