Having a strong mentor and academic advisor can make a huge difference in the lives of undergraduate and graduate nursing students. Being that mentor is what motivates Ronald Hickman, PhD, RN, ACNP-BC, FNAP, FAAN, associate professor of nursing at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.
Hickman has been honored with two esteemed awards for student mentorship at Case Western Reserve University: the John S. Diekhoff Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring, which is presented to four full-time faculty members who make exemplary contributions to the education and development of graduate students; and the J. Bruce Jackson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring, which celebrates faculty and staff who have guided a student in their academic and career paths; fostered the student’s long-term personal development; challenged the student to reflect, explore, and grow as an individual; and supported and/or facilitated the student’s goals and life choices.
“Mentoring has been a cornerstone approach to making a difference in the lives of undergraduate and graduate nursing students,” says Hickman. “The receipt of two of the university’s top honors for mentoring undergraduate and graduate students is a testament to my commitment to making sure that I pay it forward.”
Hickman says the mentorship he received across his undergraduate and graduate studies has been invaluable. “My mentors shared their lived experiences and lessons learned to help me avoid pitfalls and inspire me toward a career in academe. These honors highlight my commitment to mentoring and acknowledge the impact of effective mentorship on the lives of emerging leaders in nursing practice and research.”
However, nursing was not Hickman’s original career plan. “As an undergraduate student, I majored in biological sciences with the intention to attend medical school after graduation.”
He was not admitted to medical school, but upon reflection about potential career paths he decided to pursue nursing because it aligned with his personal philosophy of health. “Although nursing was not my first choice for a career, it was the right choice for me,” he says.
Hickman acknowledges that pursing a nursing career can be challenging for minorities.
“Many minority nurses are the first in their families to attend college and are standouts in their communities,” he says. “When entering the nursing profession, the academic preparation is challenging and, in most instances, the diversity of nursing faculty is often not representative. This can create situations where minority nurses do not wish to speak up and seek help when needed. Whether you are pursuing a nursing degree or transitioning to a new role in nursing, do not suffer in silence. Asking for assistance often facilitates your success and delivery of safe nursing care.”
Another key to success that Hickman recommends for minority nursing students is to find a strong mentor and strongly consider pursing a doctoral degree in nursing.
Hickman is truly paying it forward. “As a nurse educator, I am inspired daily by helping students develop as competent nurse clinicians and scientists,” he says. “Helping others achieve their goals is an invaluable and enduring experience for most educators. The opportunity to inspire and challenge future nurse leaders is a priceless reward.”
Hickman sees himself in a senior leadership position in a school or college of nursing in the future. “My aspiration to secure a senior leadership position aligns with my commitment to help an organization and its’ faculty achieve their goals and impact the health of Americans.”
Summer is a great time of year to do some of the tasks that often get pushed to the backburner during the regular school year. Things usually slow down during the hot summer months and that gives nursing students some time to do those important, but not critical, tasks that will help advance their nursing career.
Here are 5 things you can do this summer to advance your nursing career.
1. Study for the NCLEX
Even if you’re not taking summer courses, it’s still a great idea to hit the books during the summer and study for the NCLEX exam. Set a weekly review schedule to keep the material top of mind throughout the summer. Carving out some summer hours to study will pay off down the line when you have a full course load during the regular semester.
Check out this post for some additional tips on how to prepare for (and ultimately pass) the NCLEX.
Take some time to research nursing associations in your area and attend a meeting or two this summer. This is a great way to gain industry contacts and learn more about the nursing profession. Deepen your involvement by volunteering for a committee or service project this summer.
There are many nursing associations for minority nurses including Black Nurses Rock, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association.
3. Informational Interviews
Joining a nursing association and researching potential employers will yield some new nursing industry contacts. Ask your new colleagues for informational interviews for insights into life as a practicing nurse. These connections can offer valuable information about employers and day-to-day life as a nurse.
4. Research Employers
Graduation day will come soon enough, so it’s a great idea to research your local job market. Make a list of all of the potential employers you may be interested in working for in the future and read through any job openings they have posted. Make note of the key qualifications and skills each employer is seeking and create a plan for how you will develop those skills in your own career.
Finally, don’t forget to relax this summer. Rest and self-care will provide the restoration needed to hit the ground running when classes start again the fall.
For nursing students there is one final hurdle after graduation to becoming a nurse – passing the NCLEX. The National Council Licensure Examination is the standard state exam that all graduating nurses must pass in order to start their career as an entry-level nurse.
It can be a stress-inducing time for a young nurse. But there are some things you can do while you’re still in nursing school to lessen the stress on exam day.
Follow these tips to prepare for test day.
1. Study All Through School
First and foremost, don’t wait to begin studying. Use your time throughout nursing school to prepare. “NCLEX tests safety competency and is not a test you can cram knowledge in a short period of time,” says Dr. Joanna Rowe, interim dean of nursing at Linfield College in McMinnville, OR.
Dr. Rowe says there are several study programs available including Kaplan, HESI, and ATI.
Another resource Dr. Rowe recommends is a PassPoint, which can be purchased for $100 for use on your phone or computer. “Students can design their own tests and they can select areas for the program to generate a test. Also, the National State Board of Nursing has an NCLEX study plan they can download that is very inexpensive.”
Dr. Rowe advises students to take practice tests in an environment similar to the one you’ll take the real NCLEX. That means no music, headphones, noise, or anything to drink or eat. Take your practice tests in a quiet, uncluttered space and take the whole practice test in one sitting.
3. Take Time to Review
“Review each question on the practice test even if you got it correct. Look at why you got it correct,” says Dr. Rowe. “Did you know the answer or guess at the answer and does your rationale match the rationale offered? If you got it wrong, why did you get it wrong? Did you not know the answer, read too fast, misread the question, knew parts of the answer but not in depth?”
Taking the time to review after your practice tests will offer key insights that will help you ultimately pass the NCLEX.
4. Take the NCLEX Right After Graduation
Finally, Dr. Rowe advises students to take the NCLEX within six weeks of graduating from nursing school. “The statistics are clear that students who take NCLEX within the first six weeks of graduation have a significantly higher pass rate,” says Dr. Rowe.
Repaying nursing school loans can be a daunting task, especially if you have several loans carrying large balances. If you add in additional debt such as credit card debt and car loans, it gets even more complicated. Which loans should you pay off first? What’s the fastest way to become debt-free?
There are two popular methods for debt repayment – the debt snowball and the debt avalanche, and they both come with pros and cons.
Let’s say you have three outstanding debts – two student loans, plus a credit card. We’ll call them A, B, and C. With both the debt snowball and debt avalanche, you would:
- make the minimum payments on all three loans each month
- cut back and/or eliminate discretionary expenses (e.g. cable TV, eating out) so that you have extra money to pay towards your debt
- use any extra money in your budget to pay down your loans
For example, when you pay off loan A you would roll that payment into your payment for loan B until it’s paid off. Once loan B is paid off you would roll your payments for both A and B to pay off C. Eventually you will build a huge snowball or create an avalanche in loan repayments.
But the two methods differ in their approach in one key way: the order you repay your debts. Let’s take a look at examples of how each strategy works.
The debt snowball strategy was made popular by personal finance radio personality Dave Ramsey. With the snowball, you would list your debts from the smallest to largest balance and then pay them off in that order, one-by-one until all debts are paid.
For example, if loan A is $3,000, loan B is $5,000, and loan C is $12,000, you would pay them in that order, regardless of the interest rates. So even if loan C has a higher interest rate than loan A, you would still aggressively pay loan A until it’s paid off before focusing on loan C.
The theory of the snowball method is that by paying off the smallest loan first, you will gain momentum and experience success along the way. How awesome would it feel to pay off a student loan? With the snowball method you get to experience paying off the $3,000 loan much quicker than you would pay off the $12,000.
Many people have successfully paid off their loans using the debt snowball. But many others think the debt avalanche is the smarter way. Here’s how it works.
Let’s say you have those same three loans, but the one for $5,000 happens to have the highest interest rate. You would start your avalanche by paying the minimum payments on all three and then throwing any extra money at the $5,000 loan since it carries the highest interest rate.
The debt avalanche is all about the math. You could save thousands of dollars in interest payments using the debt avalanche. But again, you may have to wait quite a while before you experience any repayment victories.
Since personal finance is indeed personal, you should choose the method that you will stick with. If you choose to do a debt snowball you may end up paying higher interest, but if that’s the strategy that will keep you focused, it’s the best one for you.
Conversely, if you’re the type of person who is good at delayed gratification or you’re more motivated by saving money on interest, the debt avalanche would work best for you.
The key is to remember the importance of repaying your student loans and other consumer debts so that you’re free to make career and life decisions without being tied down by debt.
Many nurses consider entering into a public service or government position after graduation in hopes of qualifying for a student loan forgiveness program.
It sounds great, right? Work for 10 years in the public sector and your student loan balance will disappear. It does sound great, but recent news that the Department of Education (DOE) is calling the approval letters of the Public Service Loan Forgivness (PSLF) program “invalid” have many borrowers concerned.
Launched in 2007, the PSLF program agreed to forgive student loan debt for borrowers who worked for 10 years in qualifying public-sector jobs, made 120 timely loan payments, and submitted an annual employment certification form. Many professionals, including nurses, entered the program with hopes that their years of public service would result in their student loan debt being wiped out.
This fall, borrowers who entered the PSLF program in 2007 are scheduled to have their loans forgiven. But the DOE sent notices last year that many workers were no longer eligible and that previous letters of acceptance were no longer binding. The American Bar Association responded with a lawsuit against the DOE, and many of the nearly half a million borrowers in the program are left in confusion over the status of their loans.
PSLF isn’t the only student loan forgiveness program out there for nurses. If you are thinking about entering a loan forgiveness program, here are some important factors to consider.
Make Sure You Know the Rules
Many borrowers in the PSLF program are facing challenges with ensuring they are following the program’s guidelines over 10 years. For example, borrowers who received letters that their promise letters may be invalid thought they were in good standing with the program, were working for qualifying organizations, and were making income-based repayments based on the program’s guidelines.
It’s important to keep on top of any repayment programs you may enter and watch for changes in the requirements. However, this isn’t a sure-fire guarantee of repayment as the borrowers in the PSLF program are currently experiencing uncertainty.
Limited Earning Potential
Many of the borrowers currently in the PSLF program have worked for lower incomes in public service jobs for nearly 10 years, greatly limiting their earning potential. Before you enter a public service nursing position for the sole purpose of loan forgiveness, do the math to make sure it will actually pay off in the long run. For instance, if you could make a much higher salary and increase your repayments over 10 years, is it worth it to limit your salary/career prospects for a decade?
Be sure to evaluate the time commitment required in the program to ensure it’s not keeping you in debt longer than necessary.
It Could Slow Down Debt Reduction
Many nurses are able to repay student loans on their own by cutting expenses and avoiding lifestyle inflation. If you could get yourself out of student debt in a few years, why wait 10 years?
Research the Program’s Track Record
Despite the controversy surrounding the PSLF program, there are programs out there with good track records. It’s a good idea to look for programs with strong histories and examples of nurses who have had their loans paid off.
For example, programs like NURSE Corps, which awards scholarships and loan repayment to nurses, nursing students and nurse faculty, have long track records of student loan forgiveness.
NURSE Corps pays for 60% of unpaid nursing education debt over two years, with an option to extend to a third year for an additional 25% of the original balance. Program participants are required to “work for a minimum of two years in one of the thousands of Critical Shortage Facilities across the country, including hospitals, clinics, and other facilities experiencing a critical shortage of nurses.”
Since 2007, 8,321 nurses have successfully completed the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program.
In addition to the NURSE Corps program, the National Health Service Corps offers a loan repayment program that funds nursing awards to primary care nurses. Since its inception, 4,655 nurses have successfully completed the NHSC Loan Repayment Program.
Evaluate Your Career Goals and Passion
In conclusion, many nurses are passionate about working in the public sector and would happily choose to work for clinics and non-profits with strong missions to help underserved communities – whether it came with the promise of loan forgiveness or not.
But for others, it wouldn’t be a first choice and they should use caution when making career and financial decisions within a loan forgiveness program.
Student loan forgiveness programs can be complicated to understand and something that nurses should thoroughly research before committing to them.
If you decide to participate in a loan forgiveness program, be sure you are complying with the rules by evaluating your status on a regular basis and keeping up with the latest news about the program to make certain it’s still a viable repayment option.
May 14 to 20 marks the American Health Care Association’s National Nursing Home Week to honor the many types of nursing care provided in these skilled nursing care facilities.
The 2017 theme, “The Spirit of America” highlights the bonds that bring together all the people in nursing homes—whether it’s staff, volunteers, families, wider community members, friends, or residents. Each person brings a different background, varied reasons for walking through the doors, and wide-ranging life experiences, but the community they form is like the American spirit so many of us treasure.
Since 1967, the AHCA has used National Nursing Home Association Week to celebrate these skilled nursing care facilities and the essential care they offer to elderly or disabled people. But, as anyone who has ever worked in or visited a nursing home facility knows, the care given here has a wide impact that expands to include the loved ones of residents and the larger community.
If you want to join in on celebrating this week or if you work in one of these facilities, check to see what’s being offered. If there are any events to honor the week in your local community or where you work, try to participate in some way.
If you can’t find anything going on, propose a way to mark the week by honoring the staff and visitors with flowers, food, or even a small reception where everyone can come together. With so many stories under one roof, there are bound to be common experiences to share and new stories and situations that everyone can learn about. And don’t forget the power of social media! Give a shout out on Twitter (#NNHW), Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram to let others know of the important work and caring that goes on in skilled nursing care facilities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of 2014, 1.4 million Americans lived in nursing home facilities. And with services ranging from long-term care to rehabilitative care to hospice care, the range of skills provided in these settings is extensive. Some people live in skilled nursing care facilities while others are only there for a short time to recover from illness or surgery. But all share in the same spirit of working closely and learning from each other.
According to the AHCA’s website, as “the nation’s largest association of long term and post-acute care providers, AHCA advocates for quality care and services for frail, elderly, and disabled Americans. Our members provide essential care to approximately one million individuals in over 13,400 not-for-profit and proprietary member facilities.”
If you work in a nursing home, celebrate all you and your colleagues do this week. And take the time to honor the residents and the people you care for. Sharing stories is often one of the best ways to learn about those around you.