By Amber Dittfurth, RN, BSN, OCN® 

When mapping out our career journey, many oncology nurses have found ourselves asking: Should I go back to school and get my master’s degree? How do I juggle it all? I am raising a family and trying to work full-time, but I would also love to grow in my nursing career. How can I be successful at it all?  

Balancing a full-time nursing job, taking care of a family at home, and having a healthy social life is a daily challenge, and at times you may feel like you are running in a hamster wheel. I felt that way in the beginning of my graduate education, but then I learned a few ways to set myself up for success while still maintaining a balance between work, life, and graduate school. 

Pursue Your Passion 

Consider whether your career educational goals align with your passion. U.S. News and World Report published a list of positive and negative reasons to return to school that may help you evaluate your goals. 

It took me some time to discover what I love about advanced nursing. During my nearly 16 years as a nurse, I considered pursuing nursing administration, advanced practice, education, and informatics. It took every one of those years of seeking opportunities, hitting bumps in the road, and having conversations with some of my greatest mentors before I figured out that I really had a heart for educating others. Mentors, coaches, and others can help you discover your strengths and look for opportunities for growth and development. 

Find a Mentor to Support You 

During your schooling, mentors can also provide direction, support, and counseling from their own experiences during graduate school. A mentor does not have to be in the same role as the mentee—what matters the most is a positive working relationship, open communication, and establishing clear expectations from the start. 

My mentors are my biggest cheerleaders as I navigate graduate school. They are my sounding board in the moments I am struggling, they encourage me to find balance, and they willingly share their experiential knowledge with me.  

Learn on Your Schedule With an Accredited Online Program 

I knew balancing my work schedule and life with three children was going to be a challenge, so I immediately began exploring online graduate programs. I used the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, an organization that assesses and identifies programs that meet quality and integrity standards in nursing baccalaureate, graduate, and residency/fellowship programs, to find an accredited graduate nursing program

Share Your Excitement With Your Employer  

Tell your employer what you are doing and identify any ways that your workplace can support you while you’re in school. Feeling valued and supported at work can reduce a nurse’s stress and burnout levels.  

Schedule Your Study Time 

I have figured out that the only way to make sure I get my study time in is by scheduling it. We have so many distractions throughout the day that can keep us from what needs to get done. The American Nurses Association recommends planning out a week at a time, but allow yourself some flexibility to address last-minute changes. Assess your calendar often to make sure you do not overcommit. 

Make Time for the Things You Love Outside of Nursing 

Your life is bigger than your nursing job and graduate school—use the things you love to give yourself a break. Lack of rest increases our risk for burnout. Spending time with my family energizes and motivates me to keep on going. Whether it is spending time with family and friends, going for a massage, or taking a trip, prioritize the small moments that bring you joy. 

These little adjustments have helped to get me through graduate school, and now, something I thought was impossible has become attainable. Finding a good balance brings meaning to our work and increases our career success.