Academic vs. On-the-Job Learning: For Nurses, Both Matter

Written by Sandra Kleiman, MSN RN On Friday, 04 August 2017. Posted in Academic Advice, Nursing

Academic vs. On-the-Job Learning: For Nurses, Both Matter

If you’re an RN, you know that many nurses are making the decision to return to school to earn their BSN. Whether your goal is to further your career or meet employer demands, the fact is that having a bachelor’s degree is becoming an industry standard for nurses. In fact, the Institute of Medicine’s The Future of Nursing report recommends that 80 percent of nurses have a bachelor’s degree by 2020

Many of the students I work with as an academic advisor are veteran RNs, and for some, earning a BSN may feel like a formality or another hurdle to clear. After all, they have years of experience at the bedside. On-the-job experience is extremely important, but this type of learning goes hand-in-hand and with formal education—whether it’s a continuing education course for professional development, a new certification or a degree. As a former nurse, I know first-hand nursing is a career that demands a commitment to life-long learning; what you learn in the classroom and what you learn on the job are both invaluable to providing the best possible patient care.

In the Field

There’s no doubt that real-world experience matters when it comes to developing clinical skills as a nurse. Some things just can’t be learned outside of a hospital. Skills like bedside manner and working with challenging patients are things you develop over time as a nurse. Learning about a clinical procedure and actually doing the procedure are two different experiences. Not to mention, the nature of the job requires individuals to step up and take on new responsibilities every day.

However, if you’ve been in the industry for a while, you understand how much the role of nurses has evolved over time. An increased focus on preventative healthcare, as well as a shift to focusing on evidence-based standards of care are changing the way nurses do their jobs. This is where the need for formal education becomes important.

In the Classroom

We now know that hospitals that employ nurses with their BSN achieve lower mortality rates. This data is prompting healthcare institutions to look for nurses who can be leaders in new and different ways of treating patients.

Returning to school to earn your BSN isn’t just about clinical skills. RN to BSN programs are designed to help you develop skills in critical thinking, communication, leadership, case management, health promotion and the ability to practice across a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings—all of which are key to meet the changing expectations of nurses.

Formal education additionally gives you the chance to discover and explore different specialties and career paths. Many specialties require at least a BSN, and some even require an MSN. And while many nurses who return to school have a set path in mind, you may discover the career opportunities you want to pursue along the way. This type of discovery isn’t exclusive to those who are pursuing a degree, but revisiting nursing education can often be a catalyst.

The message I want to make clear to prospective students is that your professional experience matters. Going back to school—whether you’re doing so on your own or at the request of your employer—does not invalidate what you already know. At the same time, there is great value in what you can learn in the classroom. Earning your BSN is not just a credential to put on your resume. The skills you will learn will make you a better nurse and improve the experience of the patients you treat.

About the Author

Sandra Kleiman, MSN RN

Sandra Kleiman brings to Madison School of Healthcare the knowledge and experience of a practicing nurse and an educator with a passion for teaching. Sandra's nursing background includes oncology, neonatal intensive care, emergency room case management, utilization review, denial and appeals management, correctional health, and nursing education. She earned her Bachelor's of Science degree in Nursing with honors from Chamberlin College of Nursing and a Master's in Nursing Education from Western Governors University.