What to consider when choosing to study a nursing degree while working

Last updated on 8 January 2024

Studying while working can be a true challenge, especially when your study requirements include unpaid placements. [Source: Shutterstock]

Career growth and progression is an essential part of the work-life balance. Typically, this takes the form of on-the-job learning and training or via short courses complementary to work commitments. 

Yet there are other options for those seeking more, whether it’s a new career path or advancing your skills to the next level. In the aged care industry, a nursing diploma or bachelor’s degree represents one of the most impactful career steps someone can take.

Taking on a nursing degree while working requires careful consideration, though, as you have to juggle study, work and personal responsibilities. To help with your career development journey, hello leaders has identified the top priorities to consider when choosing a nursing course while working.

What’s your starting point?

There is no single starting point for someone who wants to become a nurse so your situation could determine exactly what your first step is. For example, a recent high school graduate with an ATAR is more likely to have a good balance between work and study when signing up for a Bachelor of Nursing program. In contrast, a 30-year-old with a family seeking a career change has more to consider.

And so, it’s important to understand the following:

  • A Diploma in Nursing has fewer entry requirements than a Bachelor’s Degree, making it a more accessible option for those who have not completed secondary education or have not been accepted into university
  • Work and life experiences are still a valid pathway to university with most accepting people who complete a Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT) or foundation studies program (visit the Flinders University website as an example of study pathways)
  • However, specific course entry requirements mean you may have to achieve a certain result to be considered
  • TAFE/RTO pathways such as a Diploma in Nursing or Certificate IV are guaranteed entry pathways to an undergraduate degree
  • Additional entry steps, such as a 12-month foundation studies program, need to be factored into course start dates and current work-life responsibilities

For more information regarding entry requirements, visit your desired university, TAFE or RTO provider’s website or contact them directly as requirements and key entry dates vary.

How will you commit to the hours of study?

Another important consideration alongside course entry requirements is how you will set aside time to commit to studying while working.

Unlike short courses designed to complement aged care knowledge that can be completed within days or a few hours each week, serious commitment is required when signing up for a long-term nursing course. Considering how this will fit in with your existing work hours is crucial, otherwise, you’ll find competing priorities chip away at your focus.

  • Courses such as a Diploma of Nursing require 18 months of full-time study, often including a mixture of two days on campus and up to three days of self-directed activities/online study at home
  • The 18-month duration is paired with an additional 12 weeks of work placement in health and aged care settings
  • A Bachelor of Nursing typically requires three years of full-time study, with some universities offering part-time study
  • Full-time study is the equivalent of 40 hours per week, and although part-time study reduces the number of hours you need to commit each week, it extends your overall study period by one year at least

Additionally, employer support is essential when studying or upskilling in the workplace. If you are already working in an aged care setting there may be more opportunities to collaborate with your employer and devise a flexible roster to suit your study requirements. This could include you moving to part-time or casual employment for some time while you attend lectures, practical sessions or seminars during your studies.

Can you afford to complete a placement?

Unpaid placements are among the most important components of a nursing degree or diploma, yet they can be one of the most challenging aspects to factor into your commitments. 

Placement requirements will depend on the course provider, so checking in with your local university or TAFE/RTO provider is essential. For example, placement requirements for a Diploma in Nursing typically sit at 10-12 weeks (400 hours).

Those requirements grow for a Bachelor of Nursing with some, such as Deakin University, requiring 800 hours while the University Of South Australia require 1,000 hours. 

Placements will also be split into several blocks to alleviate the overall workload, but with three or four separate placement periods in settings such as aged care, acute care and regional locations you will likely have to access annual leave. 

Planning for how you will travel to a placement is equally important, and it can be a challenge as some course providers coordinate last-minute placement opportunities. But if you’re in a position where you can be versatile and flexible, it’s easier to adapt to any situation that may arise when studying while working. 

education and training
career progression
workplace learning
nursing degree
studying while working