By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP
I have a confession to make: I never cared too much for school, and I was never a particularly good student. I always considered myself a “hands-on” person who wanted to dive right into things and learn as I went — in other words, on-the-job training. I never had much patience for the classroom and usually found myself falling asleep, doodling, or thinking about what else I could be doing with my time.
When I decided to become a nurse, a hospital-based diploma program was the way to go for me. I had to endure some classroom time, but at least I was doing what I loved. When I graduated three years later, I breathed a sigh of relief, convinced that my classroom days were over. I felt liberated, knowing I would never have to — and certainly would never choose to — return to school for any reason.
For almost 15 years, I went merrily along convinced that a college degree would add nothing to my professional life. I was determined to be successful without a sheepskin and did, in fact, achieve considerable success without it.
At some point, I began contemplating career plans. I considered becoming an educator or a speaker and maybe even starting my own business. I figured that beefing up my credentials would probably add to my credibility and marketability. So when my employer offered on-site college courses, I impulsively enrolled to pursue a BS in healthcare management. Mind you, I still saw all of it as a necessary evil that would yield little more than a piece of paper and some extra initials after my name.
But once I started school, some amazing things began to happen. First, I actually started to learn something. Can you imagine? This was quite unexpected — I was convinced that I knew everything there was to know about healthcare. After all, I had years of critical care and managerial experience. Second, I began to learn things about myself and the world around me. I felt like a flower opening its petals. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know and how much there was to learn. Eventually, I left that employer, but I continued my education on my own.
When I graduated – not without having made some sacrifices — I felt a gap close within me that I didn’t even know existed. Even though I’d always had opportunities without the degree, I had even more with it, and I felt more confident applying for other positions.
Some years back, after realizing my dream of becoming a speaker and starting my own business, I again impulsively enrolled in college. I was at a meeting where I heard about a new master’s program in corporate and public communication that was perfectly tailored to my needs and interests. Did I have the time and money to go back to school at that point? I had neither, but I believe that if there’s a will, there’s a way.
Graduate work differs from undergraduate study because it’s focused on a particular area of interest. Taking my education to the next level woke up parts of my brain that had been lying dormant for years. I started to form opinions about things I hadn’t given much thought to previously. The world became much less black and white as I further expanded my mind and knowledge base. Once again, a whole new world opened up to me.
My formal education has been like a wave that’s propelling me into my future. I’ve had many new and exciting opportunities come my way since graduate school. School has prepared me to meet those challenges and given me the confidence to try new things and keep moving forward. You can’t possibly appreciate what higher education will do for you until you start taking classes. It keeps you young, it makes you feel alive, and it keeps the blood coursing through your veins. It’s never too soon or too late to go back to school. It’s a gift you give yourself and a way to enrich your life. You’ll have more to give yourself, your family, your patients, and the world around you.
If you’re thinking of going back to school, or your employer is pressuring you to do so, just do it. Don’t worry about how old you’ll be when you graduate or how long it will take to finish. That kind of thinking is sure to put the kibosh on your plans. Just get started and keep moving forward, even if it’s only one course at a time. Five years from now, you could either have a degree or still be thinking about it. The time will pass regardless of what you do.
Since graduating, I’ve actually started looking into doctoral programs. Can you believe it? This from the same person who once swore off formal education for life.
I’ll let you in on another secret: School still didn’t come easy for me, even later in life. I had to work hard to maintain good grades. And it was difficult juggling school activities with business affairs, family interests, and so on. But it was worth it. I’ve come a long way since I graduated from nursing school, and my formal education has been partly responsible for my success. But more important, it has made me a better person who’s equipped to fully enjoy and contribute to the world around me.
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