Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Art of Student Loan Repayment

By Cassie Applegate, MSN, RN

Student loans are a necessity for most in order to pay for nursing school. Some are fortunate to not need any loan money, some only need a little and others have to take out the maximum in order to finish their education.

We have talked before about jobs that help repay student loans. Some jobs offer tuition reimbursement while some help pay for continuing education. We have also discussed different types of grants and loans. But, what happens when you graduate nursing school but haven’t found a job yet? How do you pay those loans back when the bills start coming but you have no income?

A few options are available to you. If you have federal direct subsidized or unsubsidized loans, you qualify for a grace period of six months after graduating from school. This is sometimes enough time to help you find a job and get settled before repaying your loans.

After that point, if you are unable to pay the loans back because of a lack of job or decreased income, you may be able to defer your student loans for a longer period of time. This can be helpful in times of crisis, but remember that your interest continues to accrue during this time.

Eventually you will have to face the facts and start paying on your loans. One option that made headlines recently was from President Obama’s speech on student loan debt, called the Pay as You Earn program. The president recently expanded this program to cover more borrowers. The program limits payments to 10 percent of your discretionary income and it also guarantees to never be more expensive than the standard repayment plan. Also, after 20 years (or 10 years if you’re working in public service) your loans will be forgiven.

Many other repayment plans exist. Some take into consideration your income, while others help you pay down your student loans while paying the least in interest. All of the options come with advantages and disadvantages and it is prudent to sit down with your loan company, your family and others that have gone through this process in order to find the plan that will work the best for your life. The repayment options are listed here.

Even if you have not finished school, it is never too late to be thinking about repayment options. Be prudent about how much money you borrow and start researching ways to pay off your loans when you are finished with school.

Have you finished nursing school and are now paying off your student loans? Were you aware of all of the options available to you? What plan did you end up choosing and why? Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Finished Nursing School, Now What?

It’s that feeling you have when you are on summer break: “What do I do now?”  After months of studying and cramming, your body and brain now have to adjust to your new normal. Do you fill this space with more studying for the next step, or do you allow yourself this break to spend time with family and friends and have a little “me” time?  

Whether you have recently graduated from nursing school, or are just on a summer break, I don’t think that there is a right or a wrong answer.

However, if you are looking for a few suggestions on how you might spend your time this summer, consider this short list:

1. Get a summer job. Spend your time this summer either volunteering, working as a nurse’s aide, or in a clinic setting. These skills will help you professionally and look great on a résumé. This applies to those of you who are looking for a nursing job right after school, as well.  Don’t be afraid to get a summer job until you land that great job as a registered nurse.

2. Work on your résumé. Have an expert review your résumé and make sure it stays current. It is easy to lose track of all of the great things you are doing! Don’t sell yourself short.

3. Study. Nobody wants to study on break, but if you are done with school, this is the time to be studying for boards or taking classes to make you a confident tester. If you are just on break, you may want to take this time to review some of the subjects you had difficulty with over the year.

4. Be social. We are social creatures and nursing school sometimes has a way of stealing that from us.  Remind your family that you are still around and spend some quality time with friends. It may be awhile before they see you again come fall!

5. Re-certify. Is it time to renew your Basic Life Support?  Do you want to get a certification that may help you with a job or clinical placement in the future, such as NRP or ACLS?  Now is the time to do it.

6. Relax! There is something to be said about stepping away from all things nursing and focusing on yourself. Go outside and get some Vitamin D. Start yoga or another healthy exercise habit. Eat healthy and detox your body from the year of stress you have had. Start working on building healthy habits for this coming year that you can sustain.

What do you anticipate doing for the remainder of this summer? Will it be a nice, relaxing summer or will you be busy the whole time? What other suggestions would you add to this list? Thank you for sharing any thoughts!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Are You Ready for Today's New Grad RN Job Market?

Have you been told by nursing instructors, family members, or the media about the looming nursing shortage?  This may have been what brought you to the field of nursing in the first place. If you are a current nursing school graduate you may be wondering where all of the jobs are.  Weren’t you told that hospitals would be begging for new hires? 

The truth of the matter is much more complicated regarding the current job market for nurses.
What is really going on?  Because of the recent economic slump, some older nurses stayed in their current jobs and put off retiring.  Some nurses that were retired even came back to the workforce, and some that worked part-time switched to full-time.  Employers found it easier to hire and retain experienced nurses, so some cut back on hiring new graduate nurses.  After all, new graduate RNs are expensive to train and research has shown that many leave their first job after 1-2 years.

But the scenario for new graduate nurses seems to be looking up.  In a recent NurseZone article, Robert Rosseter, spokesperson for the Association of American Colleges of Nursing (AACN), reported that 89 percent of BSN graduates are getting jobs within four to six months of graduation.
What can you do?  Have faith.  The nursing shortage is still looming and as the economy continues to improve, the jobs will come back.  The aging workforce of nurses will eventually retire leaving a large hole for the profession and younger nurses will need to step up to the jobs available.  And with the new health care law going into effect, more and more people will be seeking healthcare and we will need nurses to meet the increasing demand. 

How soon will this happen?  It’s hard to say, but as a new grad you probably don’t have time to sit around and wait for the economy to completely recover.  You have school loans to repay, families to feed, and a career waiting.  This may be a trying time for you.  Hold fast, stay motivated, and get a job.

How do you do this?  If you are still in nursing school, join organizations, get active in the nursing community with volunteering, join the honor society and gain new skills while improving your résumé.  You might try to get a job as a certified nurse’s aide (CNA) on the floor or unit where you want to work; most managers prefer to hire someone they know and trust over an anonymous applicant.  Widen your target and apply for everything that might fit your skills.  You may have to settle for less than ideal in order to become an experienced nurse – but it will give you more options in the future. 

Consider getting your BSN or MSN, if you don’t have one.  Most hospitals choose bachelor’s-educated nurses over others.  Consider doing a residency or internship, if available. Make sure your résumé is perfect and practice your interview skills until mastered.  Be patient.  Finding a job may not happen right away, but hold fast and keep trying.  If your search takes longer than anticipated, you could consider loan deferment and repayment options, if necessary.

What are your thoughts on the current job market?  Are you a new graduate nurse that has experienced difficulty finding a job?  What worked for you?  What didn’t?  Please share your stories.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why One Test Leads to Another (It’s All About the Boards)

Graduating from associate’s degree nursing programs, bachelor’s degree nursing programs and master’s degree nursing programs all have one thing in common: taking and passing exit exams. In order to  graduate from a nursing program, most schools require students to pass a comprehensive exam prior to getting your degree. This is a practice boards exam that shows whether you have learned the basic necessities from your program. It is an overall summary of all of the nursing courses you have taken during your education.

What is the point?

The comprehensive exam is good for both you and your school. It is good for you because it helps to narrow down where your weak points are so that you can study them for your boards exam. Most schools have a “review” process where an instructor will help you with a study plan after you take the comprehensive exam. It is good for your school because many schools are rated on how many students pass boards. If a number of students are failing the comprehensive exam, faculty can tailor the overall school program to help focus their teaching on some of these weak points so that students do better on boards exams.

It’s a win–win.

The comprehensive exam is a normal part of nursing school. It is required for graduation and is important to help prepare you for your nursing boards. Many comprehensive exams are even given at testing sites in your community to help prepare you for what it will be like to take boards. They are often 3-6 hours long. In order to get as much out of this process as possible, consider it as a “practice” boards and walk through the door as you would on the day you take your nursing boards.

For those of you who have already participated, what was your experience taking the comprehensive exams? Do you think they helped you pass boards? Do you think they should be mandatory in order to graduate? Please share your thoughts!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back to School, Back to the Fire

It is that time of year again, when traditional students are either starting college for the first time or returning for another semester. This is a time of excitement and also a time to reflect upon the past and look forward to the future. What brought you to this place? Why did you choose to start (or continue) nursing school?
As you may already know, nursing school is not for the faint of heart.
It is something that takes courage, determination, and a lot of dedication. I, and many of my colleagues, look back on nursing school with wonder. How did we do that? How did we start in the first place? How did we keep going? I believe there is a fire under every nursing student’s feet that helps to drive them into this profession and helps to keep them going. Some students don’t make it, and some nurses don’t make it, but the ones who do are strong and meant to do this job.

For those who are new and just now starting – congratulations! You have made the hardest step. You have registered, planned, and decided to jump in and do it. There is a long road ahead of you, one of tears, joys, and challenges. There is also a wealth of knowledge and experience that you will take with you for the rest of your life. It is a journey you will never forget and one that will not only forge you as a nurse, but as a different and stronger person. You can do this!
For those of you who are in nursing school and starting another semester – keep going! Nearly everyone reaches a point during their school journey where they want to just lie down and give up. Don’t do it. You have come to this place for a reason. Make it challenge you, but don’t let it overcome you. Get over this hill and someday soon you will reach the finish line. This profession needs you.

Remember that nursing school is a place that is meant to transform you. Like a refining fire, it molds your whole person, if you let it, and shapes you into the kind of nurse that your future patients need. Not only is school something you are doing for yourself, but you are doing it for them, also.
What feelings do you have as you start nursing school? Are you excited? Challenged? Share with us your thoughts.

Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Be Responsible with Social Media and Mobile Technology

Technology has become a part of all of our lives, and nursing students are no exception.  In fact, many nursing schools now require students to have top-of-the-line laptops, tablets, and/or smartphones in order to keep up with the information we have available for nursing education.  As a part of the new educational model, many schools require forum posts and email communication in order for us to connect with other students and teachers. 

Outside of the classroom, some students band together and form groups on popular social media sites, such as Facebook, and use it as a place to discuss fears, concerns, exciting accomplishments or happenings, calendars, and upcoming assignments.  Other students may use this intense time in their lives as an opportunity to blog or write about it on the internet as a personal journal, of sorts.  All of these examples come with a level of ethical concerns and cautions.

How can a student nurse steer clear of trouble and use social media and mobile technology responsibly?
I believe there are some basic rules to using social media that we should all practice in order to be respected as nursing students and as professionals:

      Don’t break patient confidentiality.  Patients trust us to maintain their privacy and respect (as does the HIPAA privacy rule).  This means do not share names, places, pictures, or anything that could identify that patient.  I would argue that discussing a patient’s case should not be done on the internet at all, but rather in private with your clinical instructor and classmates.  There is a time and place for debriefing, but that is not online for the world, and for other patients, to see.

Do not attack other people.  Do not use the internet to attack other classmates, instructors, hospitals, nurses, nursing schools, etc.  This can be a form of bullying and helps no one.  Part of nursing school involves learning how to communicate with others in a respectful and mindful way.  Use confrontations that arise as an opportunity to learn and respond appropriately.

Remember that nothing is secret.  Even if you think the group you are posting in is “secret” or “hidden” it may not be.  Do not post anything on the internet that you would not want your future employer to see.  This may include public postings/pictures on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr.  Many employers are now seeking out information on the internet as a part of the job interview process.

Don’t cheat.  Start practicing the ethics of nursing and resist the urge to cheat while in nursing school.  So much information is available at every turn on the internet, that there is a lot of temptation to cheat on assignments.  Just don’t do it.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) also has a Social Media Principles Toolkit that can be helpful.

We are so fortunate to live in the world today and to learn how to become nurses with infinite knowledge at our fingertips.  As future nurses, we are learning how to use this technology ethically and with the best interest of our patients in mind. Stay mindful of what you share on the internet and how you present yourself as a nursing student.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How to Choose the Right RN Program

Choosing the right nursing program is one of the most important steps in your career. It will determine what you are qualified to do as a nurse, what position you’re able to land, and perhaps even secure a job for you through job placement. There are a few important questions you must ask yourself as you take this next step in fulfilling your dream of becoming a registered nurse (RN).

1. What kind of nurse do you want to be?

Aspiring RNs will find there are multiple options for nursing programs, including diploma programs, associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) programs, bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) programs and master’s of science in nursing (MSN) programs. (Please see NurseZone’s Schools and Programs page for more information on the difference between the programs available.)

Do you want to work in a nursing home? At a hospital? In a school? Do you want to specialize? If you know what kind of nurse you want to be, this may help to tailor which nursing program you want to attend. If you know you want to continue your education at some point and perhaps become a nurse practitioner or other advanced practice nurse, you may want to start with a BSN. If you are not sure and just want to become a registered nurse, an ADN may be a reasonable option. Explore job opportunities for nurses in your community and speak with a recent new graduate nurse on the challenges they faced finding a job in your area.

2. How long do you want to be in school?

Diploma programs generally last about 2-3 years with great hands-on experience, but may make it more difficult to continue your education later.. ADN programs are typically 2-3 years and provide an entry-level education as a nurse. BSN programs are generally 4 years long, but accelerated programs are available through some schools for those who have already completed a bachelor's or graduate degree in a non-nursing discipline, cutting the time down to around 2 intense years. MSN programs are generally 6 years long, including the time to get your undergraduate degree.

Will you have to work while in school? How much money will you have to pay back (if any) when you are done? Think about some of these questions prior to choosing a plan.

3. Are you willing to relocate?

Investigate the nursing schools available in your community. Do these schools fulfill your needs? If there are no nursing schools in your area, then you will have to relocate. If the schools do not meet your needs for becoming a certain type of nurse, then you may have to relocate, as well. Some students may choose an ADN program, if that is all that is available in their community, and then finish a BSN online. Look at your options and see what is feasible for you.

4. How much money are you willing to spend?

Every program costs something different, based in part on the amount of time you’re in school. Going through a diploma program will generally cost less money than an ADN, and an ADN is usually cheaper than getting your BSN, and so on. (Of course you may want to pursue those higher degrees at a later time when you can afford them.) If you go to a private school, it will of course be more expensive than a state school. Explore your options for scholarships, grants, and loans, as these may all affect your choice in which program to attend.

5. How much family/social time are you willing to sacrifice?

Nursing school will demand a great deal of your time―for studying, finishing projects, and attending clinicals. In some cases, students realize too late that they are not willing to sacrifice so much for their education. This can affect grades, and in some cases students will either drop out or change their course of study. It is important to understand prior to school what level of commitment and time you are willing to devote to your program of study. Some programs (BSN, accelerated, etc.) may be more time-consuming and demanding than other programs.

Investigate, explore, and speak with other students about how school has affected their personal life to get a realistic perspective before choosing a nursing school. Some students are willing to give up some of their free time now in order to have more free time when they are done with school and perhaps have more money to spend doing the things they love.

For those who have finished school, what program did you ultimately decide upon? What questions helped you come to this decision? Are you happy with your choice? Thanks for your input!