In my years of being an educator, I have had the pleasure of working with the “second career nurse”. What make someone a second career nurse? The second career nurse is the nurse that has already earned a degree, life or family and has decided to change careers and become a nurse. Second career nurses bring life experience, diversity, maturity, knowledge,empathy, and work experience to a career where shortages are on the rise.

Why become a second career nurse?

Second Career Nurses

Peggy Shadel, BSN, RN, a second career nurse on a Medical/Surgical unit, started nursing school when she was 56 years old. She had this to say in a recent Johnson & Johnson article.

“More life experience can also translate to improved relationships with patients and other healthcare providers, explained Shadel. Although the prospect of returning to school after so many years was daunting, she realized her age was an advantage.“My age has allowed me to better relate to my patients,” she said. “Many are similar in age and I can connect with them because we have been through many of the same experiences. It is rewarding to help them just by listening and lending an empathetic ear. Skills can be taught, but life experience is earned over decades.”

The Challenges of the Second Career Nurse

The trend of second career nurses may be just what we need to help fight off the impending shortage we are facing in nursing. More and more second career nurses are finding that accelerated programs offer the intensity and speed they are looking for to efficiently complete a program and continue caring for a family.

“But second career students do have certain needs. It can be challenging to enroll in an accelerated nursing program and suddenly learn what “fast-paced” really means. Plus, nursing, like most other careers, has its own jargon and unique culture, and it may take a newbie some time to catch on and feel comfortable. Making the transition into a clinical job may necessitate some extra support.”

“Second-career nurses, however, do face unique challenges. They are often managing other financial responsibilities, including parenthood. At the same time, many are not eligible for certain federal loans because they have already earned baccalaureate degrees.” 

Many of my second career nursing students bring many advantages with them to the clinical setting. They are more comfortable interacting with patients and able to integrate new knowledge with previous life experience.