Nursing as a Second Career: What Would-Be Nurses Need to Know

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Choosing a career is tough. Especially when you’re a fresh-faced high school graduate faced with finally coming up with a good answer to the question of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Many college graduates have found their first answer led to a career that is not quite what they hoped for. While that’s certainly frustrating, it can be used as a positive for those who decide they’re ready to try again—at the very least, they’ve learned more about what they don’t want to do for a living. 

For people in this position, it’s often easier to answer what kind of difference do I want to make? Or, what opportunities am I looking for? Maybe you’re drawn to the difference a caring and competent nurse makes in a patient’s life or the flexibility and job security that a nursing career can bring. If that’s the case, know that it’s not too late to become a “second-degree” nurse.

And what better way to illustrate that than by hearing from the people who’ve already been in your shoes? We spoke with nurses who’ve taken this path to learn what being a second-degree nurse is really like and why they chose to make the switch.

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Why become a “second-degree” nurse?

No matter where you’re at in your current career, there are plenty of good reasons to consider becoming a registered nurse. Their work makes a genuine difference and they get to see it firsthand—and that kind of gratification is tough to match.

But it’s not just the potential to feel warm and fuzzy about your daily work—many nurses enjoy excellent career flexibility. That flexibility can come in several forms: the opportunity to take on extended shifts that allow for four-day workweeks, or through the multitude of settings in which they work or from the variety of specialized career paths they can pursue. Whether it’s home care, pediatrics or the emergency department, you’ll have options. Combine all that with solid earning potential—the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the 2018 median salary for registered nurses was $71,730—and there’s clearly plenty to like.1

"I believe it's never too late to become a nurse."

That being said, you might still have a few concerns about how the transition into nursing will go for you personally. Is it too late to return? Will the time away from school pose problems? Rasmussen College nursing instructor Dr. Nicole Luther, who pursued nursing as a second degree herself, says those concerns can be overcome.

“I believe that it is never too late to become a nurse,” Luther says. “If you have the motivation and drive to pursue your dreams and what you are passionate about, anything is possible.”

So why else should you feel confident about making a career change to nursing? Let’s take a look.

You have experience

You may not have nursing experience (yet), but you’ve acquired many skills from your previous degree and jobs. Many second-degree nurses at Rasmussen College have been able to leverage their previous career experience in ways that may surprise you.

Will Hummel, an Accelerated BSN student and tutor at Rasmussen College, found that his experience in sales and management gave him a passion for teaching and training. While he will be using his passion for teaching with patients after graduation, he’s currently putting his passion to work as a mentor within the School of Nursing. Dr. Luther discovered that her experience as an educator benefits her as a nurse as well. She’s better able to explain complex medical concepts to her patients including procedures, medications use and discharge instructions.

Your experience doesn’t even have to be directly related to nursing to be useful—just knowing how to conduct yourself like a professional goes a long way toward classroom success. 

You know how to handle stress

Maybe your confidence has been shaken by horror stories of nursing school all-nighters, tough tests and huge stacks of flash cards. How hard is nursing school? We’re not going to sugarcoat it—it’s not a walk in the park. But some of that difficulty comes with good reason as nursing is a high-stakes job where mistakes can cause major issues.

Here’s the good news—you already know how to handle workplace stress. Second-degree case management nurse Kelli Torres found that her previous career in law enforcement taught her how to communicate with people under difficult circumstances and how to de-escalate stressful situations. 

You bring a unique perspective and have the broad skills for success

Your life experience runs deep and you know yourself well. As a nurse, you’ll be able to draw on your unique characteristics that enable you to comfort and encourage patients in a way no one else can. Torres knows that her curiosity for learning new things helps her develop health solutions for her patients as a case manager.

Nurses use many skills that you’ve likely used in your current career including:1

  • Critical thinking: Nurses need to quickly evaluate information to determine when the health status of patients requires immediate action.
  • Communication: Nurses listen to understand patients’ symptoms and regularly explain discharge instructions to patients.
  • Compassion: Nurses interact with people dealing with difficult health situations on a regular basis, and empathy is necessary.
  • Organization: Nurses tend to multiple patients with varying needs, and much of the challenge of the job is staying organized and on top of their treatment plans.

Chances are you’ve put these skills to use in some way in other roles, which means you’re not starting from scratch as you begin a new career.

You can help relieve a potential nursing shortage

The nursing shortage is one of the biggest current stories in healthcare. As large numbers of baby boomer nurses retire every year, new nurses are needed to replace them. But retirement of nurses isn’t the only factor—the BLS reports this massive aging generation will lead to an increase in demand for healthcare services.1 This double-edged issue is the primary driver of demand for new nurses.

This perfect storm of conditions is a big reason why more than 438,000 new registered nursing jobs are projected to be added to the workforce by 2026, according to the BLS.1 By pursuing a nursing career, you will be positioned well to help meet this demand.

You can complete a nursing program quickly

Between the nursing shortage and your own drive, you’ll likely want to dive out of school and into nursing as quickly as possible. Rasmussen College offers an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program with a second degree entrance option that can be completed in as few as 18 months.2 This program is great for the driven student who already has one bachelor’s degree but is willing to hustle hard to jump-start their nurse career. Hummel says he knew that his midlife career change wouldn’t be easy for him and his family financially, so he chose this program to get back into the workforce as quickly as possible.

Nursing is worth it

"Whether you've worked as a nurse for 20 years or 20 days, you still have the opportunity to provide meaningful care."

Nursing is an in-demand career that can provide the job stability and flexibility that you’re looking for, but best of all—nursing is an incredibly rewarding career. Just as Luther combined her love of medicine and teaching, you’ll be able to combine your previous life and career experience to make a difference in the healthcare field. For Torres, the best part is her patients, saying she values each simple “thank you” that she receives.

Sam Schulenburg, an accelerated BSN student at Rasmussen College, has learned through her clinical experience that nurses make a difference in their patients’ lives no matter how unconventional their nursing journey. “Whether you’ve worked as a nurse for 20 years or 20 days, you still have the opportunity to provide meaningful care.”

It’s not too late to become a nurse

If you’ve got the passion and drive, you have plenty of reasons to believe you can make a successful transition into a nursing career—no matter how far along you are in your first career path.

“It’s only too late to become a nurse when you decide it’s too late,” Schulenburg says.

If you’re ready to pursue a second career as a nurse, you’ll want to check out the Rasmussen College second-degree Accelerated BSN program to learn how it could fit your plans.

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed May 1, 2019] Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.

About the author

Kirsten Slyter

Kirsten is a Content Writer at Collegis Education where she enjoys researching and writing on behalf of Rasmussen University. She understands the difference that education can make and hopes to inspire readers at every stage of their education journey.


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