Second career nurses bring life experiences to nursing
By Robert Scally, Assistant Editor
Thomas K. Lane wants to go from delivering the mail to delivering care.
For the past 22 years, Lane has worked for the United States Postal Service in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as an automation clerk and a letter carrier.
With a background in teaching and a history of missionary work in Central and South America, Lane, 51, once dreamed of becoming a doctor.
When he was offered early retirement from the Postal Service, Lane was faced with the opportunity to develop a second career. His daughter Colleen, who is a pre-med student at Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois, recalled her father’s dream of becoming a physician. Instead of attempting to become a doctor so late in life, Colleen suggested that her father become a nurse.
This summer, Lane is taking a three-week class to become a certified nursing assistant and this winter he will enter the accelerated nursing bachelor of science program at the Kirkhof School of Nursing at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Grand Valley State Program could lead Lane to a BSN degree in about three years.
“I just want to give something back,” Lane said of his motivation for becoming a nurse.
Lane is one of an increasing number of people who are taking up nursing as a second career. The recent downturn in the economy combined with a desire for more meaningful work resulting from the aftermath of the events of September 11 has increased interest in the nursing profession, especially among people who already have college degrees, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
Typical second career, second-degree nursing students are generally older, more motivated and have higher academic expectations than high school-entry baccalaureate students, according to an AACN issue bulletin published in April 2003.
Nursing school faculty often finds that second-career nursing students to be great learners to are unafraid to challenge their instructors.
“Our faculty love them,” Patricia Wahl, PhD, RN, FAAN, director of the San Diego State University School of Nursing in San Diego, California, said of second career nursing students. “They’re not here fooling around.”
Second career and second degree students come to nursing with a variety of degrees and professional backgrounds, Wahl said.
“A lot of these students are people who have decided that they really wanted to work more with people,” Wahl said. “We had a lawyer, for instance, that decided he really didn’t like some aspects of the legal system and the process and he really wanted to work in a more immediate, one-on-one situation. So now he’s in critical care and he’s very happy.”
Valita Robison, RN, BSN, was working as a union construction worker in California’s Central Valley when she decided to become a nurse.
A union carpenter since the early 1980s, in 1995 Robison quit the lucrative, yet uneven employment in the construction business to pursue her BSN at Fresno State University in Fresno, California.
In 1995, before starting nursing school, Robison said she wanted to find out more about what being a nurse would be like. She tried to seek out a nurse mentor or a nurse to shadow on the job, but was rebuffed when hospitals in her area refused to help her on the grounds that doing so would violate patients’ privacy.
Instead, Robison took a six-week course and became a certified nursing assistant in order to get a taste of what nursing was really like. She worked as a CNA throughout nursing school.
“It gave me a lot of experience,” Robison said.
Robison said she gravitated toward a career in nursing because she like the idea of the flexibility and opportunities nurses have in addition to being able to affect the lives of other in a positive and direct way.
During the course of her nursing education, Robison discovered that she had wanted to be a nurse for even longer than she first realized.
While she was attending the nursing school, her mother passed away. Sifting through her mother’s personal effects, Robison found a school paper that she had written in the third grade. The paper read: "My name is Volita. When I grow up I want to be a nurse."
“I guess that was in mind my whole life,” Robison said.
Robison received her BSN in 1997, worked as a bedside nurse in a pediatric hospital for a few years and is now a school nurse in Selma, California.
A desire to switch to a career that directly helps people is a common motivation for many second career and second-degree nursing students, Wahl said.
“It’s different things that appeal to different people, but ultimately they say they’d like to get more involved with people and make a difference in their daily work,” Wahl said. “Some of them don’t see that they do that in the job they [currently] have.”
Some people seeking to become nurses are even willing to trade a set of wings in for a spot at the bedside.
Tedd Froehlich, 37, of San Diego, California, currently works as a flight attendant for American Airlines, but said he is looking at becoming a nurse both to fulfill a desire to help people and for increased job security.
With an undergraduate degree in French literature from the University of California, San Diego, Froehlich said he was a little intimidated about going back to school in a science-heavy academic discipline. But this summer he completed a chemistry class at a junior college in San Diego County and earned an “A”.
“It was hard, but I was able to do it,” Froehlich said. “I feel like it’s a whole different thing being a student now [compared to his undergraduate experience]. I go in and sit up front, listen to the instructor and I’m not thinking about the things you’re thinking about in class when you’re 20 years old.”
So far, Froehlich said he is finding that the biggest obstacle to becoming a nurse is the lack of space in the nursing schools in his area.
Not everyone seeking a second career as a nurse is leaving behind a career in the business world for one in health care.
“We actually see a lot of re-entry moms,” said Kathy Herd, RN, BSN, nursing department director of MiraCosta College, a junior college in Oceanside, California. “This has always been a big source of our students.”
The average age of students enrolled in MiraCosta’s licensed vocational nurse associate’s degree program is around 30, Herd said.
“Students are amazed at the amount of work that nursing is,” said Herd, who has directed MiraCosta nursing program for 28 years. “They watch a lot of shows on TV and they think that nursing is something different than it is.”
However, most students pursuing nursing as a second career have a very clear vision of their goals and go on to become excellent nurses, said Geraldine Bednash, executive director of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing based in Washington, D.C.
“What we hear from employers is that they really make wonderful nurses because they come in with a very clear understanding of having made a conscious choice about changing their direction in their work,” Bednash said. “They come in with passion and a commitment to do this very intellectually challenging work and what happens is you have people who are self-directed and very motivated.”
This article first appeared on NurseZone (www.nursezone.com), the Internet's leading news/information site for nurses. Copyright 2003, AMN Healthcare Inc., Reprinted with permission.