Ask a Nurse: How Do You Balance School and Work?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated February 24, 2023
    Balancing work and school as a nurse is challenging. These tips from a nursing professional can help guide nurses hoping to return to school.
    A smiling mid-adult African American nursing student is sitting in class with her colleagues. She has short, curly black hair, and is wearing teal green scrubs. Her laptop and notepad are open so she is ready to take notes during class. She is looking directly at the camera.Credit: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

    Question: How do working nurses maintain a work-life balance when going back to school?

    Answer: Both nursing jobs and nursing degrees can be demanding and time consuming. Pursuing both at the same time presents the potential for a strenuous schedule.

    Still, many nurses return to school, successfully completing their studies while working. Although balancing school and work may seem impossible, it’s achievable with dedication and time management.

    Melina Burns, a registered nurse pursuing a master of science in nursing education and a global health certificate, offers advice for anyone planning on this route. “Personally, working full time, being in school, and teaching has caused me to prioritize and manage my time unlike ever before,” she says.

    Below, Burns offers five tips for nursing students balancing life obligations with school and work. You can find more tips for nurses in their first year here.

    5 Tips for Balancing Workload as a Nurse

    1. Structure

    It was difficult for me to keep up with due dates for individual assignments and group projects, in addition to life and work deadlines. When I was almost late for an assignment for the first time, I realized I had to do something different.

    This caused me to start color coding coursework in my planner. I set an alarm on my phone as a reminder and put a marker board calendar on my fridge.

    This structure allows me to keep up with my assignments, designate time each week, and prioritize what needs to be done first. These habits have led to better time management, better information retention, and quality work because I’m not rushing.

    2. Sleep

    Ensuring I get adequate sleep is important for me. I wasn’t prioritizing it initially, and it caught up to me. I now set an alarm to make sure I can get a certain amount each night.

    3. Self Care

    It is important to find an activity or two you can do for yourself each day or week as a way to break up the work or as a reward. Whatever that looks like for you! For me, it looks like being outside, participating in physical activity, reading, or being with friends and family.

    4. Support

    It has been really helpful to have an accountability partner. My partner helps encourage me when I want to put off my work, helps make sure I complete it during my set times, and celebrates with me when I am finished.

    5. Slow down

    I recently saw the quote, “adjust your pace, not your purpose.” When it comes to balancing obligations, are there any other activities that can be put off until a later time or that you can say no to?

    You won’t make it to the finish line if you are so tired from sprinting that you have to stop; walking or jogging will get you there too. Remember your why and enjoy the ride.

    Meet Our Contributor

    Portrait of Melina Burns, BSN, RN, CCRN, CPN

    Melina Burns, BSN, RN, CCRN, CPN

    Melina Burns, BSN, RN, CCRN, CPN, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2013 with her BSN. She is now pursuing her MSN in nursing education and a global health certificate. She has worked in the pediatric intensive care unit as a staff nurse for over seven years, focusing her clinical expertise on quality improvement, research, and bereavement care.