Foreign educated nurses, Graduate study, Student learners



  1. Baldonado, Analiza V. BSN, RN, CCRN


This article discusses the personal struggles of a foreign-educated nurse experienced when returning to graduate school in the United States. She discusses her struggles as well as tips for other nurses considering returning to school for higher education.


Article Content

Graduate study poses a great deal of hard work and dedication before gaining the ultimate goal-acquiring one's degree. It is a decision crafted after years of careful deliberations of the pros and cons of going back to school. Likewise, it encompasses an array of consultations and advice from family, friends, coworkers, superiors, and mentors, making sure that the decision is highly supported and rightly chosen. Consequently, it comes down to one's desire and passion of self-empowerment that drives the final decision to pursue a formal higher level of learning. Graduate study challenges are discussed in this article, namely, (1) being a student learner again, (2) time management, and (3) financial pressures. Strategies to succeed in each graduate challenge are likewise reflected.


The first challenge is being a student learner again. Individuals like me who have been out of school for many years and then decide to pursue graduate studies may have difficulty adapting to a new situation. There are concerns of academic inadequacy, lost and/or rusty good study habits, and personal, intrapersonal, and interpersonal struggles. These are stumbling blocks in attaining my goal. As a foreign-educated nurse, I found the course requirements to be very challenging since English is my second language.


Graduate school has a range of support staff and resources that enhance academic and intellectual capacity such as research, writing, grammar, technical, and more. These amenities are available on campus, workshops, and online. When returning to graduate school, utilize all resources. Ask for help from family, friends, classmates, school advisors, or even a therapist. Many graduate students acknowledge that the advisor-advisee relationship is helpful to their study. This relationship is an important bond because of its foundation of trust. Students are drawn to their advisors for help because of the latter's commonly cited qualities of accessibility, dependability, and genuine personal interest in the welfare of the students.1


Time management is another challenge. If handling work and family responsibilities are already stressful, then adding graduate study may be a death sentence. Family responsibility is my main priority. Caring for 2 teenagers and a 2-year-old toddler is a gargantuan responsibility. Likewise, the demands of work as a trauma nurse in a critical care setting are very strenuous. These include the projects due and mandated expectations from colleagues, supervisors, doctors, patients, and their family. Thus, at the end of the day, I am left with no more energy to spare. Having undergone some previous graduate courses in my country, as well as life experiences, had given me an idea of what to expect from this educational endeavor. I also give my best in every venture I pursue. Although the first course is already overwhelming, I always view challenges positively and will not rest until I resolve them. It is also imperative to recognize that this feeling is experienced by most, if not all, of other classmates.


Dealing with time management is different for each individual. Personally, I cut down on my work hours, work overtime when I am not behind with other responsibilities, and receive extra help at home by asking my mother-in-law from the Philippines to stay with us for 5 months. The important factor in all of these is to acknowledge that graduate study is a process of adjustments and continuous change. There are always means to solve any challenges and problems.


Tips to organizing my time include having a recorder and writing notes on thoughts, ideas, and observations as they occur. I use a planner. In my case, I do it all electronically with a planner, to-do list, shopping list, schedules, and recorder-all in my phone. Avoid procrastination. Set realistic goals, and when these are accomplished, give yourself small rewards such as phone call to a friend, a movie, a game, or a walk in the park. It does make a difference.


Health maintenance is an important consideration. As the saying goes, "Health is wealth." All things a person works for are useless if one becomes ill. Maintain good mental health and have an outside interest, like fishing, hiking, or swimming. Spiritual health if nurtured properly may provide confidence, security, and sense of peace.2


Lastly, financial pressure is a main hindrance in pursuing a postgraduate program. Many working nurses want to return to school. They are naturally gifted to pursue their educational goals, but their financial situation may be a stumbling block. Graduate study is an investment that requires financial sacrifice.3


Home mortgages, car payments, and family needs are financial responsibilities that drain the coffers of every American family. Adding tuition fees to these expenses is a huge burden. To lessen its impact, applying for financial aid is a must. Students then must develop a repayment plan for this financial aid as soon as possible. I plan to pay one-half of my class tuition fee every time I finished a course. I also intend to get more hours at work as time permits for every pay period. In addition, I am presently utilizing the employer tuition reimbursement and the hospital union tuition refund. Other financial remedies include paying debts early, periodic expense-tracking, drastic cost-cutting, and being practical and frugal. My family and I made a pact to be very thrifty and to live within our means. My husband and children value education and are 100% supportive of my going back to school.



Graduate study is an endeavor where I set my eyes on the goal and am not losing sight of it: acquiring my degree. There will be setbacks, hurdles, and difficulties, but knowing and applying the strategies discussed in this article will help me through. Strategies to surmount these challenges such as utilizing resources to patch the gaps in my learning needs, time organization, and financial rescue tips were discussed in the article. I developed an awareness of the challenges and am currently applying the strategies to cope with graduate school. I am increasing my confidence, getting better at prioritization and time management, and adding more strategies to improve my reading skills. Change for the better is higher learning at its best.




1. Offstein EH, Larsen MB, McNeill Al, Mwale HM. Are we doing enough for today's graduate student? Int J Educ Manage. 2004;18:396-407. [Context Link]


2. Everard KM, Tessler PB, Dugan E. Surviving your graduate gerontology education and entering the job market. Educ Gerontol. 2000;26(3):285-299. [Context Link]


3. Sullivan T, Repak N. Financial pressure for grad students. Grad student crisis line. September 6, 2009. [Context Link]