Deciding whether to go back to school for your advanced degree can be a difficult decision. Whether you are a registered nurse with an associate’s degree looking at bachelor’s degree programs, or an advanced practice nurse thinking about a doctorate, there’s so many factors that go into making the decision, including timing, money, availability, and program options, it can be hard figuring out if you are really ready for that next step.

For further insight into this issue, I spoke with Wolters Kluwer Medical Research Division and NursingCenter’s chief nurse, Anne Dabrow Woods DNP, MSN, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, who received her doctorate in nursing practice this May from Texas Christian University. Dr. Woods has been a nurse for more than 30 years and a nurse practitioner for 16 years. Currently, she serves as our chief nurse, as well as the publisher of the American Journal of Nursing and the Joanna Briggs Resources. She also works as a critical care nurse practitioner every weekend, while also serving as adjunct faculty for Drexel University.

Although Dr. Woods certainly has enough on her plate, she still chose to go back and get her doctorate. “The way healthcare is evolving,” says Dr.Woods, “I needed to go back for my doctorate to learn the skills, resources, and tools I need to really be effective in the market.” She sees the pursuit of higher education as a major trend across the profession. “Transitioning nurses who have their associate’s degree or diploma to a bachelor’s degree is really important. There are skillsets they haven’t learned before, and a bachelor’s degree will really help them in their practice. The other big push I see is advanced practice nurses going back for their DNP. It’s really only been in the last 10 years that we’ve had the ability to have a practice doctorate. The Future of Nursing initiative and the LACE model of nursing is that by 2015, all of these advance practice programs should be DNP.”

Once she decided to pursue a doctorate, Dr. Woods knew it was going to be costly, which is a major concern for most nurses contemplating higher learning. She explains, “It’s really expensive to go to school. Nurses need to do their homework and find out where they can obtain funding – scholarships, grant money, student loans.” Earning an advance degree is pricey, but Dr. Woods knows the value of an education. She says, “Even though it’s really expensive, and I probably won’t make any more money from having it, I feel that I am a better nurse and nurse practitioner by having it. [Nursing] is about being able to provide better care for the patients, the community, and people on a global perspective…It’s never about the money. It’s about practicing to the fullest potential that you can practice and providing the best care to our patients.”

Money isn’t the only issue for nurses looking for more education. Many nurses continue to work fulltime, while balancing families, friends, and other responsibilities. This was no different for Dr. Woods, who says, “The biggest challenge for me was time management. I work fulltime, and, I practice every weekend as a critical care nurse practitioner. Trying to fit in school work, even though it was a part-time online program, was challenging. The course work wasn’t hard; it’s the amount of work and the time it takes to do that work that is hard.” Being prepared for the commitment in cost and time is crucial to earning an advanced degree.

After the sacrifices she made to earn her doctorate, Dr. Woods already sees the benefit of her choice, only three months after graduation. She says, “As a DNP now working every weekend with nurses, they have really embraced my new degree and will ask me how they can think differently about this situation or what they are missing. I find myself doing a lot more teaching about things related to patient care or ethics of care. Now, I can help the nurse look differently at these issues.” And she doesn’t plan to stop learning any time soon. Dr. Woods explains, “I’m going forward to get some additional certifications to be the best healthcare professional, the best nurse practitioner, the best nurse I can be.”

Choosing the path of higher learning isn’t for everyone. Those who do take on this challenge, however, understand the immense benefit to not only themselves, but to the nursing community as a whole. Now, are you ready to go back to school?