This year Matchwell announced our first-ever student loan giveaway sweepstakes. We are giving two healthcare workers $25,000 each to spend on education. As a former educator and nurse, continuing education has always been my happy place. I remember, on the first day of my nurse residency, watching the nurse educators running the class and being in awe. In that moment, I found my purpose, and I knew without a doubt I wanted their job. Not everyone has the same passion, and that is ok! We all can't be educators but education is still important. Healthcare evolves daily and because of that, there is always an opportunity for healthcare workers to learn. I finished my master's degree in 2018, and I am already daydreaming about my PhD. What do you daydream about? If you win $25K to spend on your education, how would you spend it? Would you pay off a student loan? Would you get another degree? No idea? No worries. Several nurse leaders have daydreamed for you and our ideas are listed below.
Get out of debt
Do you have student loan debt? You’re not alone. Education is expensive. Almost 70% of college graduates average $28,000 in student loan debt. Education now accounts for more debt than credit cards and automobile loans. Winning $25,000 can easily eradicate that debt or at least significantly decrease your monthly payments. The US Department of Education looked at a ten-year period and noted university costs increased by 32% while wages increased only by 2%. Nurses and other healthcare workers are not exempt. Data shows nursing student debt mirrors national trends with the average nursing graduate owing a median of $25,000. Debt burden not only contributes to financial stress but it can also prevent nurses from going back for advanced degrees. Getting out of debt not only provides extra cash from your paycheck, but it can empower you to make more money if you choose to advance your degree. If you want more information on student loan forgiveness programs, click here.
Get a degree . . . or another one
Invest in you. One way to continue your education is to advance your degree. Regardless of where you are today, there are lots of options for nurses and other healthcare workers concerning degree advancement. You can have an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree or a doctoral degree. Degree advancement provides numerous benefits for your patients, the larger community, and yourself.
The delivery of safe patient care is one of the primary focuses in healthcare. Making safe clinical decisions improves the care you provide. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found that nurses with a BSN provided better overall care and safer care to patients. While the two are not mutually inclusive, nurses with BSN degrees or higher have lower patient mortality rates, identify patient-decline quicker, and are better prepared to intervene during emergent situations. The complexity of the American healthcare system and its patients continue to increase. Investing in your education through degree advancement better prepares you to deal with the growing patient acuity.
Individual patient care is important but so is promoting the healthcare needs of society as a whole. COIV-19 highlighted existing disparate populations and the need for innovative thinkers to re-design and promote change initiatives in healthcare. Understanding the nuances is difficult and requires more than opinions and anecdotal reports. Advanced nursing degrees provide nurses the opportunity to study data and learn to trend their findings. Let the data speak. The American Nurses Association published an article a few years ago on goals and recommendations for leading innovative change in healthcare. They state that more nurses need to enter leadership positions within the hospital setting. They set the following goal:
Nurses achieve leadership positions throughout the healthcare system . . . to design and implement innovative changes to health policy.
In order to be part of this movement, nurses must invest in their education so they qualify for jobs that specifically influence health policies and organizational processes.
And lastly, even though we all went into healthcare to help others, it doesn’t mean we have to be completely altruistic. There are personal benefits for advancing your degree. A new degree helps you stay competitive and facilitates career growth through promotions, which typically allow you to make more money. While money doesn’t guarantee happiness, studies demonstrate there are income points that contribute to happiness. A 2018 study from Purdue University found that the ideal yearly income point for an individual is around $95,000. Researchers also found that yearly incomes between $60,000-$75,000 improved an individual’s emotional well-being. For an associates degree nurse, earning a bachelor’s degree can boost her salary to approximately $84,000. Getting your masters can increase your salary to nearly $195,000 per year (varying by job and geography). Maybe money doesn’t buy all of your happiness, but it certainly helps.
Get a specialty certification
Not ready for a degree? No problem. Achieving your specialty certification or becoming a certified nurse is a great step for those wanting education advancement but not ready to commit to a degree program. Certified nurses choose to go the extra step to stand out from their peers, proving they have advanced skills, knowledge, and experience. It requires a lot of studying, working 2000 hours in a specialty area, paying money, and then passing a national test. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics there are approximately 2.8 million licensed nurses in the US. Of those, nurse.com reports about 40% are certified nurses. Since certification is not a requirement and the certification takes time and money, this achievement is testimony to your willingness to go above the standard.
Specialty certification not only correlates with lower rates of adverse patient events but certified nurses also report increased confidence in decision making.
If you are interested in getting your specialty certification, here is a quick checklist and some organizations for you to check out.
- Rn License in good standing
- Research which certification suits you
- Confirm your exam eligibility
- FInd out if your organization will pay for the exam
- Some facilities require you to get approval before you pay
- Apply for examination
- Identify study material or study course
- Take the exam
So maybe you’re not ready for another degree or even getting a specialty certification. Another way to invest in yourself and education is through continuing education courses. These are much shorter and, while still offering vital information, they are less of a time commitment. One author states that continuing education is like building bridges for patients and their families (Hundt, 2020). Continuing education funnels evidence-based practice and research to nurses helping to improve standards of practice and patient treatment options and to identify gaps in patient care and outcomes (Golnik, 2017). Continuing education is also acutely necessary for the improvement of skills, health team partnerships, and effective evidence-based collaboration and education.
There are a plethora of continuing education options for nurses. Many of us are hopeful that towards the end of the year we can start attending conferences and live CE sessions. Continuing education helps nurses stay up to date on best practices and hone our nursing skills. Healthcare is always changing. What I learned 15 years ago in my undergrad is mostly obsolete today. Practice changes day to day and sometimes hour to hour (as COVID showed us). Finding continuing education courses that will help your day-to-day practice is another great option you can invest in.
Matchwell is excited to see what 2021 brings for our healthcare community. We believe our student loan giveaway is just the start of how we want to pour resources back into the healthcare community and the nurses and healthcare workers who show up day after day to care for us. There is no greater return on investment than education. Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I fully believe that. Education is my passion and helping other nurses access education is my purpose. Maybe you aren’t ready to go back to school and maybe you don’t have student loan debt to repay. Find something everyday and with every patient encounter you can learn. Education opens the door to better patient care, innovative healthcare reform, and career advancement. Help change the world of healthcare by taking the time to invest in your education.