The student experience certainly morphs throughout one’s education. I’m not talking about the obvious fact that in kindergarten you spent your days finger painting as opposed to mastering the art of algebra in high school. I’m talking higher level education here. Although both nursing and nurse practitioner programs prepare students for careers in healthcare, the student experience in earning these two types of degrees is different.
My nursing and nurse practitioner education were completed in a continuous flow. I didn’t take time off to work after earning my RN degree. As a result, I was often caught up in the details of life as a student nurse practitioner. Busy writing papers, cramming for tests, and squeezing in social engagements, I failed to take a step back to reflect on my experience. Looking back, I wish someone had given me a heads up as to how my life as a nurse practitioner student would be different than that as an RN student.
If you’re a nurse thinking about going back to school for your MSN degree, here are a few things you may notice.
1. Increased Expectation of Professionalism
I’ll never forget my clinical experience as an RN student. Clad in crisp white scrubs, I traveled the hospital hallways in a pack flanked by other members of my clinical group. We would (politely) enter patient rooms in groups to observe invasive procedures. When left to our own devices, we clung to our assigned nurse educators, unfamiliar with the sights and sounds of the hospital setting. Would anyone have looked at myself and the members of my clinical pack and thought “Now, there’s a group who’s got it together”. Absolutely not.
In contrast, as a nurse practitioner student you’ve got a background, however insignificant it might be, in patient care. You’ve got the basics out of the way. So, as an MSN student the expectation is that you will be prepared to approach patient care in a professional manner even as you are still learning. Meet and exceed this expectation, particularly in the clinical setting. The impression you make as a student just might help you land your future NP job.
2. Formation of Lifelong Friendships
I keep up with a few close friends from college (others I creepily observe at a distance on Facebook). But, I hold my graduate student relationships much closer. As an MSN student, if you attend an on-campus program, you’re likely to graduate with lifelong friendships. Invest in getting to know others throughout your program. Your shared career goals and increased focus compared to that you had as an undergrad will at the very worst lead to helpful future professional connections and at best a network of close friendships.
3. Collegial Relationships with Faculty
The student-teacher relationship dynamic is very apparent in undergraduate years. As an RN student, you were likely much younger than your professors. Lack of professional experience left a significant knowledge and maturity gap between yourself and faculty members. As an MSN student, you’re likely to notice this disconnect begin to blur. Embrace this notion as a graduate student. Getting to know your professors will be helpful when it comes time to search for a job and makes life as a grad student much more engaging.
4. Independent Learning Requirement
In your MSN program, you’ll write papers, study for tests, and complete required clinical hours. But, your education will include much more than tasks that can be checked off a list. In your clinical placements, you may have the opportunity to gain medical expertise in a setting of interest to you personally. While you will use this knowledge in your future career, it won’t be on your next test. Ultimately, your nurse practitioner program is preparing you to be a clinician with a high degree of independence. Learning opportunities that present themselves should be taken advantage of, even if they won’t be reflected directly in your GPA.
What differences have you noticed between the MSN and RN student experience?