How Can Registered Nurses Synthesize Their Knowledge to Prepare for an MSN?

In synthesizing their existing knowledge, registered nurses combine the experiences they have had and the information they have gleaned to gain a higher level of general understanding or to reach a specific conclusion. This is a skill that involves thinking flexibly, seeking additional information, and being ready to embrace alternative ideas.

The ability to synthesize knowledge gained through previous experiences and qualifications is a good way to prepare for an MSN degree. It is, after all, a major undertaking one that makes demands of a student’s time and intellectual abilities. In past years, working nurses may have struggled to further their careers through advanced qualifications because taking time out to study was simply not an option. With bills to pay, a family, and other commitments, they often had enough on their plates.

However, modern universities like Wilkes have designed affordable programs that can be taken online and will accommodate the needs of working professionals. Wilkes University has three specializations within its RN to MSN programs online: adult-gerontology primary care, family nurse practitioner, and mental health nurse practitioner. Aside from local rotations and residencies, the course is completed 100% online, and qualifying students are entitled to a financial aid package. Once they graduate, MSN-level nurses will find themselves in high demand, as their advanced practice skills and insight are attractive to many healthcare providers. It’s a great opportunity for career advancement, but how can a registered nurse prepare for the transition to an MSN qualification?

Reviewing and reflecting on previous learning experiences

Thinking and reflecting on past situations can be useful when structuring written work and organizing thoughts. This can start with something as simple as remembering the facts of a past case that had similarities to a current learning objective. For example, when a patient is presented with this condition in the past, the nurse can consider what happened, whether there were any surprises, and what were the critical moments. They can also go over the feelings they had while treating the patient or being involved in the situation, as this grounds the learning that they are doing in a lived experience. Next, they can move on to interpret what they learned during the earlier experience. This helps a nurse to create meaning and make a deeper judgment on the past incident – one which could prove useful to the task they currently have at hand.

Identifying themes and concepts that are relevant

By applying the knowledge, they have gained in the past to the new situation of studying for an MSN, nurses can gain valuable insight. This process starts with viewing past experiences in an almost abstract way that is to say, as a source of information rather than a personal memory. They will consider what the present task reminds them of and how they can interpret it based on what they have done previously. This can give them the wisdom, courage, or confidence to move forward because they know how they managed last time and have now made a connection between these two separate experiences. In starting an MSN as if they were approaching medical training for the first time, nurses are setting themselves up for a harder task than necessary.

Although the MSN is indeed a more advanced qualification, by applying past knowledge and thinking about how they approached complex issues previously, nurses are less likely to struggle. That’s because they see the relationship between what they have overcome during their past efforts and what needs to be done with this new challenge. They can summarize their experience and then relate it to this new form of learning. They apply events that happened in the past to a different but fundamentally similar context. Implementing their current medical knowledge and clinical skills means nurses can learn quickly and feel more confident in their endeavors.

Concept maps can be an effective learning tool

Concept maps show information in a graphic format. They are visual representations of the knowledge a person has on any given topic. The map uses words, sometimes described as nodes, that are linked to other words. These signify the main concepts a person is trying to grapple with and the links between them are directional arrows. Each arrow is titled with a description, which displays how or why the two words are linked. The description can be much longer than one or two words, as it must clarify the link in detail.

The majority of people who are learning a new subject have many points of reference as they approach it. As a minimum, nurses will have their past clinical training and ward experiences. They can bring these concepts together to form connections on the concept map. The forming of connections is a learning experience in itself and encourages the nurse to pick up and arrange new, previously disparate pieces of information. Plus, in designing a concept map, they are obliged to identify the important concepts and make clear which connections between these are relevant. In doing so, they blend previous and fresh knowledge and impose meaning on a concept they may have felt confused or overwhelmed by. Essentially, concept mapping blends knowledge retrieval with elaboration and presents the results in an accessible, visual format.

Bridging the gap between knowledge and practice

Most MSN courses have a practical element in which students will take part in clinical rotations or residencies that focus on lab learning. Nurses must be able to transfer what they have learned in the classroom previously into these situations. However, bridging this gap can be a challenge. One such way is through asking for feedback on their performance. Practicing a new skill or applying a classroom idea is one thing, but without detailed guidance on what they did well and what could be improved, students will not advance as quickly.

Lecturers and faculty staff will always provide group and individual feedback, but students can also ask their cohort group for constructive criticism and offer it themselves. This creates a more active method of learning, and it also motivates the student to do better in their future efforts. Spacing out practical sessions can also be useful as this gives nurses time to consider what went well and what could be done better in the future. However, at the same time, it’s important to correlate what is happening in the classroom with what is being done practically. So, if nurses are aware that a certain practical learning experience is coming up, they can read around the subject to boost their knowledge and fully prepare themselves. As a result, they will be in the ideal position to put their newly acquired competencies to the test.

After a training session, nurses can support their learning by seeking out opportunities to reinforce the knowledge they have acquired. This could be in the form of an online support network made up of fellow students who discuss the events of the day and share experiences. It could also involve finding a mentor or colleague with more experience who can share their knowledge, assist with their newly acquired skills, and help the student to develop as a professional.

Deeper learning through interdisciplinary collaborations

Many healthcare organizations are already using interdisciplinary approaches to assessing patients and planning their care. These diverse teams are made up of case managers, physicians, pharmacists, and nurses who each input their opinions. Frequently, these are very dynamic experiences to become involved in, as treatment plans are developed and then updated during ward rounds, at the nurse’s station, or at the patient’s bedside. These fast-paced environments can present valuable learning opportunities for nurses who are entering a new form of education and professional development. They have the chance to gain knowledge from a range of medical disciplines by speaking with the different representatives in their team.

Nurses can also find out how experts in different fields weigh up the risks of an innovative treatment with the benefits and then use these insights to inform their practice moving forward. Care planning in this way increases a nurse’s ability to communicate effectively with all levels of the healthcare staff and work as part of a high-functioning team that prioritizes patient outcomes.

Learning from others and establishing a profile through networking

Medical professionals use networking all the time to discover new specialties, connect with other practitioners, and establish their reputation. Whether these connections are academic or professional, they can help a student nurse prepare themselves for study and life after graduation. At the beginning of a course, it is difficult to gauge exactly what to expect, but through networking, nurses can understand their field in greater depth. They can connect with others in the specialization to learn which competencies are considered the most valuable and which soft skills they will need to develop before moving into the position they have in mind. Members of the faculty and even fellow students can form a useful core network, as they can provide help while a nurse studies and after they have left the university.

However, industry events, conferences, and lectures at their place of work will all be useful places for student nurses planning to expand their network. Healthcare is hugely vocational, and chatting with other professionals can open doors to any number of opportunities.

Practice critical thinking and analysis

The ability to question and analyze a situation or a piece of information is a skill that can be practiced. By continually doing so in their time, nurses on an MSN course ready themselves for having to do so in an academic or practical learning environment. A good way to start is through self-reflection. Looking back on what went well and which areas of their practice could be improved is a personal form of analysis that benefits nurses. It gives them the chance to consider the issue from a range of perspectives and with the benefit of hindsight. As a result, the way they approach the same experience in the future is likely to be different and better.

Critical thinking like this is hard to teach, as it is often mastered through regular practice and experience. It’s a given that most MSN students have a questioning mindset because they wish to expand their knowledge base with an advanced degree. This is useful because questioning their actions and those of others is at the heart of critical thinking. Asking questions and trying to find new ways to tackle problems does not just drive active learning. This approach also helps a nurse train their brain to interpret their work in more creative ways and search for innovative solutions to problems, both old and new.

Lifelong learning keeps nurses up to date with medical advances

When it comes to medical knowledge, nurses retain their curiosity throughout their careers. This positive attitude to learning and staying on top of recent developments is a major advantage for MSN students. However, the pace at which knowledge is changing, especially in the field of AI and machine learning, is especially swift. It is not easy to remain current with every new treatment and medication, but nurses should watch the literature that is published in their specialties. Useful resources are the websites of key medical publications, such as The American Journal of Medicine and digital archives like the National Library of Medicine.

Preparing for success in a Master of Science in Nursing

Careers for people with nursing skills are expanding and diversifying all the time. People who also have a Master of Science in Nursing under their belt are in especially high demand. Careers for MSN graduates tend to be well-paid, diverse, and rewarding, with scope to grow professionally and move into even more senior roles. MSN degrees are a great way for nurses to drive their careers forward, but the process can feel daunting. Coupled with personal and work commitments, there is the coursework and the additional learning to keep up with. However, by preparing in advance through additional research, networking, and practicing mindfulness techniques, student nurses can make the most of their opportunities.