Although it is certainly true that many people enter the nursing profession in their 20s, perhaps even starting their training right out of school, that is not the only opportunity to get into nursing. Many people turn to nursing later in life as a second career after working for years or even decades in another field.
Others are returning to the workplace after years spent raising a family or undertaking other caring responsibilities and choose nursing as a worthwhile career with good prospects that may even use some of the skills they have built up while caring for children or the elderly. No matter how old you are or what your current circumstances are, if you want to become a nurse, it is well worth researching your options. There is a good chance it is not too late for you to enter the field.
Here are some good reasons to consider nursing later in life.
If you choose to become a nurse, you will find yourself in high demand. Not only are nurses always needed to replace those who retire or leave the profession, but with an aging population, the need for nurses is only going to increase. This means there is a good chance of a qualified nurse securing employment in their local area, something that is handy for nurses entering the profession later in life and who do not want to leave the location where their family is based, their children are in school and their spouse is employed.
It also means you will enjoy good long-term job security and promotion prospects. For those with a family to support, this is a key benefit of becoming a nurse.
Easy access to training
Many people who are eager to become a nurse later in life worry that it will be impossible due to a lack of access to training and difficulty making time for several years of study. It certainly is true that training to become a nurse does require commitment and hard work. However, training has never been as accessible as it is now, with options available even to those who live a long distance from a place of study.
Nursing courses are offered at universities all over the country that provide the study and practical elements necessary to train as a nurse. However, attending a university in person may not be possible for everyone. If there are no easily accessible learning institutions in the area and family life is already established in a particular location, many people feel that they cannot pursue a career in nursing. In the past, that might have been true, but the rise of high-quality online courses has made training to be a nurse accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live. Run by top universities, these programs are delivered by experts in the field and can be as rigorous as an in-person course while allowing study to take place online in the convenience of the student’s own home.
While this solves the problem of delivering instruction, nursing is not just a theoretical course. Nursing students also need hands-on experience to complete their course, and universities build links with medical providers nearby for their students to gain practical experience. If you are opting for an online course, look carefully at how they manage clinical placements as you may well be living too far away from where the course is based to make use of the placements a university would traditionally arrange.
Online courses will often be able to find you clinical placements somewhere more accessible, making sure you can attend a good-quality, supportive placement within easy reach of your home so you will have one less worry distracting you from your studies.
The time needed to train as a registered nurse will depend on your existing qualifications. Many people who go into nursing later in life already hold a Bachelor’s degree in a subject that is unrelated to nursing. Whether studying in person or online, this degree can help speed up the qualification process with the option of becoming a registered nurse through an accelerated program. A good example of this can be found at Elmhurst University, which offers accelerated online RN programs specifically designed for those who are choosing nursing as a second career. With 100% online study materials, clinical placement support and on-campus residencies in the state-of-the-art Simulation Center, you can complete the course and be ready to undertake the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in just 16 months. For those who worry about the financial implications of taking the time to study on their family, an accelerated course that requires minimal time out of the workplace is ideal.
Far from being a hindrance, the skills you have acquired in previous employment or life in general are seen as a major advantage in the medical profession. Some professions may have direct relevance. For example, anyone who has worked in a care home will have experience in supporting residents through illnesses and accidents that will stand them in good stead for a nursing position. If you have a scientific background, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, you will have a good knowledge of the latest drugs and therapies that are used in medicine.
However, even if you think that your current work has no valuable experience to recommend you for a nursing position, this is unlikely to be true. When thinking about your current role, it is worth considering all the soft skills you have built up and how they will help you in your nursing career as many of these are essential to good nursing. Skills that are highly valued include:
- Organizational skills: In the busy life of a nurse, being able to stay organized will facilitate the smooth running of the ward or clinic.
- Administrative skills: Maintaining patient records, managing staff rosters and recording drug usage are just some of the administrative tasks required by a nurse, making this a particularly valuable skill.
- Communication: From conveying information to colleagues to discussing treatment with patients and their families, communication is a vital skill for a nurse.
- People skills: If you have worked in any role that involves dealing with the public, this will be highly useful as a nurse. In a medical setting, with unwell, injured and vulnerable patients, you do not see people at their best. Experience dealing with the public or other colleagues in any setting is a useful transferable skill.
- Leadership: If you have held a managerial or leadership position, you will already have many of the skills needed to eventually take on a leadership role in a hospital or other clinical setting.
- Ability to work as part of a team: Patient care frequently involves many different professionals, from doctors and nurses to physiotherapists and radiographers. Being able to work as part of a team is crucial for good patient care.
Once you are qualified and applying for jobs, do not forget to mention the many skills you will have acquired in your life so far on your resume and in interviews. If you have not been in employment recently due to raising a family or other caring experiences, do not assume you have no transferable skills. Caring requires considerable organization and communication skills, and there is a fair amount of administrative work involved in running a household. Additionally, the very act of caring is in itself a key nursing skill and one you should certainly highlight.
Undertaking study and then working in a demanding career is often not a practical option for those with a young family. However, as the children grow, their demands on your time decrease and you can find more time to focus on your career path. This may mean that far from being too late to pursue a career in nursing, you may be at the perfect point of your life to take that step to a challenging but exciting new career.
Diverse career options
We often say nursing is a career, but it might be fairer to say that it is multiple careers – or, at the very least, it is a career that has many different paths within it. Those entering nursing later in life may worry about the physically demanding aspects of the job. A shift in the emergency room, for example, may involve long hours on your feet, including some heavy lifting, and you may worry about entering a profession when you are approaching an age where this may become physically difficult. However, although it may not be practical to enter some of the more grueling nursing roles such as working in the intensive care unit, there are many other nursing positions that are ideal for nurses who want to continue their profession into their 50s, 60s or even beyond.
Less physically demanding options may include a school nurse; telephone triage nursing, where you assess patients over the phone; occupational health nursing, which is more likely to have regular 9-to-5 hours; or working in a clinic or outpatient department, which is also likely to have more regular hours. You may also choose to gain further nursing qualifications and become a nurse leader, taking on more managerial duties, or a nurse educator, who helps train the next generation of nurses. Nursing can be a profession for life, with plenty of options for those eager to remain in their profession until retirement.
With so many different options available in a nursing career and with nurses so much in demand, you have a good chance of being able to secure employment that fits in well with your lifestyle. Whether you are entering the profession at a time when the varied nature of shifts suits you well or when childcare demands mean you need regular work hours, there is a good chance of finding a nursing position that supports it.
We tend to get more resilient as we get older, and this is something that can make you more suitable to get into nursing than when you were younger. It is fair to say that nursing can be emotionally tough. People who are unwell, suffering injuries and frightened are unlikely to be in the best of moods and may make impossible demands or comments that are unjust or hurtful. Young nurses often find that they have to develop a thick skin quickly when they come into nursing.
However, if you come into the profession later in life, there is a good chance that you have already built up emotional resilience and are therefore better placed to deal with these difficulties from the outset, assured in the knowledge that for every irate patient you encounter, there are many more who are eternally grateful for everything you are doing for them.
Although nursing can seem very rewarding when you see your patients improve and recover, the profession also has its sadder aspects. Not everyone can be saved, and you may be involved in end-of-life care, supporting patients through their last days and witnessing the grief of their families. You may also witness tragedies including the death of a child.
Nurses are often more involved than doctors in the day-to-day care of patients, and on top of the emotions of the patients and their families, you may have your own feelings to deal with when it comes to the loss of a patient you have gotten to know well. Those coming into nursing later in life will be more likely to have experienced bereavement in their own life and have found strategies for coping. This makes them well placed to be able to leave the sadder aspects of the profession at work and not let it impact their home life. They may also be better able to see beyond the sadness to recognize that providing good-quality end-of-life care is an essential part of nursing and one that makes a real difference for patients and their loved ones.
There is no single point that is the right time to enter nursing. Any age can be appropriate for the right individual. However, nursing is a demanding career and will cause some challenges at any point in your life. A key challenge for many of those choosing nursing as a second career is being at an age when you have a considerable number of other responsibilities. You may have a family who places demands on both your finances and time, or perhaps you have parents who are advancing in years and need more help.
The key to overcoming these challenges is good preparation. When considering studying to become a nurse, think about how you will manage it. It is difficult to work while studying to be a nurse as it tends to be a full-time course, so you should consider saving money before you start to make up for the loss of income or research whether financial assistance is available for nursing students in your position if you might otherwise face financial hardship. Knowing how you will manage before you begin is strongly recommended; the last thing you need while studying is to worry about money. When studying, do not be afraid to ask for help from friends or relatives with tasks such as child care. Before starting, talk through the realities with your spouse and see if they are able to shoulder more of the domestic load while you study.
You should also make sure you are taking the right course for you. Attending a physical university will add the time it takes to commute onto your study time, but an online course will eliminate that and often allows for more flexibility, allowing you to fit it in better around your family life. Whether studying in person or online, check the support offered by the course provider. They help many people each year achieve their dreams and should be eager to offer advice to help you realize yours.
It’s not too late
If you have decided that a career in nursing is right for you, start looking at how to make it work. Research your training options to find the right course for you, and undertake any prerequisites you need to be able to get started. No matter what course you take, you are unlikely to be the only person in the course entering the profession as a second career or later in life.
Through the course, you may forge friendships with nursing students of all ages, gaining a new respect for what every stage of life can bring to the profession. You can learn from and support each other through any tricky parts of the course, and you will also be there to celebrate each other’s successes as you start this rewarding and exciting new career.