What’s a bachelors degree worth? Or a masters? Or even a doctorate in nursing?
Today, in the nursing field, it’s commonly accepted that you need a higher degree. Got an Associates? You need a Bachelors. Got a Bachelors? You need a masters. Got a Masters? You need a doctorate. You get the point.
The prevailing idea is that the higher the degree, the better the patient care, and the better job, which comes with better earnings.
Except that doesn’t seem to be happening. Particularly the better earnings. Whether or not a higher degree leads to better patient care, and whether higher degrees are what the field of nursing needs right now is not the point of this article. I may write about my controversial opinion on those issues another time. This article is specifically about higher education and higher pay.
How many nurses do you know (or maybe this is you) who received an advance degree and are still working in jobs they had before going back to school; barely being compensated for their higher degree.
This is a frustrating experience for far too many nurses who are highly educated, well experienced, but do not feel they are being compensated appropriately.
They have received a college education, but little education on how to land a better job or which job they should even land.
This problem stems from 2 main causes:
- Seeking a higher degree because you heard it is a good idea but not really knowing why you should do so. I call this the “everybody else is doing it” pheneomenon which is rampant in nursing right now.
- Not having the skills to position yourself well for the job you deserve. Hint: I am not talking about nursing skills.
Here’s the good news. There are solutions to these problems.
The everyone else is doing it phenomenon
As the economy tightens, nursing issues abound, and associations continue to proclaim the “need” for nurses to have higher/advanced degrees, nurses seem to be scrambling to go back to school. But before you make that heavy financial, time, energy commitment, do some research:
What degree will you be receiving? Will it be in a specialty? What’s the employment outlook for that specialty? Talk to people, join associations, read journals, find a mentor. I cannot tell you how many nurses I have helped who studied a specialty they were interested in, but then felt disgruntled because the job options were few and far between, their pay didn’t increase, and in the meantime they had student loans which were burdening them.
Nothing is guaranteed in this world. Unfortunately, just because you spend energy, money, and sleepless nights, studying for a higher nursing degree, does not guarantee a better position or higher pay. Do not be disillusioned because everyone else is doing it. Is this really what you want? Is this the only way to master the specialty of interest? Ask questions. Questions to others and to yourself to figure out if this is the time and really what you desire.
Not having the skills to position yourself well
Gone are the days when a paper qualification almost effortlessly opened doors for you. In nursing, and in countless other industries. Now you have to stand out. You need to know how to market yourself and where to market yourself.
Here are a few tips:
- Create a resume that SHINES. I am not talking about following a resume template you found online. That is what most of the other nurses applying for the same job are doing. What will make you stand out if you all look the same on paper? Remember, decision makers are scanning resumes quickly. Make your’s stand out. Take the time to really polish your resume. If you don’t know how, ask friends/family members with experience for help. Or hire a coach. I know it seems counterintuitive to spend money on resume services, but it is the opposite. Think about the money you are losing being under-employed, or worse yet, unemployed.
- Research companies/facilities/organizations that you want to work for and get connected or apply.
- Learn how to market yourself verbally. When someone asks you about your strengths, your experience, your expertise, how do you respond? I have a 21 page free interview report on this site with tips for this. If you haven’t already downloaded yours, click here.
- Network like a ninja. Okay, not a ninja. Point is, you need to get out there and either reconnect with people already in your network, or expand your network to meet people who may know of opportunites. Last month, I did a series of articles all about networking. If you missed it, or did not take action yet, click here.
- Keep learning. I am a self directed learner, to the point where I feel higher education can be detrimental. What I mean by that is that most people only associate learning with school. Learning is a life long process and is not only from institutions. There are so many ways to learn. From mentors, to workshops, to books, to the vast resources on the internet. Think beyond institutes of higher learning. Don’t just stop learning after school.
- Read journals/magazines related to your specialty
- Contribute to associations/groups/discussions in your specialty or area of interest.
Moral of the story here is that before you jump back into school, do your research. And if you have already graduated, or will be graduating soon, there is still work to be done. Having the degree alone does not mean a job will land in your lap. The good news is, coming up with a sound strategy can save you time and energy.
Let me know what you think of this article in the comments below.
*photo courtesy of OctopusHat
Thank you for bringing this up Alicia. I only have an associates degree from a local community college. But I read and research at my leisure and I feel that I am able to contribute more in the clinical setting.
It’s not “only” an Associates degree. It’s a degree and a profession. But I know how it is…nowadays with everyone jumping on the higher education bandwagon, with an associates you feel inept. My question is: is the trend of higher education in nursing really helping the nursing field? What are the fundamental issues within the field? Are they being alleviated with higher ed? Are work conditions improved (including unsafe staff-patient ratios), are earnings matching value provided? Is there greater respect within the medical community? I have my own answers to these questions. Also, they say patient care has improved…but who exactly is saying that. Are there statistics independent from Collegiate Associations that obviously promote higher education; it would be insane for them not to.
Just questions I think we as nurses should be asking rather than rushing to incur more debt.
Sorry, I digress. I am sure you contribute splendidly in the clinical setting. Be proud of it!