This is a guest post.
All opinions in this post are that of the guest author and not those of his employer.
One of the first questions I get asked by people who find out I changed careers to become a nurse is, “What did you do before?” When I tell them I was a journalist, among other things, they think I’m crazy to go into nursing. Long story short, I was burned out. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference and it was time for a change.
Nursing as a Second Career, Bring Life Experience to Nursing Profession
When I made the decision to change careers (my wife suggested nursing), I was fortunate in that some of the credits from my previous degree transferred. I did, however, spend more than a year taking per-requisite science courses at community college before transferring to Radford University as a junior. Typically, if you have a previous degree within 10 years, universities will transfer most, if not all of your previous credits. For me, it had been 17 years, so they transferred all the non-science courses.
And that brings us to the topic of the day – what is it like going into nursing as a second career? The answer, of course, isn’t one-size-fit-all. Every second career nurse’s experience will be different, but I’ll share mine and hope that it helps those considering a second career.
If you are considering nursing as a second career, I believe you need to fully understand what is involved. Yes, the pay is generally good, but you will earn every cent. Nursing isn’t all codes and drama; there are some less desirable tasks nurses (and doctors) must perform. Two words: manual disimpaction. Go ahead, Google it. I’ll wait.
And then there is the heartbreak. Patients will die. Some will die peacefully. Others, depending on which unit you work, will die a chaotic, horrible, nightmarish death. And you, a stranger, will be among the last people that person will see.
During my pediatric clinical rotation, I discharged a 14-year-old terminally ill cancer patient home to live out his final few days. I am a father of two. I went home and cried for that boy and his family. Nursing is physically and emotionally challenging.
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Which brings us to our next topic; some of the challenges facing second career nursing. Again, this isn’t a comprehensive list, so I’ll tackle this subject in generalities. If don’t have a lot of computer experience, typical of older nursing students, you’ll have a significant, but manageable learning curve. Some courses are online; you submit assignments online; and almost ALL your research will be done online. You’ll also need to learn to use APA format for your papers. Your younger classmates have grown up with technology and won’t have many issues adapting.
The other major challenge is leaving behind an established career and paycheck. This can be a major obstacle. Money was tight for us and we had 18 months to plan. Leaving behind that paycheck, though, came with a lot of pressure to succeed. I could not fail. Having to support a family is not something most younger students worry about.
And that brings us to our final topic; life experience. I was 38 when I entered nursing school. My classmates were typically 20. I had 18 more years of adulting experience. I’ve learned how to be more patient, to see the bigger picture, and more.
The “life experience” can be both an asset and a liability depending on how you apply it. My advice? Allow it to help you make decisions, but keep your mind open to gaining new experiences – it’ll help you learn and become the best nurse you can be.
Gary Cope, BSN, RN, is an ICU nurse at a Magnet hospital in Southwest Virginia. He is a proud Radford University graduate and sits on the Nursing School’s Nurse Advisory Committee. He is married and the father to two boys. Cope is also a second career nurse after leaving his career of being a journalist. Most recently, Cope received a C.A.S.E. Grand Award in the category “Writing for the Web.” It is his fourth C.A.S.E. award. He also has three Virginia Press Association awards; one for feature writing and two for layout and design. You can read more from Gary at his blog Mursing Managed.
Are you a second career nurse? Do you have any advice for anyone considering the switch?