Now that summer is over and this is my first year out of school, I realized I was not adjusted to the reality of a summer without a “summer break.” My mind was thrown off just a little by the warm temperatures and long days. I still went to work, just like the fall, winter, and spring.

The patients I saw had a blast going on vacation, swimming at the pool, or having sleepovers with best friends. It made me nostalgic, prompting me to fantasize about being back in school and having scheduled breaks that offered time for rest and change of pace. I think that my college student self, though, would laugh at my sentimentality. When I was a student, all I could think about was graduation day. I couldn’t wait to have my degree and finally accomplish something. I suppose the “grass is always greener” thought is a major component here: whatever my present circumstance, a different, imagined reality seems just a bit better.

Regardless of my intermittent desire to be on summer break without adult responsibilities, I think that it has been good overall for me to have a break from school. I began work as a Registered Nurse about a year ago, and I have been able to put all of the schooling that has prepared me for such work to use (two years of pre-nursing courses and two years of nursing courses). Before college, I spent 14 years in school – that’s 18 years of my life spent learning and absorbing new information in a classroom environment. No wonder it’s been an adjustment for me to change from a school calendar to a work schedule!


My plan after college was to go to graduate school right away. In my senior year, I applied and was accepted to a Ph.D. in Nursing Science program that began in August, just three months after graduating college. Well, I didn’t start the program, and I’m not enrolled to start a program as of right now. I’d like to share a little bit about why I applied in the first place as well as how I decided that I didn’t want to pursue a Ph.D. immediately after college.

I Love Learning

I have always loved the challenge of school. I loved the variety of subjects, but certain subjects, in particular, were my favorite: science, math, and art. When I entered college, I knew that I wanted to concentrate my studies on some combination of these. Perhaps in a future post, I will share the specifics of how I came to nursing, but by the beginning of sophomore year, I had settled on a nursing major with a studio art minor. I had a good balance of science and art that pushed me intellectually and creatively.

I began working as a research assistant during my junior year. It was through this job that I had my first exposure to professional research.

I began to learn the lingo, like the difference between qualitative versus quantitative research. I performed my first literature reviews. I helped recruit participants for a study. I assisted in delivering an arts-based intervention to the participants. I attended weekly meetings with the rest of the team. I contributed to articles that have since been published in nursing journals.

Working under an incredible principal investigator, I was able to dabble in many areas of research. A bonus for me was that the project I was working on allowed me to not only use my nursing knowledge but my artistic interests as well. I helped bridge the gap between the nursing and art departments, aiding in the collaboration to deliver a unified intervention for the larger project. It was a win-win sort of deal.

Clinicals…not so much

My clinical experience in nursing school was less than enjoyable. I really did not like spending time in the hospital as a nursing student, and so when I thought about life after college, doing research was much more appealing to me than working as a clinical registered nurse.

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I was basing my decision to go to graduate school on my experience thus far. My professors also were encouraging me to head directly to graduate school. After all, less than 1% of nurses hold a doctoral degree, and you can bet that most of them are within 5-10 years of retiring. If I were to get a Ph.D. directly out of undergrad, I would be able to work in the field of nursing for almost four decades. It was an exciting consideration!

After I passed the NCLEX in June, I accepted a full-time job as a Registered Nurse in Boulder, Colorado. I wanted to put my education to use, and now that I had a license to work, I was eager to get working. I knew that full-time education was coming in August, but I told myself that I would be able to juggle three online classes with my work schedule. I shrugged any doubts about being able to manage it all, telling myself that “it wouldn’t be that bad” and “you’re used to having a busy schedule.”

And then…

As you can imagine, August came around. I began to get e-mails from my instructors with syllabi, course website links, and textbook lists. The stress began to mount. I was still coming home from my workdays absolutely exhausted, a combined effect of a new environment on top of new skills and new expectations. The week before classes officially started, I phoned the coordinator of the Ph.D. program and explained my situation. I told her that I didn’t think I would be able to work and go to school full-time, and she agreed. I told her that I wanted to try out this clinical nursing stuff, to see if I liked it or was any good at it. I was scared to tell her this, but I finally admitted that I didn’t think I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. at this time.

After all the effort it took to write application essays and get references. After completing an entrance interview. After studying for and taking the GRE. After being accepted. I decided to say no.

It was a rough few weeks after I officially said no to graduate school. I felt like I was not only letting my family, old professors, and new professors down but myself as well. I struggled with the thought that I was a failure, saying that I was going to do this Ph.D. program and not following through with my commitment.

I Survived.

Looking back, as hard as it was to say no at the time, I am glad that I decided to give clinical nursing a try. I have been working for a year as an RN, and I feel like my hands-on skill has grown tremendously and my compassion for patients has deepened. I am still interested in research and perhaps soon I will pursue an opportunity for research as a nurse, but I think clinical time has opened my eyes to a multitude of truths about healthcare, patients’ experiences, and nursing-specific struggles.

My job has informed my perceptions in a way that, I believe, can only enhance any research that I might do in the future. For now, my research adventures will remain contained in my blog musings, but I will be sure to let you know if I ever transition to a more permanent nurse researcher role. It is an uncommon avenue of work for many nurses, so I relish any opportunity to shed more light on it!

Research is key for future development in the realm of nursing, and it’s intriguing to think about one day being a part of discovering knowledge that could shape the discipline as a whole.

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