What would prompt a 45-year-old mother of teenagers to pursue a career in nursing?
Delusional thinking, some might say. At times I thought I was mad. How could I keep up with those tireless, technology-savvy twenty-somethings? Still I couldn’t ignore my inner rumbling. I wanted to do something significant with my life.
When I was younger, nursing was my dream. But I wasn’t the student I needed to be to make that a reality. Instead, I got a degree in social work. But like many women my age, I got married, had my first child, and traded in my dry-clean-only wardrobe for playdate attire.
The children grew up. At about 40, I started thinking about nursing again. Since I wasn’t getting any younger, I realized if I wanted to do it, I had to do it now. Five years later, I’m ready to take my State Board Exam and work at a rehabilitation hospital in the brain injury unit.
Being a second career nurse isn’t easy—and it probably never will be. I often feel like I’m 13 steps behind the young new nurses. Nursing is physical, and with a body that’s already slowing down, the eight- and twelve-hour shifts are draining.
I also find myself worrying about adjusting to the technology—which younger students are proficient at. Once you get used to one pump, it’s gone and the next one comes in. I’ve spoken with other second-career nurses, and all share that feeling of not being able to keep up.
But through the discouragement, I’ve learned what second career nurses have to offer.
Your Unique Experience
Second career nurses bring to the nursing profession something younger nurses don’t have: life experience. My fellow students—most who were about 20 years younger than I—often said to me, “You’re just so comfortable and confident.” They mentioned how nervous they felt when talking to a patient. I’ve never really stressed about that. I chalk that up to my background in social work and because I’ve had my own children and been through lots of family health situations. I bring more empathy and knowledge to the nursing environment.
I also think I’ve gained confidence as I’ve gotten older; I am not afraid to say to myself, I am still smart. I can still do it…and I’m going to do it. Seasoned nurses might snidely question the way I do things, but I don’t take it personally. Instead, I deal with it. I’ve encountered enough catty people in my life—from my previous work as a social worker to the PTO--to know that usually these people have insecurities of their own.
As a second career nurse, I’m also sure of my priorities. Often, hospitals want younger students who want to climb the corporate ladder—and, hence, are willing to take the tough shifts. At this stage in my life, accelerating in my career isn’t my first priority; my family is. So, I’ve chosen to be pickier about my shifts.
I encourage others to pursue a nursing career, even if you feel over-the-hill. Health care professionals are hugely in demand, and good, caring ones are going to be the difference in solving the problems we face. Each of us has something different to offer—whatever our life stage—and working together we can make a difference.