Since she was a little girl putting band-aids on baby dolls, Jennifer Joseph knew she wanted to be a nurse. Nearly 20 years after graduating from high school, she decided it was time to make it happen.
While a full-time student in Chamberlain’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, Joseph worked at least 20 hours per week, while still making time for her husband, two daughters and three dogs.
“Nursing school is like no other,” Joseph said. “It takes an organized, motivated and determined person to make it to the finish line. Throw in a family with that, and it can become overwhelming. Having a support system in place is the key to success.”
Joseph, a March 2013 graduate of the Chicago campus, shares how she managed to balance family, work and nursing school:
1. Start Organized—and Stay That Way!
At the start of each session, Joseph programmed alerts into the calendar on her iPhone to remind her about upcoming tests and important dates.
“If you forget one assignment, your grade has now dropped,” Joseph said. “It’s nice to be organized from the beginning, rather than trying to play catch up.”
Joseph also put a calendar on the family fridge and wrote down what she had going on each day, whether it be a clinical or work. Her family could see what days she would be very busy and when she would have more space for family time.
2. Find a Network of Support
Even with the best-laid plans, life often intervenes. Having someone to call when it does is especially important in nursing school. While she had the help of her husband, Joseph still needed to call on a neighbor when she was in a crunch.
“Having a support person on stand-by really helps,” Joseph said. “Whether it’s a significant other, a neighbor, a family member or friend, I definitely recommend having someone who understands what you’re going through and can be there if you need them.”
Joseph was one of 12 moms in her class, so they would often lean on each other for advice and encouragement as well.
“I have made close friends that I will be friends with forever,” she said. “We’re all compassionate people— we’re all nurses. We all have one thing in common and that is having the mindset of compassion and caring.”
3. Create a Study Space
During nursing school, Joseph used a bedroom of her home as an office. When the door was closed, her family knew not to knock or interrupt unless it was an emergency.
“I created a nice area where I could open up a book, have my laptop open and have plenty of space and light,” Joseph said. “You have to be sure there are no distractions – leave your phone outside the room and just focus.”
As marathon study sessions aren’t the most beneficial, Joseph would study in spurts. She might study for an hour then put in a load of laundry, or study for two hours, then watch a few minutes of TV to clear her mind.
While this worked for Joseph, it might not work as well for others, including those who have small children. Starbucks might be a better option for some – it doesn’t matter where your study space is, as long as you designate one, Joseph said.
4. If You Must Work, Make Sure You Have Flexibility
While working as a full-time student isn’t recommended, it may be a necessity for some. During school, Joseph had a part-time role at a midwife’s office. Finding an employer who will be flexible with your schedule and keeping communication open with your manager are essential if you plan to work during nursing school, Joseph said.
“Your manager needs to understand that your school schedule will change every eight weeks,” she said. “Communicate with your manager ahead of time and give them as much notice as possible about your schedule.”
Throughout the course of the program, Joseph never took significant time off to study from her position at a midwife’s office.
“I kept my routine consistent and just pushed through,” Joseph said. “I love my work and going there helped me clear my mind a bit and gave me a break from studying.”
At the start of the Bachelor in Science in Nursing program, Joseph printed out her program plan. Each semester, she would cross off another task so she could stay focused on her goals.
She also took time to talk openly with her daughters about her desire to attend nursing school and how it would affect them, including an occasional missed soccer game or class event. Whenever possible, she would include them in nursing school events—like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
“Looking back at my kids during graduation and seeing them smile and cheer me on made it all worth it,” Joseph said. “You have to keep the focus on what you’re doing and know that your kids will be so proud of you when you’re done. They see you do it and then you’re even more of a role model for them.”