Shirley sat in the front row of new hire orientation. Her face beamed with the enthusiastic glow of a new nurse. She eagerly asked questions, scribbled notes and participated in group discussions. Shirley is not your average graduate nurse…she was 60 years old when she graduated from nursing school.
Her childhood dream had always been to become a nurse. However, her family could not afford to send her to nursing school. At the age of seventeen she married her high school sweetheart Bill. After the last of their three children started school, Shirley began work as a bookkeeper in Bill’s real estate office. Life was good…but from time to time she still regretted not following her dream of becoming a nurse.
Their lives were suddenly turned upside down after Bill was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Shirley became his primary caregiver; learning everything she could about his illness. Throughout Bill’s numerous hospitalizations, she had the opportunity to closely observe nurses as they worked. Shirley was inspired by their compassion, intelligence and technical skills.
During a blessed period of remission, they made plans for Shirley’s future. Bill helped her select the nursing school she would attend. He lived long enough to watch his bride graduate nursing school and begin her new life. According to Shirley, “I am doing this for both of us”.
From many backgrounds
There is no typical second career nurse. Matt was a paramedic, who attended a paramedic to RN transition program in the evening at the local community college. After being downsized for the second time in the banking industry, Donna turned to nursing for a more stable and rewarding career. Angela, a nursing assistant and single mother became a nurse to increase her earning potential. After the birth of her premature son, former teacher Susan spent three months interacting with the neonatal nurses and couldn’t imagine doing anything else with her life. Deeply affected by the events of September 11th, Robert wanted more meaningful work; he quit his job as an insurance agent and is currently working as a critical care nurse.
Second career nurses bring a wide variety of skills and experience with them. With the opportunities that the nursing profession has to offer; there is more than enough room for qualified candidates of all ages. Employment skills such as critical thinking, emotional intelligence, customer service, manual dexterity, and computer skills easily transfer to the nursing profession.
How individuals utilize their experience is completely up to them. A former teacher or business manager could choose to directly apply their skills to an equivalent nursing position such as nurse educator or nurse manager. Those opting for a complete change in career direction will also find their previous life experiences a boost to their success.
Age is not a barrier
Competition for entry level positions in the general market place is fierce, making it even more difficult for the over thirty-five job seeker. In nursing, experience is considered an asset and often second career nurses advance more quickly than their younger counterparts. This is due in part to clarity of purpose that many mature adults have developed and the application of previously acquired skills.
Mid-life career change has become increasingly more common. Adults may choose to change careers for a variety of personal and financial reasons. Many are interested in exploring new fields and plan to delay retirement. The characteristic of life-long learning has become essential for survival in our ever changing knowledge-based society.
In the current economic environment, financial stability is of great concern. Nursing jobs are plentiful and career opportunities are endless. We are in the midst of the worst nursing shortage in history, which is predicted to worsen over the next decade. However, shortages are regional and health care delivery is under going continuous change; requiring nurses to be both proactive and flexible. Nursing skills are highly portable, creating an advantage over many other professions.
“Because I can always get a job”, should never be the primary reason for becoming a nurse; however, monetary considerations are extremely important in the real-world. Nursing offers the ability to enjoy a comfortable life-style, provide for the needs of a family; while engaging in meaningful work.
Develop a plan
Simultaneously juggling, personal and financial needs, while returning to school may seem overwhelming. As with reaching any goal, developing a flexible plan is essential. What do you want to achieve? How can you get there? How long will it take? Who can help you? You will reach your goal of becoming a nurse, much sooner with support than you ever could alone.
Do your homework and investigate the options and resources that are available to you. Research the nursing job market in your area. Compare nursing programs and find the one that is best for you. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement. Investigate grants and financial assistance. Ask other nurses for advice. Consult guidance and financial counselors to assist with your plan.
It can be especially challenging to enter a field as a novice, after being an expert in another. Be patient with yourself, as you make the transition. Assimilating nursing knowledge requires additional “on the job training”, in the form of a preceptorship. Resist comparing yourself skill for skill to experienced nurses; instead ask for help and find great role models to emulate. Connecting with mentors and joining professional organizations will greatly accelerate your career development.
How nurses can help
The following suggestions will help attract others to nursing. Speak positively about the nursing profession. Tell your friends and family about the work you do as a nurse. Encourage those expressing an interest in becoming a nurse. Share information about resources in your community. Treat all new nurses, including second career nurses with respect. Become a mentor.
Finding solutions to the nursing shortage requires the active involvement of all nurses. Those considering nursing as a profession, watch as we go about our daily work. They listen to what we say and do. We send powerful messages with our actions and attitudes. What message are you sending?