As I reflect on when I first decided to apply to graduate school to become a nurse practitioner, I remember having numerous thoughts go through my head.
As nurses, we are taught to weigh the risks versus benefits, so logically I was applying this to my decision on graduate school. The risks seemed all too familiar to me. They were the same risks that came with starting nursing school. This included tuition costs, balancing school with obligations such as work and family and dedicating additional years of my life to completing another degree.
As far as the benefits, it can be hard to think of these at the starting point of a degree. Benefits usually come later, while the risks are usually seen in the beginning. I want to provide a perspective that you will not see right at this moment, but rather that moment in your future when you complete your degree. Here are just some of the benefits that you have to look forward to when pursuing a graduate degree.
We may not always realize, but as nurses, we are always challenging ourselves. We may transition through different units like medical/surgical, telemetry, ICU or ER to increase our clinical skills and knowledge, or become a charge nurse. Becoming an advanced practice nurse (APN) is a very rewarding challenge, as you will challenge yourself intellectually to now grow your knowledge base to that of a provider. Your knowledge of pharmaceuticals, pathophysiology and assessment skills will expand and be tailored to your chosen graduate degree. You will be able to treat the patient as a whole, now being able to diagnose and develop a treatment plan. Upon completion of your program, you will also be eligible to become a board-certified practitioner. When you continue to challenge yourself, you will not only grow as an individual –you will grow in your career and opportunities will expand at the graduate level.
Many APNs usually discuss autonomy as a benefit of continuing education. However, autonomy is much more than being able to make clinical decisions independently. Autonomy is the ability to eventually be able to open your own clinical practice. It is the power to have more input and responsibility in collaborative decision-making regarding a patient’s treatment plan, either alongside other APNs and providers or independently, depending on the practice setting you choose. You also have more input in your income at a graduate level, which leads me to the next benefit, financial stability.
At the advanced practice level, upon graduation, you will be compensated with a salary that is based on your experience and education level. At the beginning of your program, tuition costs can be overwhelming. However, you will be able to earn an income where you are able to not only pay off your tuition, but also be able to provide a good quality of life, even if you choose to only work part-time. Many organizations will also provide reimbursement for continued expenses in your career at this level, such as covering continued education and additional certifications.
When choosing a graduate program, you can narrow your knowledge into a specialty that you are passionate about. You can specialize in mental health, pediatrics, family practice or anesthesia. These are just a few specialty options that are offered. As you become an APN, you can also explore other specialties by obtaining additional certifications. This gives you the ability really excel in the specialty you are passionate about.
As I said before, prior to applying to graduate school, I weighed the risks versus benefits. I am glad, though, that I didn’t let the risks discourage me. I truly feel that continuing my education had such a profound positive impact on my life and clinical practice and the benefits did outweigh any challenges that I had along the way. The benefits that I have discussed are just the start of what you will experience upon completion of a graduate program, and with a couple more years of hard work, the opportunities will ultimately feel endless.
Published September 28, 2021