Nursing as a Second Career: You're Not Too Old to Start

Are you thinking of going back to school? Maybe you want to take a shot at a second career? If so, you’re not alone – many adults are going back to school these days. And many of them are choosing nursing as a second career.

Going back to school isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. You’ve probably put a lot of thought into it. But those nagging questions keep coming back – Will school be too hard? Will I fit in? Or maybe even – am I too old?

No, you’re not too old! Earning your nursing degree can be fulfilling at any age, and plenty of current students are proof of this.

Below, a nursing instructor at Rasmussen College and three students from the School of Nursing give their perspectives on returning to school as an adult learner.

Will I fit in?

Are you afraid that you’ll be stuck in a class with other students who are straight out of high school? Do you think that your class will be full of people with whom you won’t have anything in common? That’s something about which many students are concerned, but you can cross that worry off your list – you won’t be alone.

“It’s a very diverse group – age, gender, ethnicity, you name it,” says nursing instructor Alison Gulden.

Gulden isn’t just speaking as an instructor; she was also an adult student – she went back for her Master’s degree in nursing (MSN) at 50, and graduated when she was 53. Along the way she discovered her love of teaching, and has been teaching nursing classes at Rasmussen College’s Eagan and Brooklyn Park campuses since 2011.

Even if you do happen to be the oldest student in your class, it can work to your advantage, according to student Oscar Barat, who started earning his nursing degree when he was 53. Barat says he feels like he fits in with his classmates and that he’s even become a role model of sorts.

“It’s a challenge because the younger kids, the younger generation, they want to know what I’m doing differently than they are because I’m getting good grades and they’re not,” Barat says. “I keep telling them, ‘All you gotta do is open your books. If you look, all the answers are in the book.’”

Why should I choose nursing?

Nursing is a growing field – 168,000 new jobs are projected by 2020 – and choosing nursing as a second career can be a rewarding experience. Barat, Marnie Bernstein, and Shannon Porterfield all speak positively about their experiences in college.

In Barat’s case, it was something he always wanted to do.

“Even when I was a kid, I always liked medicine, but circumstances prevailed and I chose a different career path,” Barat says. “Then I retired in 2008 and I told myself, ‘Now is the time.’”

After he earns his degree, Barat, who has prior military experience, hopes to work at a veterans affairs (VA) hospital and help out where he’s needed.

Bernstein spent much of her career in the fitness industry, even becoming the sports and fitness director at a community center, but knew she wanted more out of life. She said the opportunity to help people and have a job that enables her to grow her career helped her decision to become a nurse.

Motivated by job security and encouraged by her husband, grandmother of three Porterfield started earning her nursing degree when she was 44 years old. “Medicine will always be there,” she says.

Do adult students have an advantage over traditional students?

Students of all ages have strengths and weaknesses, but, due to life experience, adult students may have an advantage over their peers – things like discipline and focus are more second nature, according to Barat and Bernstein.

“I have a lot more discipline at my age than the younger kids in class and you can tell the difference when exam time comes around – everyone else is nervous,” Barat says.

Bernstein – who agrees with Barat – earned a Bachelor’s degree when she was younger but went back to school when she was 33.

“The difference in taking classes now is that as you are older you tend to focus more,” she says. “You do not get wrapped up in the having fun when you go to college in your late teens or early 20s.”

Past work experience can also work to your advantage, says Porterfield, who worked in an auto parts factory for 24 years before deciding to go back to school.

“I understand what it is to have to get up and go everyday and what’s expected of you. I don’t think a lot of the younger people think like that yet,” she says.

Tips for adult students

“I’d really encourage [students] to understand it’s a finite and fairly short period of time – really make school a priority,” Gulden says, adding that students should “drain” instructors and get as much knowledge as possible.

Before going back to school, Bernstein was fearful. She had a job and other responsibilities that she didn’t have when she attended school the first time. But with the support of her family and fiance, she’s well on her way to earning her nursing degree.

“It takes a lot of courage and will to decide to go back to school after you have already done it once and have been established in the workplace,” Bernstein says. “Don't let age discourage you because, especially in nursing, it is a field that has really stood out as a second career choice for others.” 

Porterfield encourages prospective students to check out college-led nursing information sessions to get a feel for the college and what will be expected of them.

“It was probably one of the things that pushed me to go ahead and do it,” Porterfield says. “They lay it all out and tell you what you need to do, so you know right then if there’s an obstacle and what you’re looking at.”

Barat suggests just diving in: “The best thing to do is just go ahead and do it. Don’t even think about it, because the more you think about it, the more you’re going to be afraid. Just go and try it.”

Have you gone back to school to study nursing as a second career? Tell us about your experience on our Facebook page!

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Elizabeth is a freelance writer for Rasmussen College. She researches and writes student-focused articles that focus on nursing, health sciences, business and justice studies. She enjoys writing engaging content to help future, current, and former students on their path to a rewarding education.

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