A second — or third, or fourth — career is a relatively new phenomenon. Our grandparents often had one job from the day they graduated high school or college until they retired, and it isn’t unlikely the case was similar for your parents. For most of human history, people have learned a trade or joined a company early on and never left it. Even today, many of us feel solidified in our first career choices, when in fact it is not only possible but common to choose a radically different career at some point.
Many nurses work in other jobs and career fields before entering into the profession, and certainly many of our nursing students have worked in every kind of industry before they listened to their calling and decided to apply to nursing school. For some, it was an easy decision, but others felt torn and apprehensive about starting a second career as a nurse.
It’s rarely an easy decision to change career paths in the middle of your life, but if you’re thinking about becoming a nurse, it can be easier than most career changes. Nursing is fulfilling, rewarding work, but it’s also a career field accessible to almost anyone, at any point in their lives. If you are considering nursing as a second career, you can do it, and here’s how.
Entering a new line of work can be daunting for a hundred reasons, but one of the biggest deterrents is age. If you’ve looked at nursing schools, you probably see mostly young faces, men and women who decided to become nurses right after school. You may worry that you lack the energy and youth to start the path to become a nurse, but nursing is a career field where age can be more of an advantage than disadvantage.
Nurses have to possess a huge breadth of knowledge, but those are facts and medical terms you’ll learn in nursing school with everyone else. You can learn the information in your day or night classes, but not everyone can learn the other required nursing skills so quickly. If you’ve already had a previous career, you’ll bring an enormous amount of relevant experience to your classes and clinical and first nursing job. Even if it isn’t directly related to nursing, having the skillset of a seasoned worker — intrapersonal skills, communication skills, confidence, and stress management, to name a few — will only make you a stronger, more well-rounded healthcare professional.
In addition, nursing is an amazing second career. With your life experiences and self-awareness, you’ll have more years of wisdom, compassion, and humanity, and a better understanding of what patients are going through in different stages of life. Many younger nurses will have to gain these skillsets slowly on the job.
Still feeling unsure? The average age for a nurse in the United States is 45 years old. As the largest private nursing school in Utah, thousands of nursing students have gone through our program from ages 18 to over 50 years old. In fact, the average age of our student body is 31. And remember: Once you finish your education and pass the NCLEX, you are a nurse. Period. Ageism is rarer in nursing than in many other second careers, because all registered nurses have an equal standing in healthcare. Nursing can be a community as much as a career, and nurses stick together, regardless of differing ages. Seasoned nurses may have the advantage of experience, but you’ll have the advantage of learning the latest policies and practices by attending nursing school now — not 15 years ago when many of your peers did.
Related Resource: 7 Pieces of Practical Advice for Nurses Raising Kids
The best way to confront your fears is through research. Explore the ins and outs of nursing school, and the profession itself, so you know what to expect when you actually begin your journey, and if it is, indeed, the best choice for you and your family. If you can, chat with a nurse about what school was like, how she achieves work-life balance, and the challenges she faces daily. Better yet, if you have the chance to job shadow, take it!
Having realistic expectations about the job and student life will help smooth over any anxieties you have about taking the plunge, so you can be confident and focus on your education. There are many reputable online sites to get you started, too. Check out national associations, blogs, journals, and news outlets. Because healthcare is constantly evolving, building your knowledge base early will enhance what you learn in the classroom, allow you to hear different healthcare voices, and examine a variety of topics you might not normally consider.
One aspect of your research should include finding a program that works for you and your family. Since there are many excellent programs available with different policies, benefits, and curriculum, begin with a list of requirements you need fulfilled and go from there. Do you need the flexibility of a nursing school with online classes? Financial aid? Can you relocate, commute, or do you need a local school? Do you need a shorter program to graduate with your associate degree in nursing in two years? Sussing out your absolute must-haves versus nice-to-have requirements is a great starting point.
Don’t be afraid of checking out nursing schools in more rural or suburban areas. Consider statistics like NCLEX pass rates, as these can indicate how well an education prepares you for your career. Don’t forget: When you graduate, pass the NCELX, and are handed your RN license, it won’t matter whether you went to a small school or a large university in a well-know city. What matters is the education you receive, your ability to work alongside other professionals, and the care you give to patients. Looking outside your comfort zone includes perks, such as no wait lists and accelerated programs, so you can start your career as soon as possible.
Related Resources: 6 Great Things about Going to College in Draper, Utah
Being a nurse is amazing because your quality of life isn’t just about how much you get paid. Making a real difference in people’s lives is rewarding — but it’s important to know there are other perks to being a professional nurse as well.
First, you’ll never be bored. You’ll have paid sick leave, vacation, opportunities for overtime, and a flexible schedule. The pay is a lot higher than average, especially for entry-level positions. Your opportunities will be limitless. Every town, every specialty needs nurses who care about their patients and who want to make a difference in their lives. With the projected growth of nursing hovering around 19% over the next few years (that’s 526,800 nurses needed by 2022), your skills will always be in demand, which means there will likely be a job for you. Depending on the area in which you chose to practice, you can earn a solid salary that will only keep growing as you gain more experience and more education. In this rapidly changing economy, that can’t be said of many careers, but the demand for nurses will always exist.
As Florence Nightingale once said, “Let us never consider ourselves finished nurses…we must be learning all of our lives.” There is so much truth in these words because, as a nurse, professional development will never cease. You’ll learn new things and see new patients every day. Policies will change, new demands will pop up, and patient needs will shift, which means nurses need to keep their finger on the pulse more than ever in this changing medical landscape.
With this change comes great opportunity for career advancement, if you’re willing to put the work in. Going back to school and furthering your education with a BSN or advanced degree offers plenty of opportunities for growth. Some hospitals will pay or reimburse you for your education. Higher education is wonderful and critical to the future of nursing, but it is by no means the only way to nurture your career. Some hospitals offer career ladder programs to reward nurses for demonstrated growth and aptitude. This empowers nurses to learn new skills and, in the process, gain more responsibility, recognition, and pay, which, in the end, translates to better patient care.
Related Resources: 8 Benefits of a Holistic Nursing Education
At Joyce University, we take our students’ education very seriously, because we want each student, regardless of background, to be the best nurse they can be. If you are interested in starting a second career as a nurse and would like to learn more about our nursing or BSN programs, please feel free to contact us with any questions you have. We’d love to hear from you!